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Fairphone 5 review: delayed gratification

At the risk of oversimplification, I think there are two main types of phone buyers in the world. There are those who are happy to be in the market for a new device, who delight in discovering how phones have improved since they last upgraded and who can’t wait to reap the benefits of better low-light camera performance, a prettier display, and more premium build quality. 

Then, there are those who hate the process of shopping for a new phone, who see it as all cost and no upside. They’re the people who respond with despair when they’re told that their phone has reached the end of its software support period or that it’s no longer cost-effective to repair a seemingly minor hardware fault. 

Fairphone’s devices have traditionally been targeted at this second kind of phone buyer, but the new Fairphone 5 is more of a halfway house. You still get the modular design with a user-replaceable battery, a long warranty, and readily available spare parts. But now the phone comes equipped with technological advancements such as a modern OLED display with a high refresh rate, more robust waterproofing, and a higher-capacity battery.

With a starting price of €699 (£619 or around $740, though Fairphone currently has no plans to sell the device in the US), the Fairphone 5 still comes at a price premium compared to some of its similarly specced competitors. But it might be a price worth paying if the thought of having to replace your phone after a couple of short years fills you with dread.

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Although the Fairphone 5 is available in three colors — black, blue, and transparent — I’d argue that the latter is the one every prospective owner should be considering. While the color scheme isn’t as transparent as Nothing’s devices, it’s arguably a much more functional kind of transparency. You’re not just looking at aesthetically pleasing innards; you’re looking at the exposed screws and user-replaceable battery that are (hopefully) going to keep the phone functional long into the future. 

As well as a transparent back, Fairphone also attempts to be transparent about how its devices are produced. The company pays a living wage bonus to over 2,000 workers on key production lines for the phone and attempts to source raw materials for the phones sustainably. These include Fairtrade gold and recycled aluminum, tin, nickel, zinc, copper, magnesium, indium, and plastics. In total, there are 14 raw materials that Fairphone attempts to sustainably source, and the company says that, of these materials, (which make up around 42 percent of the total weight of the phone), 70 percent come from fair or recycled sources. Fairphone isn’t alone in its attempts to sustainably source more of the raw materials for its phones. Although the figures aren’t directly comparable, Apple says that the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is made from 20 percent “recycled or renewable content,” including 100 percent recycled cobalt in its battery.

Actually getting inside the phone is a simple matter of getting your fingernail under the bottom right of the cover and unclipping it. From here, you can lever out the battery without the need for any tools at all (which you’ll need to do to insert a physical SIM or microSD card into the phone) or else remove the phone’s other replaceable modules using a small Phillips-head screwdriver. 

Individual modules are designed to be replaceable with a screwdriver.

Like the Fairphone 4, the Fairphone 5 doesn’t have a headphone jack.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason it’s good that you can easily remove these modules is so that you can replace them if and when they break over time. Fairphone has experimented with selling upgraded modules in the past (you could swap out the cameras on the Fairphone 3 with the improved sensors from the 3 Plus, for example), but here, the focus is on repairability, not upgradability. To that end, there are actually more individually accessible modules this time around, which is nice if you, say, only need to replace one rear camera that’s broken or swap out a faulty SIM card tray.

Fairphone hopes to have spare parts for the Fairphone 5 available for the eight to 10 years it intends to support the phone with software updates and will replace faulty components under warranty for five years after purchase. The company ran out of some Fairphone 2 parts in 2020, five years after that phone’s launch, and spokesperson Anna Jopp tells me the company has gotten better at managing its inventories of spare parts since then. From a hardware perspective, that means it should be possible to keep the phone operational into the next decade.

Fairphone is targeting up to 10 years of software support

The downside of making the phone this easy to open and repair is that it only has an IP55 rating for dust and water resistance. That’s better than the IP54 rating of the Fairphone 4 (which was still resilient enough for me to use throughout an exceptionally rainy hike), but it still falls short of allowing you to fully immerse the device in water like you can do with an IP68-rated phone. Most modern phones at the Fairphone 5’s price point and above carry an IP68 rating.

The Fairphone 5 is the first of the company’s smartphones to come equipped with an OLED display, which is bright and colorful, with a nice, sharp 1224 x 2700 resolution and a snappy 90Hz refresh rate. You also get a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera this time around rather than a teardrop notch. Just do yourself a favor and head into Settings > Display > Visual Enhancement and set the color mode and temperature to “Natural”; the default “Vivid” is overkill.

The OLED screen is a big step up from previous Fairphones.

Battery replacements are about as simple as they get here.

An OLED screen isn’t particularly impressive or unusual for a phone costing €699 (Samsung and Google sell phones with fast-refreshing OLED screens for hundreds less), but they’re more notable in the context of Fairphone’s previous devices, which have typically lagged behind what’s offered by more mainstream smartphones. Fairphone has successfully caught up in the screen department, and it feels good. Unfortunately, on the audio side, the phone’s stereo speakers sound hollow compared to other devices. 

Although the screen looks much more modern, I’m not going to claim the overall construction of the Fairphone 5 feels as premium as that of the competition. Although it’s got an aluminum frame, its back is plastic rather than glass, which does feel less premium, even if it feels good knowing it’s made of 100 percent recycled plastic. Fairphone also boasts that the phone is slimmer and lighter this time around, but it’s still not as svelte as a typical smartphone these days. 

The Fairphone 5 is powered by a Qualcomm QCM6490 paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is expandable by up to 2TB more via microSD. If that processor name doesn’t sound familiar to you, that’s likely because it’s a chip that’s generally aimed more at industrial hardware rather than consumer devices, and Fairphone says it picked it to allow for a longer support period (since it’s very difficult for smartphone manufacturers to continue to release updates for a device after a chipset’s manufacturer ends support). 

The result is that Fairphone is guaranteeing “at least” five major Android upgrades after Android 13, which means the Fairphone 5 should be updated to at least 2027’s Android 18 (or whatever it ends up being called). Then, in terms of security patches, as mentioned above, Fairphone is committing to keeping the Fairphone 5 patched until 2031 and is even aiming to extend support to 2033 for a total of 10 years of support.

You’ll need to pop out the battery to insert a SIM and / or microSD card.

The phone has two cameras, a main and an ultrawide, both with 50-megapixel resolutions.

To be clear, this is basically class-leading when it comes to Android manufacturers. Even Google currently only commits to supporting its latest Pixel phones for five years (though there are rumors this could change with the Pixel 8). Apple has historically fared better and only just stopped supporting 2017’s iPhone X with OS upgrades (meaning it received five major iOS updates), but it doesn’t offer any explicit promises about software support periods going forward. Fairphone has a good track record of supporting its older devices. It only recently stopped supporting the Fairphone 2 earlier this year, seven years after it first shipped. That said, it’s impossible to guarantee how well Android 18 will eventually run on this device. All Fairphone is saying is that it’ll run, period.

Although we’ve got Qualcomm’s QCM6490 to thank for this long support period, I’m less sold on its proficiency as a processor in a consumer device. Yes, it’s technically equivalent in power to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 778G, but the Fairphone 5 tended to chug under heavy use. I never experienced a crash, nor was the phone ever unusable, but the occasional stutters when flitting between apps were noticeable on the phone’s 90Hz screen.

Fast charging, if you have the hardware

I got good battery life out of the Fairphone 5’s removable 4,200mAh battery. I typically put the phone on to charge at night with around 50 percent remaining and averaged around five hours of screen-on time per charge. But you can’t charge the Fairphone 5 wirelessly, which is another feature other phones like the Pixel 7A and iPhone SE offer at, or below, its price point. Fast charging tops out at a respectable 30W, though you don’t get a charging brick or cable in the box.

The Fairphone 5 has taken a big step forward in terms of camera quality compared to Fairphone’s previous devices, but the photos I got out of its 50-megapixel main camera and 50-megapixel ultrawide are far from class-leading. 

Hold the phone still while taking photos, and it’s possible to get shots that are sharp, clear, and colorful, but the Fairphone 5 can struggle to deal with less ideal shooting situations. If light drops, then detail quickly drops with it, and despite the optical image stabilization, I ended up with several blurry shots where I’d clearly not made enough of an effort to hold the camera still. In low light, the phone produces superficially nice shots, but peer a little closer, and it looks like this is the work of aggressive processing, with a lot of fine detail smoothed out and colors artificially boosted. And despite offering the same 50 megapixels of resolution, shots from the phone’s ultrawide camera end up lacking in detail.

But the most overprocessed shots I got out of the Fairphone 5 came from its 50-megapixel selfie camera, which almost had me thinking I had some kind of AI or beautification mode turned on. They all just looked a little too bright and blown out.

None of which is to say the Fairphone 5 comes with a bad camera system; I got plenty of usable photos out of it. But there are a lot of very good midrange smartphone cameras out there, and the Fairphone 5 isn’t among them. 

The Fairphone 5 is a lesson in delayed gratification. 

Yes, you can get more features and better performance for less than its €699 asking price. Both the €509 Pixel 7A and the €529 iPhone SE come with speedy flagship processors, support for wireless charging, and a more robust IP67 rating for dust and water resistance. The Pixel 7A, in particular, comes with the best camera system you’re likely to find at its midrange price point. And that’s without mentioning the €449 Samsung Galaxy A54 and its amazing screen.

But the Fairphone 5 isn’t the phone for people who want the best price-to-performance ratio out of the box. It’s the phone for people who want the best price-to-performance ratio over time, who balk at the idea of replacing a phone just because it’s developed a faulty charging port or even replacing a perfectly good phone just because a newer and shinier model is available. 

The Fairphone 5 is not a phone for people who love buying new phones; it’s for people who hate saying goodbye to their old ones. 

Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge



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