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This modular Android will outlive the latest iPhones and Pixels, but there's a catch

The Fairphone 5 is designed to reduce e-waste, but it's also a solid Android smartphone through and through.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Describe what's shown in the image.
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

My passion for mobile technology is now 26 years strong, which means I have inevitably contributed to consumer waste through my long history of buying, selling, and recycling mobile devices. For the past week, I have been testing a phone that's designed to counter such behaviors with easy modular repairs and one of the longest software support policies I've seen.

Also: The best green phones: Sustainable and eco-friendly smartphones

The new Fairphone 5 features the iconic modular design of past Fairphone models, with a base frame that you can build from. It is powered by a Qualcomm 5G processor, an ample 8GB of RAM, 256GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot supporting up to 2TB cards, an IP55 dust/water resistant rating, a removable 4,200mAh battery, and triple camera system powered by Sony-made sensors. Not too shabby for an environment-first gadget.

View at Fairphone

Sustainability, like in past years, is the key to the new Fairphone 5, with fair-mined, recycled materials and a trade-in program where the company will recycle or repair your old phone.

Also: Google Pixel 8's update schedule may match Apple's and surpass Samsung's

By all accounts, the Fairphone 5 is an excellent mid-range smartphone, but its superpower lies in its longevity. Fairphone has a five-year warranty with a promise of at least five years of major Android firmware updates and a goal of providing 8 to 10 years of software support. Should you want to replace any of the ten modular parts, you can simply use a screwdriver to replace it without worry of hindering the device's functionality.

I briefly tested a sustainable prototype phone a few years ago, the Teracube, but that phone required servicing through a provider and was not the most compelling specs-wise. Thankfully, when I pulled the Fairphone 5 out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the rock-solid feel, lovely light blue color, curved metal edges, matte plastic back, side power/fingerprint sensor button, and overall look and feel. I charged it up and powered it on to find a lovely 6.46-inch OLED display, capable of a 90Hz refresh rate.

Also: Gen Z is ditching iPhones for $100 'feature phones,' and the numbers don't lie

The back cover is removable and reveals a big replaceable battery that can be charged via a 30W charger, a microSD card slot, and a SIM card slot. The back panel snaps securely into place in several spots around the device, which helps it achieve the IP55 water ingress rating. One eSIM is also supported by the Fairphone 5.

Fairphone 5 in Blue

Here's what's included in the package.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The Qualcomm QCM6490 processor supports 5G networks and Wi-Fi 6E and is primarily targeted towards IoT solutions such as ruggedized tablets. In my testing, the chip has proven its ability to get the job done for communications, applications, and some brief gaming. 

However, when I tested the phone with a Verizon SIM card, I was unable to secure a cellular connection. Instead, a T-Mobile USA SIM worked well, and I was satisfied with the signal strength in all areas where I tested it. Download speeds were also solid, ranging from 36Mbps to 58Mbps.

Also: These mushroom-based chips could power your devices and help save our planet

I also took loads of photos with the front and rear cameras since camera quality is typically an afterthought on less expensive phones. And to no one's surprise, the Fairphone 5's output is nothing to write home about. You won't win any rewards with these cameras.

ZDNET's buying advice

All in all, the Fairphone 5 itself looks great, performs well, and competes as a competitive mid-range phone with a €699 suggested retail price. The price is higher than other mid-range Android phones, but when you consider this is the only phone you need for at least the next five years and you are helping the planet, then it is much easier to justify the price.  

Also: This compact Android is the best phone you've never heard of

Apple, Samsung, and Google provide a few years of software updates with the latest smartphones, but each company still sells new models yearly and even offers promotions to encourage consumers to upgrade on an annual basis. This is not great for the environment or the people working to obtain materials for these phones.

Fairphone provides an opportunity for consumers to step up and help reduce waste while also showing that having the latest and greatest smartphone isn't sustainable for the long term. The question now is, will you be buying one?

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