The self-repairable Fairphone 5 has given us a lot to discuss, whether we’re missing the days of replaceable batteries or marveling at the phone’s best-in-class update policy and eco-credentials. But equally interesting is the processor powering the phone – a previously unseen Qualcomm QCM6490.
According to Qualcomm’s documentation, the QCM6490 is designed for IoT applications rather than phones. This explains the long-term support of phones, as wireless products deployed in the field for many years need to remain secure. The Fairphone 5 will get five years of Android OS updates and seven years of security patches. It embraces the promise of the best smartphone updates across four OSes and five years of security, though updates will come at a slow pace.
The question is, does this chip perform competitively enough for such a long-lasting smartphone, or will it become obsolete before the phone is even finished? To answer this, we took some benchmarks.
What is the Fairphone 5 processor?
First, let’s figure out what the QCM6490 is actually made of. Its Kryo 670 CPU was first introduced in the 2021 flagship Snapdragon 780G and has powered a small selection of other mid-range smartphone chips. The CPU cluster consists of one Cortex-A78 core clocked at 2.71GHz, three Cortex-A78s clocked at 2.4Ghz, and four low-power Cortex-A55 cores clocked at 1.96GHz. The lack of a big powerhouse core isn’t a concern for today’s flagships, but these cores still provide plenty of performance.
There’s more to the Fairphone 5 specs, but we’re still curious.
The graphics are powered by an Adreno 643 clocked at 812MHz. This is the first time we’ve seen this component, but it appears to be a larger and higher-clocked version of the Adreno 642 found in the 2022 mid-range Snapdragon 782G, which boasts a similar CPU setup.
The QCM6490 is not entirely devoid of modern features. Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and a suite of location standards are supported. Wireless capabilities also include mmWave and sub6GHz 5G capabilities, although the Fairphone 5 only uses the latter. The AI is smart in the form of Qualcomm’s Hexagon 770 DSP, packaged in a 6nm process.
fairphone 5 benchmark
OK, but how does it all work? Let’s jump straight to the numbers and compare the phone to more mainstream handsets around the €699 (~$760) price point.
Based on the above specifications, we weren’t expecting the Fairphone 5 to keep pace with expensive top-of-the-line flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S23 or the Apple iPhone 14. The cutting-edge components have certainly outstripped Qualcomm’s older CPUs, but that’s not really an issue. Older chipsets still perform remarkably well for many tasks, and the Fairphone 5 falls firmly into that category.
What’s disappointing is that the Fairphone 5 performs significantly worse than less expensive phones. It’s overtaken by the Google Pixel 7’s Tensor G2 processor and the last-gen Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 in the mid-range Nothing Phone 2, which costs around €200 less. Flagship performance on a budget can be achieved very easily these days, but Fairphone has different priorities.
The Fairphone 5’s QCM6490 chip is the closest to the cheaper Samsung Galaxy A54 5G. Samsung’s mid-ranger offers adequate performance for web browsing and messaging but it’s definitely not a phone for gamers. However, the Fairphone 5 overheated rapidly, raising additional questions about sustained performance and component health.
Will the Fairphone 5 last longer?
Damien Wilde/Android Authority
As we saw during our experience with the Fairphone 5, the phone faces a difficult value proposition. What the phone gains in repairability, longevity, and social awareness, it generally gives up as budget hardware. But the most important issue with the Fairphone isn’t the price; The point is whether it is as well built to last as it seems.
Long-term software support is no good without future-proof hardware that can keep up. The Fairphone 5 performs similarly to some mid-range phones today, but it will be outmatched by budget options in two or three years. This isn’t a concern for a phone you’ll replace every three or four years, but seven years is a very long time in technology. There are serious doubts about whether the phone will be able to work with new applications and use cases that resemble what Android was before.
The Fairphone 5 is brilliantly repairable, but its processor will feel sluggish before it’s finished updating.
With that in mind, you can pick up an affordable phone like the Galaxy A54 5G ($449.99 at Samsung), get the battery replaced, and you’ll still have a phone that will last five years thanks to Samsung’s solid updates. Policy. Even better, choose the more powerful Pixel 7 ($449 at Amazon) or even the Pixel 7a ($477 at Amazon), which can last up to five years with a little TLC.
But, of course, that’s not what makes the Fairphone 5 attractive. Ease of repair, upgradeable storage and quick swap batteries provide far more flexibility than your traditional glued-in flagship. Don’t forget that the price tag includes a living wage for factory workers, 70% fair concentrate or recycled materials, and a five-year warranty. Of course, Fairphone can’t use sheer volume to drive down component prices, so there’s a manufacturing overhead for the privilege of having a phone that’s built differently.
All those features make the Fairphone 5 stand out and, as our benchmarks show, the phone is still competitive with other mid-range models. But if you’re thinking of the phone as an extremely long-term purchase, just be aware that the phone won’t hold up as well after five years or more of service.