There are a couple of efforts underway to develop smartphones that run GNU/Linux software. But Purism’s Librem 5 might be the most ambitious.
It’s been under development for a few years, the company raised more than $1.5 million for the project during a crowdfunding campaign in 2017, and Purism started sending out development kits a few months ago.
Now the company says the phone is almost ready to go. The specs have been finalized. Software development continues. And… the release date has been pushed back a few months.
Purism had been planning to ship phones in April, but Weaver says it took longer than anticipated to finalize the decision of which processor to use. Originally the goal was to use an NXP i.MX8M quad-core processor, but the developers ran into problems with power consumption and heat generation.
While Purism was considering a switch to the i.MXM8 Mini, NXP pushed out a software update for the i.MX8M Quad which resolved the issues, so that’s the chip that will be used for the Librem 5.
With that in mind, here’s the final run-down of the specs for this smartphone:
- 5.5 inch to 5.7 inch HD display
- NXP i.MX8M Quad processor
- 32GB of eMMC storage + microSD card reader
- Gemalto PLS8 3G/4GB modem (on a replaceable M.2 card)
- TESEO LIF3 multiconstellation GNSS/GPS receiver
- 9-axis motion sensor
- Front and rear cameras (specs TBD)
- Vibration motor
- USB-C port
- User-replaceable battery
- At least one speaker
- PureOS GNU/Linux-based operating system
Keep in mind that components were chosen in order to eliminate the need for proprietary software. You can definitely find Android phones with more powerful hardware and lower price tags. But you won’t get the hardware kill-switches that physically disconnect the microphone, camera, and WiFi and cellular radios. And you won’t get the same emphasis on free and open source software.
Purism has also released a brief video showing a dev kit in action, giving us an idea of what the phone’s software looks like on a phone-like device:
The Librem 5 isn’t the only Linux smartphone on the horizon. Pine64’s PinePhone is a dirt cheap option with a suggested price tag of $149. And at the opposite end of the spectrum is the Neconos NC_1, which is up for pre-order for $1360.
But Purism’s phone has been in the works for the longest time, the company has been actively developing software and issuing updates about its hardware plans, and it’s expected to feature more capable hardware than either of those phones.
It remains to be seen if this is a phone that anyone other than a hard-core free software enthusiast could love. But I suspect it may at least be that.