The Librem 5 is the first smartphone from Linux laptop maker Purism. First announced more than two years ago, the Librem 5 still isn’t quite ready for prime time. But folks willing to pay $699 for pre-production hardware have started to receive devices from the Librem 5 Birch batch that began shipping last week.

That means the first real-world unboxing videos, user impressions, and hands-on reviews from people who don’t work for Purism are here.

The good news? The Librem 5 is a real thing that mostly works the way it’s supposed to. The bad news? The software is quite clearly still a work in progress.

Librem 5 birch
Librem 5 “Birch” batch smartphone photo by azdle

For example, a post at azdle.net notes that phone call audio isn’t routed through the speaker yet and there’s no support for CPU scaling, which basically means the phone is either running at full power or turned off, which doesn’t bode well for battery life. Charging is slow; the camera doesn’t work at all; and while you can easily install and run any Linux app available from the PureOS store, only a handful are optimized for small touchscreen displays.

Right now you probably aren’t going to want to use the Librem 5 as your primary phone. But most of these issues are software-related, so it’s possible that solutions could be on the way.

Another thing is to keep in mind that the phone is pretty thick — about 15.6mm. That makes it almost twice as thick as recent iPhones or Google Pixel phones, for example.

Gallery of photos from /u/kop316

But we’re talking about a phone that was designed from the ground up to run free and open source, GNU/Linux-based software and an emphasis on privacy with hardware kill switches for wireless features, the camera, and microphones.

It’s experienced multiple delays, and after Purism finally announced that the first batch of pre-production units were shipping in September, it turned out they were only shipping to Purism employees. So the fact that actual customers are finally getting their hands on the device is kind of a big deal right now.

Whether it’s a product worth spending $699 on may be another question. But Purism is promising to deliver software updates to address most of the existing issues, and hardware revisions that will lead to improvements in future batches of the phone. The smart move for anyone who doesn’t want to be a beta tester is to wait until the “Evergreen” batch is available for purchase — and that’s not expected to ship until the second half of 2020.

Gallery of photos from adzle

Unboxing video from Bo1

You can read more accounts from Librem 5 early adopters at the Purism forum, a reddit post by /u/kop316, and adzle.net.

via TuxPhones

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  1. They wasted so much money and time on their software stack when they simply could’ve improved Sailfish, UBPorts, LuneOS or Plasma Mobile.

    All of these projects were further along and appear more advanced even now than the Librem environment.

    The Pine Phone approach is much better by working with devs instead of trying to dictate to them.

    1. In time, I’ve learned that the Linux Community is a disjointed platform where duplication of work happens all the time and progress is relatively slow. The only thing that stops the community from complete catastrophe is that the developers are usually very intelligent.

      I’d say if you combined the community, you could build an ecosystem that will rival the likes of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or Google. And it would be free, private, and secure.

      But we are people, not ants… collaboration is much more limited 🙁

      1. I agree, and “not invented here” is a real problem in some projects.

        It’s worth remembering that several of those large players have a vested interest in keeping fully open systems off ‘phones, and at least one of them has a history of using shills, moles and “stacked panels” to get what it wants. Sorry if this sounds foil-hattish, but I think it’s possible – even quite likely – that some of the divisions in the FOSS community have been actively stoked from outside.

    2. Purism had already invested many years into its GNOME desktop environment, and it wanted to use the same software between its laptops and its phones. Since the goal of the Librem 5 is convergence between the desktop and the mobile interface, focusing development on GTK + GNOME apps was a better choice, because they are already used by roughly 70% of Linux desktop users who are running GNOME Shell, Mate, Unity, Cinnamon, Budgie, XFCE, etc. In contrast, KDE Plasma Mobile or UBports wouldn’t be a good choice because it is based on Qt. Qt-based desktop interfaces, such as KDE Plasma and LXqt, are only used by roughly 25% of Linux users, so convergence would have been much less convenient for the majority of Linux users.

  2. I wonder how secure these phones will actually be in terms of both the smartphone and the backend/server infrastructure (ie. store, OTAs, etc.). While I believe Google puts more emphasis on their profit over privacy and security, they still have a lot of resources on it (assuming they don’t conflict with the profit aspect).

    I guess we’ll see.

  3. If you preordered any time past the first 1000 backers, which includes preordering now, you’ll be waiting until Q2 of 2020 anyway.
    That’s the second Quarter, not he second Half.