The Purism Librem 5 was one the most powerful smartphone capable of running mainline Linux software when the first units began shipping in limited quantities a few years ago. But it’s also one of the most expensive – and that’s even more true after a price hike that took effect this month.

When Purism launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Librem 5 in 2017, backers could pre-order the phone for $599. The price has gone up several times since then, and now the Librem 5 costs twice as much.

Librem 5 smarpthone running PureOS 10 Byzantium (via Purism)

As announced a few months ago, at the start of November, Purism raised the price of the Librem 5 to $1199.

Not only that, but there’s a long wait time for the phone – customers who place an order today will have to wait about a year to actually receive the phone, due to supply chain issues… although to be fair, there are still some customers who pre-ordered a Librem 5 years ago that are still waiting for their phones, so the global supply chain shortage is clearly only part of the problem. It’s also taken Purism a long time to ramp up production of this unusual phone, and the company’s still not really there just yet.

In the time since Purism first announced the Librem 5, the Linux Smartphone landscape has changed quite a bit. These days you can pick up a PinePhone for as little as $150, and a more powerful PinePhone Pro is coming soon for $399, with a more powerful processor than the one used in the Librem 5.

Meanwhile, mobile Linux developers have made progress porting mainline Linux to run on some phones that originally shipped with Android, including models with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processors like the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T.

All of which is to say, the value proposition of an $1199 Linux-friendly smartphone that won’t ship for a year is questionable in late 2021, to say the least.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that mobile Linux distributions like PureOS, postmarketOS, Ubuntu Touch, and ManjaroARM are still very much works in progress and best suited for Linux enthusiasts and early adopters rather than folks looking for full-featured replacements for Android and iOS.

That said, it’s unclear if things would have progressed as much as they have in the mobile Linux space in recent years were it not for Purism’s work with the Librem 5. The company not only put the work into sourcing hardware components that would be compatible with free and open source software and firmware, but Purism also developed the phosh “phone shell” user interface for Linux phone that’s now widely used by other mobile Linux distributions (although there are other options including Plasma Mobile, Lomiri, and Sxmo).

Anyway, I guess my point is that spending $1199 on a Librem 5 isn’t quite the same as spending that kind of money on an iPhone or Android device. You’re not just paying for hardware, but also to help fund the development of a free and open source alternative to those platforms. It’s just that you now have to pay a lot more to support that effort than you would have if you’d purchased a Librem 5 a few months or years ago.

Librem 5
Display5.7 inch
1440 x 720 pixel
IPS LCD
ProcessorNXP i.MX8M Quad
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores @ 1.5 GHz
Vivante GC7000Lite GPU
RAM3GB
Storage32GB eMMC
microSD
WirelessWiFi 4 (dual-band)
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS (Teseo LIV3F GNSS)
4G LTE (Broadmobi BM818 or Gemalto PLS8)
PortsUSB-C 3.0
3.5mm audio
Smartcard
Cameras13MP rear
8MP front
Battery4,500 mAh (removable)
Sensors Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Proximity
Compass/Magnetometer
Ambient Light
ButtonsPower
Volume
Hardware kill switchesWiFi/Bluetooth
Cellular Baseband
Cameras/Mic
(Turn off all three to also disable IMU+compass, GNSS, ambient light, and proximity sensors)
Dimensions153 x 75 x 15.5mm
Weight263 grams
Price$799

via /r/Purism

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6 Comments

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  1. The price is unbelievably disproportionate to the Librem 5’s specifications. Linux runs on ARM — how come Linux phones are so uncompetitive?

    1. The manufacturers will tell you it’s related to demand and production scale. But then there’s the PinePhone, which costs $150 and does everything the Librem 5 does, but better. PinePhone also seems to be more versatile than the Librem 5.
      Honestly, Purism’s devices are overpriced for what they are, but the Librem 5 takes the cake.

  2. The Librem 5 has been an unexceptional mess since it was first released to backers in its first iteration. The PinePhone runs better than it, is more versatile, and costs about 25% the starting price of the Librem 5 and now less than 10%. What a complete joke.

  3. This just makes me want Valve to eventually make an x86 based Steam Phone, that uses the same/similar/better SoC in Deck, but uses sim cards and supports Android apps, via emulation. It wouldn’t have to emulate Android games per se, just the basic phone apps, like WhatsApp etc. The Android app store could either be via Steam’s own dedicated app store, or they could partner with Amazon or other.

    The only issue would be the size and bulk of the device; if you shave a Steam Deck down to a 6″ phone form factor, it would still be pretty chunky with all the powerful internals inside, but that’s something they would have to figure out with AMD’s engineering. As for the controllers, they would have to be detachable, like side mounted Joy cons; the device would need to have a traditional phone form factor, first and foremost.

    If Valve made something like this, I would never need to carry around any other phone or device in my pocket; this would be my all in one device for AAA gaming and phone apps.

    1. The issue is that for a reasonable performance, you’ll need a powerful processor which translates into a short battery life or a heavy device. For the Deck, that’s fine but for a phone it’s not OK.