The Purism Librem 5 is a smartphone designed to run mainline GNU/Linux software with an emphasis on privacy and security. When the phone was first announced it was one of the most powerful devices of its type. But it was also one of the most expensive… and it’s only gotten more expensive since then.
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 more than twice as much.
As announced a few months ago, Purism raised the price of the Librem 5 to $1199 in November, 2021 and raised it another $100 in March, 2022. That means new customers will have to fork over $1299 to get their hands on a Librem 5.
They’ll also have to wait a long time for the phone to actually arrive: there’s currently a 52-week lead time, which means that if you order one of the company’s phones today you’ll have to wait at least a year for it to arrive.
That’s actually a pretty big improvement from the original state though – some folks who pre-ordered Librem 5 phones in 2017 still haven’t received them.
While those delays were originally due to the fact that Purism began taking pre-orders when the phone was little more than an idea, things have changed in recent years. The company finalized the phone’s hardware, made progress in porting its PureOS GNU/Linux distribution to run on phones, and developed the phosh (phone shell) user interface widely used for mobile Linux distributions today. And the company began shipping limited quantities of Librem 5 phones to customers a few years ago.
But the Librem 5 is a niche device from a small company that, like most tech companies around the world, is currently facing global supply chain issues. So production never really ramped up mass production in a big way, and thus we now have a 52-week lead time.
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 Explorer Edition is now available for $399. It has a more powerful processor than the one used in the Librem 5, but sells for just one third the price.
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 6 and OnePlus 6T.
All of which is to say, the value proposition of an $1299 Linux-friendly smartphone that won’t ship for a year is questionable these days to say the least.
That said, given Purism’s contributions to the development of mobile Linux software, you’re not just buying a piece of hardware if you do decide to spend money on this phone. You’re paying to support the idea of a free and open source alternative to Android and iOS.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that in early 2022 it’s still pretty difficult for most users to replace an iPhone or Android device with a Linux phone. 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.
Anyway, I guess my point is that spending $1299 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.
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|Processor||NXP i.MX8M Quad|
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores @ 1.5 GHz
Vivante GC7000Lite GPU
|Wireless||WiFi 4 (dual-band)|
GPS (Teseo LIV3F GNSS)
4G LTE (Broadmobi BM818 or Gemalto PLS8)
|Battery||4,500 mAh (removable)|
|Hardware kill switches||WiFi/Bluetooth|
(Turn off all three to also disable IMU+compass, GNSS, ambient light, and proximity sensors)
|Dimensions||153 x 75 x 15.5mm|
This article was originally published November 19, 2021 and last update March 4, 2022.