The Purism Librem 5 is an unusual smartphone, because it’s made from a company that sells Linux hardware with an emphasis on privacy and security. It ships with a GNU/Linux distribution called PureOS, has hardware kill switches to disable the mic, cameras, and wireless hardware when you’re not using it. And it’s expensive: when the phone went up for pre-order in 2017, Purism was charging customers $599. But the company raised the price repeatedly and as of last week it was selling for $1,299.
Now Purism has announced the first ever price cut for the Librem 5. It’s now available for $999. And that’s… still a lot of money to pay for a phone that has hardware that was mostly sourced in 2017 and software that still feels like a work in progress.
Look, the mains reasons to buy a Linux phone like the Librem 5 or PinePhone are that you want to support companies working in this space and/or help develop or beta test Linux smartphone software.
And Purism has really been one of the leading forces in making mobile Linux a thing, having developed the Phosh shell for mobile Linux distributions, among other things.
But the phone itself has a 1.5 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor, just 3GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage, and a 5.7 inch, 1440 x 720 pixel display. The cameras are nothing to write home about, and there’s no support for 5G networking.
On the bright side, the phone does have a user-replaceable 4,500 mAh battery, a microSD card reader for additional storage, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a USB 3.0 Type-C cable with support for 18W fast charging, data transfer, and video output.
And since the phone ships with basically the same operating system as Purism’s laptop and desktop computers, you can run a cable from the phone to an external display to run desktop software on a big screen… assuming the software you want to use runs well on a relatively pokey processor.
But there are a limited number of Linux apps that are truly optimized for small, touchscreen devices. The list is growing every day, but don’t expect to find the millions of apps that are available for Android or iOS.
And you can get much of the same experience by picking up a PinePhone Pro for $399 or by purchasing an older Android phone that’s been well supported by the mobile Linux community, like the OnePlus 6, which can run postmarketOS, Ubuntu Touch, and a number of other mobile Linux distributions.
Anyway, if you are still interested in buying a Librem 5, I guess it’s good news that the phone is a little cheaper than it was last week, even if it’s still expensive. And the better news may be that you probably won’t have to wait years to received your order like some people did. Purism recently announced it’s reached “shipping parity,” which means that all existing orders have been shipped and the company will ship new orders within two weeks of the purchase date.
Update: There is a cheap(er) option for folks looking to pick up a Librem 5 smartphone: the company is selling refurbished models for $799. It’s still not exactly cheap for a phone with an ARM Cortex-A53 processor, but that price might make the phone a little more attractive to some folks.