Modern smartphones are basically pocket-sized computers. The key things that set them apart from laptop or desktop computers tend to be their size, shape, and software. But the distinction gets blurry when you’ve got a smartphone that runs the same operating as laptop and desktop computers.
And that’s exactly the case for Purism’s Librem 5, a smartphone designed to run the same PureOS GNU/Linux distribution as the company’s laptop and desktop computers. In fact, you can use the phone like a desktop by connecting an external display, mouse, and keyboard. And now Purism is selling a $339 Lapdock Kit that makes it easy to use the phone as a laptop.
In a nutshell, the Lapdock Kit includes a NexDock 360 laptop dock, a magnetic smartphone mount that clips onto the side of the dock, and a short USB Type-C cable that makes it easy to connect a smartphone to the dock without getting any wires tangled.
The NexDock 360 looks like an ordinary laptop, but it doesn’t have its own memory, storage, processor, or operating system. It relies on the Librem 5 (or other devices) for those things.
What it does have is a 13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS touchscreen display, a 360-degree hinge, a 44 Wh battery, four speakers, a backlit keyboard, a trackpad, and ports including:
- 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C (input)
- 1 x mini HDMI 1.4a (input)
- 1 x USB Type-C charging port
- 1 x USB 3.0 Type-C data port
- 1 x 3.5mm audio jack
- 1 x microSDXC card reader
When you plug in the Librem 5 you can drag and drop applications from your phone’s screen to the larger lapdock display and they’ll resize and change their layout to better fit the larger screen. Some applications will show additional columns or more menu items on the big screen. But they’re the same apps that run in phone mode. You just have more space to use those apps on the Lapdock display.
If you don’t need the magnetic mount or short USB-C cable, you could also just buy a NexDock 360 directly from Nex Computer for $299. But the $40 extra that Purism charges for a mount and USB cable isn’t too bad. And it’s nice to know that the folks at Purism have selected the NexDock 360 for their kit because of it’s out-of-the-box compatibility with the Librem 5 (although you do need to enable support for the touchscreen from the phone’s Mobile Settings app if you plan to use the NexDock 360’s touch panel).
Now if only it were easier to recommend the Librem 5 itself. The phone presented an interesting value proposition when it first went the company first launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2017 that let folks reserve a phone for $599. But it took several years for the phone to begin shipping and it’s seen several price hikes since then, while continuing to remain in short supply.
At this point if you don’t already have a Librem 5 you’ll need to spend $1299 to get your hands on one and wait around a year for delivery (unless you’re willing to pay $1999 for a made-in-the-USA model that ships within 10 days).
Fortunately the Librem 5 isn’t the only phone around that can run a nearly mainline Linux software. Pine64’s PinePhone and PinePhone Pro sell for $150 and $400, respectively. And both of those phones are in stock, currently shipping, and able to work with laptop and desktop docks like those made by Nex Computer.
The Nexdock 360 is a wonderful idea and a tragic implementation. I have one, I use it every day, and I would warn anyone else off of them.
* The USB port only provides 5v 1A (5W), barely enough to keep a phone from dying, certainly not enough for anything else.
* It has USB-PD but on a dedicated charge-only port. And it’s on the opposite side, so you can’t even gang cables up to pretend like it’s a one-cable solution.
* The trackpad emulates a mouse, isn’t very sensitive, and is disabled when ANY key is pressed — you can’t click with modifier keys, so you can’t select text.
* The keyboard/trackpad doesn’t disable when the device is folded, but the screen is force-rotated. But it doesn’t expose any sensors to tell the host about that.
It’s honestly baffling how it comes so close to being good, then falls short in important ways. I hope they are working on fixing these things.
As someone who also has one I will add:
– the built-in speakers are probably worse than a beeper in a cheap PC case – I only use the ones in my phone (Galaxy S9+)
– the touchpad exposes some weird undocumented gestures I cannot disable (i.e. while typing the focus will go away or when trying to scroll, the window will minimise instead) – but that could probably be fixed with a phone upgrade.
The idea is really nice – in many cases a phone is good enough to have as the only portable computer (maybe with some remotely available powerup) – but the execution does not seem to be there yet (and with the popularity of this approach, we may never see really good solutions).
The Nexdock comes with a short USB cable and these magnetic mounts are $8 on Amazon. I don’t know why anyone would pay the extra money to get the same product from Purism instead of buying it directly from Nexdock
For those who haven’t yet received their confirmation e-mails, it could provide the convenience of ordering at the same time as confirming ones L5 order so it all arrives together (in theory…) ? Like their customers who add Librem Keys, or SSDs, or AweSIM, other accessories etc. to their order for it to all arrive together
It’s now 10 years since Mark Shuttleworth launched Ubuntu Touch and the beautiful notion of convergence. I thought it would revolutionize the way everyone used their tech. :/
Phones are much more powerful now than they were a decade ago, and certainly more than powerful enough to run the apps which most people use for most of the time. I had a Nexus5 running Ubuntu Touch for years – until I ran it into the ground. Undoubtedly the best phone I’ve had.
I’m still willing on Linuxphone technology… it does seem to be making steady progress, though no doubt there is still some way to go.
I read an interesting Tweet recently that Marius Gripsgard has got the Unity8 / Lomiri UI running on x86 Debian, and is using it as his daily driver.
The other problem using the Librem 5 as a desktop is that it’s just not powerful enough for most desktop tasks. It has a quad-Cortex A53 CPU and 3 GB of RAM. Those can work for a basic phone, although they’re not great there either, but start up any complex desktop application and it’s going to start lagging. If you’ve designed your workflow to only use low-resource applications, it could be alright, but if you did that, you can run it on a much cheaper laptop and still probably get better performance.
“Now if only it were easier to recommend the Librem 5 itself.”
^True. Reading the forums you get a sense of what kind of experience to expect from the device itself. PureOs itself runs pretty good in low resource virtual machines the only Purism product I’ve used, at the time I tested it its version of Gnome crashed less on sub-sufficient RAM than something like Ubuntu’s or Garuda’s Gnome. I forgot how well it or didn’t handle the third party extensions for Gnome such as desktop icons, taskbar, etc. It is an ok Linux distribution but there are much better ones out there. It also forces you to use LUKS and Btrfs, it would be nicer to have the option of what to choose.