Our judgment of Purism Librem 5 ::
With a solid operating system and privacy-oriented hardware kill switches, the Librem 5 is bulkier than expected and consumes battery. While the philosophy behind the phone is solid, Librem 5 is likely to be picked up only by Linux users and privacy advocates.
Smartphones offer countless amenities for our lives that we hardly thought of 20 years ago. Mobile internet, email, social networking, gaming, productivity, shopping, and even media production. The list goes on – but it has a price.
Your phone is chasing you. GPS can recognize your position; the microphone and the camera can listen; Online services record your activities. We have traded privacy for convenience at a slow burning rate that continues to smolder.
Purism, a technology company for social purposes, believes that this can be changed. Librem 5 was developed, a Linux-based smartphone with integrated kill switches for Internet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as a camera and microphone.
It sounds promising, but does the Librem 5 fulfill the promise of a "security and privacy-oriented phone" that can replace your Android or iPhone?
Note: Our test model comes from the Chestnut development batch of the Librem 5. The final evergreen batch for mass production is expected to be delivered in mid-August. Therefore, some of the hardware problems mentioned should be resolved by then.
What does Librem 5 contain?
Two versions of the Librem 5 have been announced: Librem 5 and Librem 5 USA. Purism kindly sent us the original Librem 5 for review.
There is a quad-core Cortex A53 64-bit ARM CPU with a maximum of 1.5 GHz in the phone. With a Vivante GC7000Lite GPU, 3 GB of RAM are also trapped. The Librem 5 has 32 GB eMMC memory with a microSD card slot for up to 2 TB more.
Behind the 5.7-inch IPS TFT display with 720 × 1440 there is a selection of baseband radio (Gemalto PLS8 or Broadmobi BM818), NanoSIM compartment, 802.11 a / b / g / n WLAN and Bluetooth 4. The The phone has a TESEO LIV3 GNSS GPS receiver with several constellations. Note that NFC is not included. However, there is a nine-axis accelerometer (gyroscope, acceleration, magnetometer) as well as an ambient light and proximity sensor.
The scope of delivery includes two connections: a USB-C input for power, data and DisplayPort as well as the "Courage Jack". This is a 3.5mm headphone jack. According to Purism, unlike established competitors, the company "has no intention of binding suppliers."
The Librem 5 has a removable back panel. Here you can access the user-replaceable 3,500 mAh battery.
When you look at the phone in your hand, there is an on / off switch and volume buttons on the right side. The kill switches are on the left. These are for Wi-Fi, mobile radio as well as the cameras and the microphone. If you activate all three kills, GPS is also deactivated.
An RGB LED is provided for notifications. The phone has two cameras: an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and a 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash.
The test device we received included the Librem 5 phone, a USB-C to USB-C cable, an AC adapter, and earphones.
Do you need a secure phone?
Your phone is constantly losing data about you. This data is either recorded by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon or any number of online companies, or your mobile operator logs activities. A VPN is a smart way to encrypt Internet activity, but it doesn't stop GPS, cellular, and Wi-Fi positioning. Cameras and microphones are also not easy to encrypt.
The Librem 5 is referred to as a "security and privacy-oriented phone" and has software trackers deactivated by default.
Using the kill switches, Linux operating system, free and open source software and drivers, Librem 5 is safe in a way that other phones can't hope for.
Though it's easy enough to disable GPS, cellular, and WiFi on an Android or iPhone, kill switches simplify it and give you security. These physical switches can improve security and privacy anywhere.
The Librem 5 is now almost unique because it does not rely on chips that are at risk from the Meltdown or Specter vulnerabilities
Meltdown and Specter make every CPU vulnerable
. This alone makes it safer than many devices.
Operating system and software
Android or iOS is not running. So what's on the Librem 5?
PureOS is a Linux distribution that Purism manages for its own devices. Based on Debian, this is an operating system with a focus on data protection. The standard web browser is, for example, Mozilla Firefox with DuckDuckGo
The 5 best private search engines that respect your data
Providing the search.
The first impression is strange. After logging in, an empty start screen is displayed. The only clue as to what's coming next is a single chevron, keyboard icon, and notification icons at the top. A quick note about the keyboard – it's a great idea to have it available on every screen. Unfortunately, the implementation of text entry is terrible, from finger accuracy to accessing secondary characters. A working software keyboard shouldn't be a big question.
While the app drawer is easily accessible by swiping upwards, the Librem lacks 5 apps. Linux apps are available for almost any purpose, but only a few are suitable for the phone's user interface. Fortunately, HTML5 web applications run the browser. A small number of dedicated apps and games are now also available.
In addition, standard Linux apps with ARM compatibility can also be run. However, these are subject to hardware and data protection restrictions. Taking a screenshot from Librem 5, for example, turned out to be problematic (although Purism has since released a screenshot tool).
A word of warning. The Linux predecessors of the Librem 5, which ran on Ubuntu Touch, had problems with the dependency on web apps. In theory, web apps are preferable to apps that are installed on your device and require resources. However, they are somewhat less usable. Firefox's speed of comparison further limits things – it is unclear whether the seemingly slow browser is limited until optimization.
Our review of the Librem 5 took several weeks, partly due to battery constraints. The test device appeared to be susceptible to dry running with only a few hours of operation. Regardless, I was able to spend more time than usual evaluating the phone and how it feels to use it.
Overall, the user experience of the Librem 5 is pleasant – it's just that usage as a phone is currently limited.
Updates the philosophy for the Librem 5
Purism has clearly taken a lot of time given the state of the smartphone industry. There is much to reflect on, from the challenge of providing an alternative mobile operating system to improving security and data protection for users.
A problem with iOS and Android (and other platforms) that is often overlooked is updates. As a result, Purism claims to provide security updates, privacy improvements, bug fixes, and new features for the life of the device.
This is a welcome change from Apple and Google's approach to releasing updates that only cover the latest versions.
Booting from Librem 5
Turning on the phone is as easy as expected. Press and hold the power button for a second and it starts – remarkably fast. I set it to five seconds, which is about as fast as you can expect from any phone.
However, sometimes I found that the Librem 5 did not boot. Despite my initial concerns, this wasn't a power issue. I tried to reinsert and recharge the battery, the usual tricks. Fortunately, I was taken to a support page where the solution was presented. The phone was ready for use within seconds.
While this support problem was frustrating, it was resolved effectively. At this point there are support pages for the phone, good news for all users of the Librem 5.
But this bulky phone gets hot when charging. Undoubtedly a problem for future corrections. You must always switch off the device before connecting it for charging.
Use Librem 5 for calls
With so few options on the software side, the Librem 5 handles calls and contacts pretty well.
However, the call volume cannot be changed during the call. In the meantime, speaker mode is disappointing to say the least. The same audio appears to be streaming through the main speaker at exactly the same volume as the call.
While calls are simple enough and audio quality is good, basic accessibility suffers.
As a phone that you can pick up and take with you, the Librem 5 is not surprisingly bulky. It weighs 230 grams, a good 100 grams more than the average, although this is due to the components and building materials. However, it is comfortable in the hand, which is always good.
A look into the future
The Librem 5 promises a lot, a completely new attitude to digital data protection. But there is still a long way to go. There is currently no working camera app. the browser is slow; Battery life is terrible; Desktop convergence mode is missing. The call volume is strangely quiet and the speaker mode follows.
Although the Librem 5 is available today, it is important to know that it is still under construction.
An ultra-secure Linux phone with potential
Open source phones have long been touted as a safe and functional alternative to Android and iPhone. Firefox OS, Meego, and others have been and are gone, while previous Linux attempts like UBPorts have stalled.
The Librem 5 offers the ability to change the way we use cell phones. The ability to physically disable key tracking and monitoring hardware on your phone is obviously a huge advantage.
But you sacrifice the comfort that an Android or iOS phone offers.
Like many others, I really want this phone to shape the future of smartphones and mobile technology. It's been at least five years on this show. The good intentions of purism are clear, but the Librem 5 is far from the quality of its laptops. Even more worrying for purism is the likelihood that its efforts will be overshadowed by PinePhone, another Linux project that is far cheaper.
Do we want a future where we can control privacy carefully? Of course we do. And that's why Librem 5 has to be admired. As a concept, it sounds great on paper, but leaves something to be desired in practice.
Ultimately, Librem 5 is a privacy-oriented phone that limits you to HTML5 apps and some bundled Linux tools. There's a lot to like here, but not enough to make the Librem 5 mainstream.