Back in early May 2021 I was one of the first to receive a Librem 14. As someone who embraces being a casual Linux user (primarily ElementaryOS) I thought my experiences were worth documenting in a post to provide insight to others in similar situations - you can read here.
Instead of going into a boring amount of detail of what the experience has been I am going to break it down the Good, Bad, Ugly, and some final thoughts on Librem and the future.
Purism updated the EC - I can’t tell you how critical this was as an end user, but it made a big impact for me and usability of my L14! All of you receiving your laptop with this standard are fortunate, one of the most annoying experiences of using this laptop was the vacuum like sounds of fans going full blast at random times for no reason to the point that it made it unbearable to use. Kudos Purism team on that one, you got more work to do but you fixed an issue that was a nuisance to early adapters.
The Laptop chasis and frame - It’ physically holding up just like the big boys! Although I protect my laptop appropriately, I travel and move around a ton with it and its still very sturdy with only wear showing on the keyboard keys. The I/O available for the most part (see Ugly) has been great. I’ve found myself in 3 scenarios over the past year or so where I needed to plug in via ethernet - each time it feels comical but it’s been great knowing that port is there. I have 1 major gripe on I/O but as far as the frame itself I would encourage Purism to consider:
- Strengthening the wrap and backcover of the screen. Its certainly not as flimsy as a cheap laptop, but they are note quite Apple and Thinkpad level strength.
- Changing the nails used to open/seal the laptop. Looking at other manufacturers, there are better options for this. I talked about this in my previous post, and I still fee opening/closing this laptop should be less of nuisance.
- Laptop still significantly fast - I can’t imagine for how I use it for and what I use it for that this will change, but for even the most pro thing I do (Running Windows 11 via VMWare for some audio editing apps I use) it’s still very smooth.
Battery Life - It’s not the worst in the world, but have any of you had a chance to work with a Mac M1/2 laptop or an X1 Carbon 8th or 9 gen? The batteries on these newer generation laptops are insane, and they charge incredibly fast. I know This isn’t all Purism’s fault and that these vendors have the finance and development to enhance battery life. Here’s how I see it - I can’t get 6 hours of battery surfing the web on my L14 when my job’s Macbook M1 while also outputting to a portable usbc monitor will give me a solid 8 hours without needing charge, If I am watching media, I’ll be lucky to get 4. I think Purism can do better here.
Screen Resolution and brightness - I spoke on this in my original post, and would say I feel even stronger on this 14 months later. I have wondered beyond privacy, FOSS, and security - who is the L14 Owner? Whether its a pro user accessing media tools like Darktable, Inkscape, or Blender -or- the more casual like myself, that uses to primarily consume content and surf the web – we can all benefits from higher resolution on our stock laptop screen. If like me you switch between laptops through out the week, it’s easy to see how mediocre the screen on a L14 is. As some of these vendors start to flirt with screens above 4k resolution, the next L14 needs at least a QHD screen to be competitive.
USBC Port fiasco - I have no other way to call this, but there’s some serious issues here, some USBC monitors work and others dont. I understand the difference between thunderbolt and usbc, this isn’t what I am talking about. My portable monitor works like a charm with my L14 but unfortunately my nice 27 inch Lenovo monitor doesn’t through USBC which is truly annoying. Further more - and this is totally unacceptable - whenever I try to charge my L14 via USBC whether its a wall outlet or a 60w pd battery I have the laptop shuts off. I am convinced there is something wrong with the mb or io that causes this to happen, maybe I am wrong. My hack around this issue is to put my laptop to sleep first > plug in USBC charger > wake it up and keep working.
Battery Timer - I am not on this forum often, but I know that this has been a big issue that its appeared prominently on here. I’ve already griped about the battery above in this post, and that’s one thing. What’s horrible is when you’re furiously working on something and your laptop just shuts off - but I thought I had 15 percent left! You live and learn, and you start plugging your laptop for charging at 20%. Honestly though is this both a software and a hardware issue? Is this something that could be adressed in future firmware? I honestly have no clue, but one could hope. I never had this issue using Elementary on thinkpads before. For the market Purism is chasing - this is simply unacceptable. This is an issue you’d expect from a bargain brand laptop - years after usage.
Final Thoughts and would I purchase Purism again?
Overall - despite even the issues aforementioned, I still enjoy using my L14. There is a bit of novelty to this device and I like it. the industrial look with no logos on the top is a winner IMO. The changes they made over the previous model are evident and Kudos to Purism for continuing to fix issues (where they can) and making the laptop better functioning. I am not a Purism Fanboy, nor follow the company gossip - but I do want Purism to succeed as a business and I want them to be a viable competitor in the niche Linux laptop space.
Will I buy another L14 in the future when the time comes?
Maybe. Yup, I said maybe. Since I put down the money to pre-order an L14, Lenovo has made some bold steps to support linux on their thinkpads, even selling stock X1 carbons with Ubuntu/Fedora preinstalled. I never thought the day would come, but its here. Dell already does this (although I’d never buy Dell). Thinkpads are phenomenal laptops and I can’t expect Purism to match their quality when competitors in the same space who’ve been at it for decades can’t. If Purism wants to keep me (and probably a bunch of other customers) the following needs to happen with future Librem Laptops -
I/O Improvements - Get rid of the barrel charger, and add another powered usbc port instead. Get the best usbc ports installed on to the board possible and invest in improving the usbc driver. I don’t see usbc going anywhere soon. I can tolerate the issues with my L14 today, but 2-3 years from now I certainly won’t. instead of microsd, lets upgrade to a full size SD port. Even Apple recognized it’s failures on this one. Sure a cheap usbc to sd card dongle is 14 bucs on Amazon but native is better.
Battery Improvements - I am not expecting Purism to deliver a laptop with a 14 hour battery life with one charge, but can we aim for 8 and maybe 5-6 when consuming media? A little goes along way. At what point are Clevo laptops capable of this and companies like System76 benefit? Oh, they already are… Fix the issues that cause your laptops battery timer to not present correct information on whats left when in usage.
Screen Improvements - To me this is huge. why would I pay almost $1400 when for a few hundred dollars (around $1650) more I could get a X1 Carbon with a 4k screen and linux to boot? Again, I think having a better screen would be an improvement that all types of Librem owners would benefit from. I know its easier to handle one SKU with these types of things, but even if it was just an option to upgrade the screen - I would have gladly forked over $300-400 for it.
This is a nice to have but not the end of the world -
- Small improvements to the chasis - Make it easier to open/close the laptop, once its open it was pretty easy to upgrade. The size and weight is excellent! I think you can keep this build for generations to come, but some small changes would make a huge impact.
Finally I recognize Purism is a boutique vendor which has its compromises. What in life doesn’t? I’m wishing for you to get your logistics in order and meet the promises you’ve made to customers in the past, and that what’s to come only improves on the hard work you’ve already accomplished. I’d prefer to purchase from you, then to go back to Lenovo, I’ve been a Linux User now for over 15 years and have seen our community as a whole progress. Purism - you’re coming of age at a pivotal time for computing privacy and security. You’re needed in this market, and now is the time to deliver quality products to us and go beyond just the hype and novelty.