A Humble Librem 5 Daily User Review

Hello everyone. I am typing this on my recently received Librem 5 while docked to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and Bluetooth headphones!

I have been giving the Librem 5 a test run as a daily driver for the last few days, and will attempt a simple review for those who have been waiting years (like I was). I will start by saying that I am not a developer or programmer, just an open source enthusiast. I am also a fairly patient person compared to others I know, so take that into consideration if it seems like I gloss over any weaknesses.

tl;dr

-Physical frame, killswitches and screen feel nice

-It eats up battery super fast and overheats when charging; workaround is put an ice pack under it

-Convergence is awesome! There are apps for basic functionality, especially Flatpaks

-It is a bit slower when doing too many basic functions, so don’t expect to do insane multitasking

Build Quality

The overall physical feel of the phone is rather pleasant I would say. It is certainly thicker than most phones are today, but I wouldn’t say that’s inherently a bad thing. I feel like I can keep a firm grip on the Librem 5 without a case whereas most modern phones feel like they can slip at any minute. The ability to repair and replace parts is also cool, but I haven’t cracked it open yet. It doesn’t feel clunky by any means, and in fact I would say it gives it a more solid feel. I did pop out the sim card tray to load, well, the sim card as well as an SD card to hold my 34 GB of music. The tray is easy to get out when empty, but I do have to use the sim tray tool to help pull it out when it has cards loaded. It’s not super difficult, but something to be aware of.

The hardware kill switches are easy to find and switch when needed. They feel sturdy and don’t flip on their own when in a pocket. I had read in previous posts on the forums that the microphone was garbage on phone calls, but when I tested it out with my wife (and a couple of real world calls from other people I wasn’t expecting) it sounded clear. When testing out the calls I had the kill switch for the microphone and camera turned off. I switched it on after the call connected and it instantly picked up on the mic and allowed me to speak. It’s also nice to be able to just flick a switch to turn off Wifi and Bluetooth when I head out to work, as I won’t need them, and hopefully save some battery.

Saving the battery has been the biggest struggle. This thing drains battery fast, and I can see the percentage drop by the minute with even light use. Like I said before, I am not a programmer or developer. My job has me driving around a lot so having some mobile capability is a must. I manage to get through the day by pretty much plugging it in to “charge” whenever I can (at my desk when I’m in the office or using a car charger when I am driving). I use the quotes because unless it is a high capacity charger, it will either barely keep the battery level where it is, or maybe gain a percentage or two after 30 minutes or so. That has been enough to get me through the work day and then charge it up when I get home.

If you do manage to have a high capacity charger, like the one included in the box, it will overheat after charging about 10% when charging at a level lower than 60% (this is an estimate, not a firm number as I have not tested to that level of detail). That means I would charge it to gain 10%, it would overheat, I pull the charger, wait for it to cool, and by the time I plug it in again I lost the 10% I just gained. The way that I have gotten around that has been to literally charge it on top of a sealed ice pack to cool it enough to keep charging constantly.

The other thing about temperature is it will warm up a bit when in a pocket. It’s not burning or anything, and it has never felt too hot to touch; but it does feel warmer when I bring it out of my pocket to use.

Those drawbacks can all be fixed with future software updates, though. From what I have seen in the forums it is a high priority of the phone developers and I am looking forward to those updates.

Software

When I was lurking in the forums waiting for the phone I wasn’t sure if I was going to like PureOS. I used GNOME a lot back in my early Linux days, but more recently have come to enjoy using a distro based on KDE Plasma. But when I got my phone I figured I would give PureOS an honest try before deciding to try out Plasma Mobile. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised, and it is awesome to see the shell switch to the larger screen and take full advantage of it. The official app store has extremely limited selection of apps tailored for mobile, but if you venture into Flatpaks you can get all the basics that have been ported to the mobile chip architecture.

Convergence has been really awesome, especially for someone like me who only realistically used a computer for light applications such as Firefox, LibreOffice Writer, Discord, Signal, and a music player. To put it more concretely, my laptop has 16 GB of RAM but I rarely use more than 4 GB. Having one device that I can use as a phone but then also as a computer for my light tasks has been a great experience. The only issue is, again, the charging and temperature. I am powering the Baseus Phone Dock (which I found through lurking the forums) with the charger the phone came with, which delivers 15 W. It does not seem to be enough to power the dock, the peripherals, and charge the phone. But the dock does keep the battery from draining quickly, and I can use it for several hours so long as the phone was decently charged when first docked. The temperature does creep up when used during docking, so I think even if I had a higher capacity charger it wouldn’t really charge much anyways.

With only 3 GB of RAM, if I try to run everything like I would on my laptop I would probably bump closer to that limit. There are times where it will start to slow down, either from reaching the RAM limit, the temperature throttling the processor, or possibly both. Those instances have been rare, and I am enjoying my experience overall with PureOS on mobile. I change the display scaling to 150% to regain some real estate for the phone’s screen, and I think it has a better look than the default 200%.

Is it worth the wait?

For my use case, I would say definitely yes. Like I said, I use a computer primarily for light tasks and the Librem 5 can handle those really well (processor and RAM wise). I look forward to the software improvements like suspend and better temperature management when charging so I don’t have to keep one eye open for the nearest outlet. This device is impressive for being designed essentially from scratch.

If there are any questions on things I might have missed feel free to reply and I will try and get to them when I can.

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Good review, and I agree with your points.

As far as charging, this car charger was recommended to me by another member of the forum. Does really well in providing a quick charge. Thankfully, I spend most of my work day in a vehicle, so I’m never too far from a charger.

Alogic CRCA57 45W 2-Port USB-A Phone Car Charger

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By “overheats,” do you mean that the red LED starts blinking, indicating overheating/excessive temperature, or simply that the phone gets hot, or hotter than you expected, but the LED doesn’t blink? (I’m asking just for clarity; the frame will always feel warm or hot during certain operations, because internal heat is dissipated intentionally through the frame.)

A thorough initial review; thanks. By the way, you’ll find that by enabling “Show IncompatibleApplications” in the store preferences, you’ll be able to search for any application available in PureOS. Many of these might scale and work OK on the L5, even if they’re not officially labeled “adaptive.”

Thanks for the nice review. Did anyone of you who are charging the Librem 5 in the car ever get a stable GPS fix and use the Librem 5 for navigation? I also use my Librem 5 now as the daily phone, but I barely ever can get a GPS fix. Using the Librem 5 for navigation is currently still not possible for me.

Yes, to clarify, I do mean that the LED blinks red indicating overheating

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I haven’t really tried out the GPS or maps. I have only used it here in my hometown with locations I’ve already been to. The weather app will sometimes think I’m a few towns over, but a restart usually fixes it.

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I can’t begin to test GPS. The pre installed map app is sluggish to the point of being completely unusable.

How is it with a higher wattage charger? Does it overheat faster too? Or does the battery get a decent amount of charge before that happens?

I have not experienced any overheating issues in regards to that charger, but I do keep it next to the AC vent. My only overheating issues have come from it staying in my pocket while outside in the sun. I have to turn it off it gets so hot.

Nice post! I’ll try and come back with a more detailed reply later when I’ve got more time, but for now just one thing: Charging!
I’ve actually had a real quality of life improvement after switching to higher wattage chargers - I’ve been having way less problems with both an Anker 30W GaN charger and a Baseus 65W GaN charger.

Regarding heat and battery endurance: Remember to switch off WiFi/BT when you’re not requiring it. That Redpine chip can run hot.

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Thanks for the advice! I’ve been debating whether to spend the money on a higher wattage charger or not. I think now I will order one and try it out.

Do you have a link to the forum discussing this dock, or the specific dock that you purchased? I bought an Anker 655 8-in-1 hub. Because it consumed 15 W, I asked anker support for charger advice, and they suggested their Anker 713 45W charger. I’ve had mixed results, however. Sometimes I don’t get a charge to the phone through the dock I have, even with the powerful charging brick.

Any suggestions on getting LibreOffice to work on byzantium? The basic install in their repo does not seem compatible with the phone, and merely freezes when I use it.

This post is where I found info on various docking stations. Upon further testing with a higher wattage charger it doesn’t seem to charge while docked.

As for LibreOffice I installed it through Flatpak and it is working just fine for me on Byzantium.

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Have you read the small text on the charging brick?
I tried with a Lenovo 65W charging brick and guess what. At 5V it delivers only 10W making it worse than a 15W smartphone charger.
The phone dock question is really interesting. With a Lenovo notebook docking station I got no display connected. With another no name docking station I got display, but there are interruptions in the picture from time to time.

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They do have three power supplies (I’m about to test two of them) but the suggested one is not on my list. In addition, small green arrow (on much smaller IPS display) explains a lot (but not everything, note that battery icon is on 81%). Anyway, please enjoy content of those two pictures:

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@Hristo, perhaps you are about to buy this USB Type-C Gen2 dock AENZR AZ2406 and test it with your monitor (I’m about to use it with my Librem 5 with some other device, through this reliable Linux HDMI output port as well, but need to settle down some more, do this when more time available)? Please feel free to be able to rely on it (get it work with your monitor) and therefore here is what to expect from AENZR AZ2406 device:

EDIT: VL103R+PS186+VL822+RTL8153

I have not decided yet on which to buy and I would always prefer to try to avoid made in PRC if this would be possible.

Than just wait until old stock (mostly non-compliant hubs) within the country where you live in is sold away. But what is about to be imported (as needed/compliant), I do not know that.