Evolution of the Librem 5 design


#1

It appears that Purism outsourced the initial design of the Librem 5 to Neway, a Chinese ODM. Neway has now posted a case study on its web site about designing the Librem 5:
https://www.neway.mobi/odm-smartphone-case-study/index.html

EDIT: Purism’s chief technical officer, Nicole Faerber, informs us that Purism has never had a relationship with Neway.

Kudos to Purism for not demanding a NDA from Neway, so Neway is able to publicly post this information.

What I find interesting is how the current design of the Librem 5 has changed from the initial Neway design.

Here are the things that struck me about how the Librem 5 has evolved over time:

  • The Neway design has “preferred 4GB” of RAM, but the current Librem 5 has 3GB of RAM, so it looks like a cost-cutting decision was made.

  • The Neway design had a very low spec camera (>= 5MP in back and >= 1MP in front), but wanted “good performance with limited light”. We ended up getting much better specs in the final camera (13MP in back and 8MP in front). I really hope that the camera we get in the Librem 5 can take good low-light photos, but low-light ability usually depends on: large pixels to capture light or pixel binning (combining 4 or 16 pixels into 1 pixel), image stabilization so have time to capture more light, and good software processing. I doubt that we are going to get those things, so I’m not holding out much hope for a good low-light camera, but it is interesting that it was a design goal.

  • Two speakers were in the Neway design, and that seems to be what the current design has as well. Will stereo audio be possible in the Librem 5? I have seen a number of phones (like that LG V20) that have two speakers, but they aren’t set up for stereo audio.

  • “sinaling [sic], free speaking” was in the Neway spec, which to me means speech recognition to control the phone with voice commands. From what I understand, this is pretty difficult to do with the currently available free software. It would be really cool if Purism can do this some day.

  • For WiFi, the spec was “802.11a+n, 802.11ac preferred”. I wonder if there was some discussion with Redpine Signals about using their RS9333 chip with 802.11ac, but it ultimately came down to not being able to do it without a binary blob.

  • Neway designed the M.2 card with the RS9116 Wi-Fi chip. I would have expected Redpine Signals to have done this work, so it took quite a bit of arranging on Purism’s part to give us decent WiFi.

  • It is interesting that a replaceable WiFi M.2 card was an early design goal of Purism, because Purism never talked publicly about this until Nicole Faerber’s CCC presentation. Given all the new 802.11 tech that is coming, this is a good decision for future upgrades. I wonder if these decisions show that Purism was already thinking about catering to the ham radio enthusiasts who want to put in other wireless cards for other frequencies.

  • The Neway design has a 9:16 screen (see the image) that is 5.0 - 5.5 inches in size, but the current design has a larger 9:18 5.7" screen. It is interesting that AMOLED was considered as an option. The resolution was “>= 720p” so Purism never expected to use a 1080p resolution. I often wonder why, because it seems like the i.MX8MQ has the graphics power to handle 1080p, but maybe it is a heat issue or simply a cost issue.

  • Neway’s “Hardware Architecture” diagram shows the GNSS chip as using UART, but the current design has an STmicroelectronics chip that uses I2C, so Purism decided later which GNSS chip to use.

  • The Neway design shows a high-speed UART interface to the Bluetooth, but the current design uses the integrated Bluetooth in the RS9116 with an SDIO 2.0 interface, so it appears that Purism was originally thinking of having a separate Bluetooth chip. This was probably another cost-cutting decision to get rid of the separate Bluetooth chip.

  • “Secure Element” is listed in the Neway design which is very ambiguous. I wonder if Purism couldn’t decide at that point whether it would use a TPM chip, an OpenPGP smartcard reader or some other option. Why was the OpenPGP smartcard ultimately selected? I would guess that it is the more expensive option and takes up more space on the board, but it also gives more flexibility.

  • In the “Hardware Design” diagram, the power button is on the top right side of the case. A large rocker Volume button is on the top left side of the case, with the 3 hardware kill switches below on the bottom left side. However, in the “Finished Product” image, we have the current design of 3 buttons on the top right side of the case and the 3 hardware kill switches at the top left side of the case. I think the current design is better, because you need to be able hold the phone in the middle without touching the hardware kill switches.

  • The 3 buttons in the “Finished Product” are EITHER a very large Power button and then two small Volume Up and Volume Down buttons OR a large rocker Volume button, a Power button and a mystery button. Which was it?

  • The diagram has “EDP / HDMI” going to USB-C and MIPI DSI used for the phone’s screen. If Purism uses MIPI DSI for the screen, then it has to use the i.MX8M’s eDP/HDMI for video out, which means using a binary blob. The Librem 5 won’t be able to provide video out by converting the MIPI DSI signal to DP / HDMI alt mode. This tells me that we won’t get HDMI, but then we have the issue discussed on a previous thread about whether the i.MX8M allows DisplayPort without the HDMI blob.


#2

on the about page it says that they are a Shenzen based company so Chinese

https://www.neway.mobi/company-profiles/

With offices in Hongkong & Shenzhen, China, Neway Communication has been concentrated in ODM & OEM for mobile phone since it is found in 2008. Now with an area of 6, 400 square metres and 1, 300 employees (including QC team of 80 members and 100 engineers), our factory in Shenzhen, where Chinese leading cell phone OEM manufacturers gather, is equipped with 20 production lines for mobile phone productions and production capacity of 2, 000,000 units per month.

i wonder how many of those engineers worked on our L5 here …


#3

But at the same time

  • a separate M.2 card allows future upgrades to Bluetooth version, just as with WiFi version
  • this impacts on the killswitch design - the current approach should mean that by definition one killswitch knocks out both WiFi and BT - a separate Bluetooth chip would mean either an extra killswitch or a killswitch that separately kills the M.2 card for the WiFi and kills the BT chip
  • integrated WiFi/BT may free up space on the board that would otherwise be used by the BT chip

My 2 pesos


#4

Yes, I think it is better to have upgradeable Bluetooth, than to have a separate Bluetooth chip which is soldered to the motherboard. I do want to be able to turn off Bluetooth when I use WiFi, but I assume that will be possible to configure with software.

The one thing that I would have liked to have would be a separate GNSS kill switch, but I assume that the Purism designers decided that would be too many physical switches.


#5

Is there any plans to replace the rear plastic cover with an alloy type or an added e tea option for such


#6

Metal interferes with RF signals. In order to have a metal back cover, you would need to build the antenna into the back cover or into the metal outer frame or put plastic strips in the back cover that cover the antenna.

The other problem with a metal back cover is that you would need to have exposed screw holes in the cover or make a metal cover with plastic pressure tabs, so a mixed material cover.


#7

evolution of L5 - from metal back cover to plastic to wood to nothing for maximum RF signals.

depends on your use case i guess … you could mod yours with a 4cm diam noctua fan to blast that heat away.

it does have a usb C port - and there are 5v fans out there.

the only thing science is missing is imagination …


#8

OK to mark the below as off topic …

Ah, I remember Shenzhen, stayed back in those days at the Shenzhen Bay hotel. It was our company’s contract hotel. Beds were hard as a rock. Don’t leave your electronics in the room (it wouldn’t get stolen but it may have been “accessed”.) Take showers with your eyes closed. Bring a bottle cheap scotch to sanitize your metal utensils (also light them off with your lighter but that may cause a disturbance). Across the street was a new WalMart, the fresh food section was also like the fresh market, i.e. live seafood critters in the fish tanks. (Not just lobster like in the U.S.) TsingTao beer was only 35 cents a bottle (after converting from RMB). Remember drinking a sip of fresh tea at LoWu, until my compadre reminded us why the Army gave us shots before sending us overseas.

I also remember the warehousing businesses in Hong Kong. I learned that temporary storage for raw materials is a big business. Because if raw material gets unused on the mainland for six months you get taxed for “dumping”. So it was cheaper to send it to Hong Kong for temporary storage, then later send it back to the mainland to avoid the “tax”.


#9

Nice find. Thanks for sharing!

There was this mentioned in the Purism & Linux 5.3 post.

Mainlining the DCSS driver will also be a huge effort… but NXP wants to look at it, so hopefully we will get both display port and HDMI support in mainline Linux in a not too distant future.


#10

For those not clicking on the blog post, DCSS is “Display Controller Subsystem”.


#11

Reading NXP’s messages about implementing the DCSS drivers for the i.MX8 shows why it is important to select chips from companies that are committed to supporting mainline Linux.

As much as I would like to have the performance of a Snapdragon, it is nice to have a CPU where the manufacturer is submitting code to the Linux kernel and promises to sell the CPU for 10 years.

Now that the Lima drivers are in Mesa, however, Purism might decide to switch to a Rockchip SoC which uses a Mali GPU. The next mobile SoC from Rockchip will have really good performance and be designed for energy-efficient mobile devices (principally tablets). I wonder if Purism will switch to Rockchip or whether it has already invested so much in the i.MX8 platform, that it will stick with NXP.


#12

remember SkyNet is Genisys


#13

Genisys is a new and refurb hardware reseller in Seattle.


#14

Just to make this clear, we (Purism) do not have and never had a business relationship with this “Neway” company. We looking into option now to stop them from claiming having worked for us.

Cheers
nicole


#15

Its China. They can do anything they want.


#16

@nicole.faerber,
Thanks for clarifying this, and sorry about unwittingly posting misinformation. I’ll edit my original post to reflect this.


#17

I wonder why a Chinese ODM would claim work that they didn’t do. This has to hurt their reputation once it becomes public knowledge. Did Neway think that Purism would never notice?

I guess they didn’t count on all the crazy Librem 5 enthusiasts like me who would post links to their web site and draw Purism’s attention. Now I’m curious how Neway got the images and info that they posted.


#18

It may well be that they have prepared business offer (which has never materialized) including design drafts beforehand and now to gain at least something from the spent effort decided to convert it into marketing.


#19

Does the title of the topic need to change too?

Is this “evolution” or “fantasy” or … ? :hushed:


#20

How bout “(malicious) attribution”?
It rhymes :grinning: