Librem 14 Feedback

TL:DR if you’re considering the Librem 14, or have already pre-ordered, it is worth the wait.
While I mostly focuses on criticisms, but if I don’t mention something specific, it probably means it at least met expectations. Overall, happy with the device.

Let me preface this by saying while I’ve worked with Linux (virtual & boards) & shell commands, this is my first primarily Linux computer. I do have a technical background, but thought that the intuitiveness still needs more work before everyday users can easily use Purism’s products, which starts with being able to do everything through a GUI. With that being said, and the criticisms I offer here, I still think it’s a great laptop, especially considering Purism’s social purpose, plight against surveillance states, and what they’re doing for the open source community.

Software
Initially I had trouble getting the latest software updates from PureOS. I recall having to run a full upgrade from terminal to fix that. Wouldn’t be ideal first impression or usage for mass market users, but was fine for me after I looked through the forum.

sudo apt update && apt full-upgrade -y && apt autoremove

I wish that the PureOS store could manage things like .deb & .tar.gz files downloaded from external sources. I also wish the library included more open source software rather than having to download externally. It would also be nice to be able to delete apps by holding them down in the drawer, or right clicking them, instead of having to go to the PureOS store or terminal.

Lots more apps available in Snap/Flathub repos, but would be good to easily integrate into PureOS with a toggle, and to easily add new repos like these directly from the PureOS store. Between all of these though, have been able to slowly get suitable replacements/workarounds for all the apps I was used to on Microsoft/Apple/Google devices. It would be useful if Firefox continued work on PWAs for desktop too, or if there was a way to do this through Epiphany/PureOS Store more easily.

In other words, app installations & firmware updates have been a pain in the butt compared to other ecosystems.

Speakers/Headphones/Mic
I needed to update my boot firmware to the latest as well to get the headphone jack to work. It currently requires manual switching between the speakers/microphone (rather than it automatically switching when plugged-in/removed), and the mic still pulls from the laptop when using headphones, but I know those are being worked on.

The speakers don’t sound great, but it sounds like one of the reasons for that is due to the fact that no equalizer has been implemented yet. There are efforts to reverse engineer it so the EQ is in the firmware, and there is also a software level workaround currently available. Until the headphone mic is supported, can’t test if volume up/down headphones from Android work with Linux (Apple’s definitely won’t because they do their own thing).

I’ve had to manually fiddle with the mic volume to get it right, though others say there is sometimes echo or they can hear themselves. I have run into this with Mac & Windows laptops before, but not as often, so I hope more work is being done.

Camera
Kill switch works well for the camera/microphone. Some programs seem to work better if I enable the switch before they look for a camera/mic, but others detect it on the fly.

The camera can be good, during the day, but morning/evening is grainy, & night time is virtually unusable. It is either too dark/grainy, or when you use a light, washes out bright colours while others remain dark. I assume this is not the hardware, but rather there just needs to be more software/firmware tuning than there currently is. It remains though that doesn’t give a good impression to others when I say I’m video calling from my new Purism laptop.

Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
It performs well I haven’t had any issues with dropping of connections, but it does have a shorter range than my MacBook. A reasonable trade-off for having blob-free Wi-Fi.

For the Bluetooth, since there aren’t any open source drivers available yet, out of the box it doesn’t work until you install a proprietary driver. Reverse engineering sounds like it is being worked on at Purism and Pine, but Purism can’t simultaneously include a proprietary driver and stick to their principles/FSF Certification with it shipped. If someone has the exact commands for adding this, let me know and I’ll edit to add here, haven’t figured it out yet.

Battery
I got the 4-cell version, and while it didn’t last as long as a MacBook, can last a reasonable length of time. Hopefully when I get around to updating the embedded controller, and with future firmware/software work, it can be improved. I hope they will make batteries available as an accessory once they’ve reached shipping parity.

I find it often takes longer to charge than to use up, especially when you’re using it while it’s charging. The battery info sometimes displays incorrectly, or only charges to a certain amount (78%-99%). Would be nice to have a software toggle in GNOME settings to limit charging to 80% to extend the battery’s lifespan.

Screen
Wish there was a 2160p 4K UHD version without sacrificing on battery life, but 1080p FHD is nice. Blue light filter is built into the OS. Also wish it went brighter, especially considering the privacy screen accessory I got from Purism. Wish the privacy screen attached by magnets like I’ve seen with others to allow full coverage, rather than with tabs on the bezel, and a cutout at the top right. The smaller bezel is a lot more modern than the previous generations.

Keyboard
I like having full sized arrow keys, and can empathize with those who want a bigger right-shift key. Would love to have both if I could, but it’s good. Haven’t yet figured out how to function lock the keyboard to more easily use the media controls. Purism Key + Arrows are a nice touch to be able to tile windows, and adjust their sizes with the mouse.

Touchpad
You can click & double click by just touching the touchpad rather than clicking, which is nice, but there’s definitely room for improvement. The main issue is that clicking it works best in the bottom two quarter circles, but deteriorates beyond that. My Macbook from 7 years ago performs a little better than it, and modern touchpads have an even click throughout the pad. Because of this as well, sometimes right clicks with 2 fingers aren’t always registered. Have had to learn it’s quirks to be able to use it well, I don’t notice these issues as much anymore, but still occasionally, and of course know that they’re there. The size is nice though, and those two corners perform well.

Ports & Body
There is a second USB-C port on the left that isn’t displayed on the renders on their site, but listed in their specs. It has all the ports I could ask for in a laptop, but would love higher versions & features.

Only the right one supports power-delivery though. MicroSD port is convenient for not needing a dongle, though could also do with another fully functional USB-C with PD/DP instead. Kill switches on the top are easy to access.

The palm rest stays cool, and feels premium, and the logo-less back looks sleek. I’ve already managed to scratch it though a little from something, so hopefully future versions will use a better alloy. The hinge works well, and sounds like it has been improved a lot from the previous versions. The bottom of the laptop & the hinge are plastic, and creak a lot. The back & especially the plastic keys get greasy easily, so I find I’m having to wipe them down once a week to not look gross.

So glad that the devices don’t look dated like ThinkPads. Those things belong in the previous century.

When Purism Builds a Tablet
I would love a tablet/detachable laptop similar to the Microsoft Surface Book 3, with something like a Wacom stylus. Pine is working on a e-ink tablet only with a stylus that’s about the same size as the Librem 14, and I think there is definitely a demand for this segment. NFC & Qi would be nice to have in Purism’s device too.

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The external mic not switching is a major issue… especially if the internal mic is echoey. Has anyone figured out how to get an external bt mic working? Out of curiosity, what did you order it? I understand the orders are quite backlogged.

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