Librem 5: My experience after a month of use

I wanted to share my impressions of my Librem 5 after using it for a month. I got my unit used and am still waiting for my Librem 5 USA order, which is waiting on the AweSIM service. My prior experience with mobile Linux was with a PinePhone Pro but I had so many issues with it that I stopped using it except for pretty much music.

I spent the first half of the month with mixed usage between my Android phone and the Librem 5 before I decided to fully commit to the Librem 5. It was a bit rough but overall, I’ve been able to fill in the gaps, though with a worse UX in general. Still, I vastly prefer having the Librem 5 as my daily driver over the uncertainty of Android and its immesurable amount of data collection. Most of my criticisms of the Librem 5 are with its software, which can be updated over time, so I’m optimistic.

Device

The device is hefty and is not light by any means, however, it is still relatively comfortable for me to hold in most positions except for holding it above my head in bed, which I haven’t bothered to continue trying since (It’s better this way anyway).

The screen size is okay, though I sometimes have trouble reaching areas without shifting my grip on the Librem 5 so one-handed use is possible in most cases.

Battery

When I first tested the battery life on Wi-Fi but idle overnight, it drained at about 10% per hour without suspend. It could be better now as there have been a number of updates such as the Linux kernel 6.0 and I hadn’t test it since my initial test.

Overall it’s just slightly worse than my dying Android phone from 2018 so it’s not really a downgrade for me here.

Brightness

The Librem 5 doesn’t get as dim as my last Android device, which is still quite bright and strains my eyes in a dark setting. I can’t say what the maximum brightness is like as I have no intention to use it.

Convergence

I bought a Nexdock 360 for this and while it has been helpful for using apps that aren’t adaptive for small screens or running a number of commands in the terminal, I don’t generally use this feature for now. I think if I were traveling, I would use this more.

Flashing

I got my unit used and the first thing I chose to do was confirm it booted up before tinkering with it.

Following the instructions in the Librem 5 docs, I was able to flash it with very few problems, though found the process of inserting the USB C cable and the battery a bit tricky. It felt like it timed out when I wasn’t fast enough to insert the battery and I would have to re-run the script as a result.

Given that I planned on daily driving this device, I didn’t want anybody to have unhindered access to the file system and I chose to use the LUKS image variant to have an encrypted file system. I immediately noticed when the flashing was complete that the eMMC storage had a 4GB root parition while the remaining space was just free space. This posed an issue as I would not have been able to install many apps or install many system updates. After a lot of research, I found a couple of resources on how to expand a LUKS partition, though the one that was most helpful was one from an issue filed with Mobian. I have since updated the wiki with similar instructions.

SD Card

I have formatted my SD card as ext4 with LUKS encryption. I was able to auto-mount this just by using the GNOME Disks app, though this is technically less secure from a security standpoint, I know…

There are a number of Flatpak apps that work just by symlinking a directory on the SD card to the location the Flatpak app expects the data, such as with Komikku. There, I have an info.febvre.Komikku directory on the SD card and a symlink to ~/.var/app/info.febvre.Komikku, which thankfully works.

Speaker Volume

The speaker is fairly quiet at the maximum volume compared to my old Android phone but it’s audible in most circumstances.

Squeekboard (Software Keyboard)

I have this weird issue where the edge keys often don’t register when I’m typing. These keys include the q, p, a, l, Shift, and a couple of others. I often have to go back and press them again slowly.

Applications

Any use-cases that I haven’t mentioned below such as the calendar are ones I most likely don’t use often.

I recommend installing the Phosh Mobile Settings app as it make scaling down applications that are too large for the screen easy. It also has a feature I like a lot which randomizes the lockscreen keypad button positions, which seems like a nice way to mitigate an adversary from observing heat signatures or fingerprints to be able to guess your password from the lockscreen.

2FA

I have Authenticator installed, however, it’s not currently possible to import my KeePass database with my TOTP database and the QR code scanner feature doesn’t recognize the camera. To summarize, I simply don’t use this right now.

I have many of my TOTP secrets stored on my Librem Key as well, however, I can’t easily plug it into the Librem 5 without an adapter and I don’t want to extract the smart card out of it as I use it for other things.

Alarm Clock

The default GNOME Clocks works well enough as an alarm clock. Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible to change the alarm sound through a UI. If I wanted to do so, I could dig through https://specifications.freedesktop.org/sound-theme-spec/sound-theme-spec-latest.html to figure it out but the default sound is serviceable so I’m keeping it for now.

Calls

GNOME Calls works well, though since I’m restricted to 2G for the time being until VoLTE is stable, calls are unstable and more often than not, the party on the other end can’t hear me well due to poor audio quality.

Camera

The Millipixels app has a serviceable UI, though is far from being usable for most users.

I never used my phones’ cameras much for all of the phones I’ve owned so this hasn’t affected my overall thoughts on the Librem 5.

I’m hopeful for the future of the camera on the Librem 5 because of the progress shown in these posts:

Comics

Komikku is the closest thing to Tachiyomi on Android. There are features missing such as browsing the latest works so I have to use a web browser to make up for it. It mostly works well except for the very long startup times; it takes well over a minute from launching the app to seeing the library app, something I hope the developer can fix with better optimizations. As a comparison, it takes about 12-14 seconds to open on my desktop with the same library, which is still not ideal but is much faster there; unfortunately more powerful hardware is mitigating this on my desktop computer.

eBooks

Currently, I’m using the file manager and Foliate as the reader, though I lose track of which which volumes I’ve read in a series. Short of manually tracking which books I’ve read, my current process won’t work long-term. For example, I’m stuggling to keep track of which Sherlock Holmes book I’ve read.

I haven’t found a good eBook management app. Calibre is probably the most feature-rich, however, there’s isn’t a mobile-friendly version of it natively. I know there’s a tool to make it fit on a mobile screen but I just want a way to manage the reading progress of the books I’m reading.

Email

Setting up an IMAP account through GNOME Geary was simple enough. I would like to use a fully-featured email client such as Evolution, though all of the tracking that is possible with HTML emails makes me want to use a client that only displays plaintext emails.

File Syncing

I use Syncthing for most of my file syncing needs and it works well enough. The only issue was on initial setup where the maximum download speed I observed on the Librem 5 was around 5-6 MB/s on the same network, which made syncing large directories take days to complete.

Maps / Navigation

I haven’t been able to get location services to work well for me so navigation apps are impossible for me to use. When I load GNOME Maps or Pure Maps, it initially finds my relative location (it’s not exactly where I’m at but it’s close enough) but then after a few moments, it thinks I’m somewhere around Shenzhen, China. I haven’t figured out what is going on with this so for now, I still use my Android phone with OsmAnd for navigation unfortunately.

Matrix Client

I use FluffyChat for now, though doesn’t seem to support making calls compared to the Android version. I have mixed feelings between Element, FluffyChat, and some other Matrix clients for the Librem 5 because the experience has felt like being a second-class citizen. Maybe the Fractal v5 (Fractal-next) rewrite can replace my so-so experience.

Music

I currently use Lollypop, as my music player and it works mostly well. There are some menus that just don’t work on the device but when using a Nexdock to take advantage of the larger screen size, they work there. I wish it had a way to delete tracks as I dump albums I’ve downloaded from places like Bandcamp onto it and I don’t always like all of the tracks in the albums. I normally use Strawberry on my computers but it’s not adaptive for mobile screens.

News Feeds (Atom / RSS)

GNOME Feeds and NewsFlash both work well. I prefer GNOME Feeds for now.

OpenVPN

Setting up a VPN connection with GNOME Settings is the same as on a traditional computer, though I had to use 100% display scaling to be able to interact with the windows that appear during the setup. Once it was set up, an option appeared in the quick settings menu to toggle it along with the usual other settings such as Wi-Fi toggle and rotation mode.

My VPN provider does offer Wireguard servers, though setting it up through the settings UI is not possible from what I can tell. Ubuntu has a way to do this as far as I’m aware, though is not available in the version of GNOME that is included in PureOS.

Passwords

GNOME Secrets works with my existing KeePass database, though doesn’t support TOTP.

Podcasts

Kasts is serviceable enough, though my experience with KDE apps is that they look out of place and I miss the clean look of GNOME apps. Unfortunately, Kasts is the closest equivalent I’ve used when it comes to looking for an AntennaPod equivalent.

Signal Client

I use Axolotl, though it has many rough edges and doesn’t support making calls currently. I’ve been in the process of moving away from Signal toward Matrix anyway but I have a contact that is more responsive on it unfortunately.

SMS

Chatty works well enough for my needs, though when a message fails to send, as indicated by the red “X” by the message, I’m not sure if it’s possible to retry without manually retyping the message and trying again. I’ve noticed that some messages arrive later than when they were originally sent, sometimes arriving the next day.

Software Center (PureOS Store)

I have had a few issues where software installed from the PureOS repositories aren’t able to be uninstalled through this app so I’ve had to delete them from the terminal with apt remove <package>. To be fair, this is also present on my Librem 14 with PureOS so it seems to be an issue within PureOS, not just the Librem 5.

I’ve had some odd issues when trying to install some Flatpak apps where they wouldn’t show up in the search results so I’ve had to go to FlatHub in Firefox and install the app from there. One example was FluffyChat; maybe there was an unfortunate caching bug or something so maybe it works now or for others?

Video Playback

I use mpv to play videos stored on the device as it has the best performance without stuttering or lagging compared to my experiences with Clapper and Celluloid. Both of them could not smoothly play large video files I had on the SD card.

Web Browsing

GNOME Web is broken until a libwebkit2gtk fix is made available. As much as I want to use it to install sites as applications, I can’t do it currently.

Firefox works well enough, though many websites don’t adapt to the screen size properly, which is a bug on those websites. Dropdown menus within Firefox such as the Downloads panel or the settings panel are hit and miss whether or not they show up or just flicker with no way to interact with them. I tried setting up Firefox Sync but some extensions made pages load much slower so I had to disable the sync and then disable some extensions so that my other devices wouldn’t have those extensions disabled.

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There’s a post by @flanders51 that you may find helpful.

Linux Mint Webapps Manager for web apps

To change alarm sound, it worked fine to move a new alarm sound I wanted to /usr/share/sounds/freedesktop/stereo, and rename it alarm-clock-elapsed.ogg.

For matrix clients I have tested Cinny, nheko, and chatty so far. Cinny keeps crashing. Nheko works quite well, but feels quite bloated. I actually have managed to make an encrypted call using nheko, but it usually doesn’t work. I believe being able to add matrix account into chatty was added quite recently. This has not been a smooth experience, and it seems I have to keep verifying the client. Also calls do not work for chatty. I didn’t know about fluffychat, but I will check it out.

How did you install Axolotl? I just tested with flatpak, and it will not open.

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Awesome review, thank you very much!

How does this work? Do you need some additional software on the Librem 5? I guess I could do it with YubiKey on Librem 5 as well?

I use Thunderbird and display only plaintext e-mails.
Thunderbird is not really designed for such small screens, but I still prefer it.

I’m a bit lazy and would prefer vanilla GNOME Web, though it’s been broken for so long that I’m considering that.

I installed it from Flathub using the PureOS Store. I can’t remember if I did anything special to get it to run but it does have a slow startup time. Just make sure you have a running version on Android or iOS as they require it to link the device unfortunately.

I don’t really like Axolotl in its current state. I think it lacks a lot of functionality and the UI needs work but if you’re just sending text messages, it’ll do the job. It didn’t seem to import my contacts but maybe I didn’t have my contacts stored in Signal so I had to add them with the phone number directly.


Flare looks a bit better with its UI but they have no plans on implementing calls, which is something I kinda need with my limited mobile plan.

There is a Nitrokey App from the PureOS repositories and from Flathub, though I don’t actually use my Librem Key for TOTP on my Librem 5. I would consider using it with my Nexdock with a larger screen and with a dock as there are only USB C ports without the dock. It definitely doesn’t fit on the Librem 5 screen so the Nitrokey App mostly unusable and as you can tell from the picture, the setup is janky without a USB C Librem Key available. The TOTP can be copied from the “Passwords” menu, though I’m not showing what’s under it for privacy reasons. :wink:

I’ll have to give that a try. I haven’t tried Evolution either yet so maybe downscaling them would work.

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A USB-C Librem Key may be nicer but you should be able to use a tiny adapter (USB-A to USB-C) rather than a dock. The adapter could sit ‘permanently’ attached to the Key if you were mostly using the Key on devices that support USB-C. Poor man’s USB-C Librem Key. :slight_smile:

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I do have adapters but the dock was closer to me at the time. :wink:

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Now that NitroKey 3 have a USB-C version, maybe it is time for Librem Key C.

Or dual interface so that the one Key can be used on a computer whether it has USB-A or USB-C.

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Well, you don’t want it to be bulky if you are going to carry it around. And I guess that there are not many notebooks/PCs built in 2022 that don’t have a USB-C port. So I could totally live with USB-C only Librem Key.

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I believe the libwebkit2gtk fix is available now. I saw it listed in the list of packages when updating and websites don’t appear to be crashing in GNOME Web anymore.

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yes, that fix is now available.

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I tried using Pure Maps for navigation today and it worked for the most part. It was able to keep track of my location and provide audio instruction when I needed to make a turn, though the instructions would often come very late and the only reason I didn’t miss those turns is because I was using OsmAnd on my Android phone as a backup, which announced the turns quite a bit earlier. Another issue that I noticed was that the screen kept turning off; there’s probably a way to keep it on while using the app but I just haven’t looked through its settings yet. Lastly, I don’t know if Pure Maps was responsible for this but I ate through my data plan and now I’m limited to 128 kbps; I don’t think this affected the navigation capabilities but I’d have to try this some more.

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It wouldn’t until it had to download the next section of the map, I’d think.

Do you mean picture password?

Anyway, thank you so much for your interesting review!

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Normally, the lockscreen looks like this:

There’s a setting in the Phosh Mobile Settings app that randomizes the keypad.

The lockscreen looks like this with the numbers changing position the next time the lockscreen is shown:


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No, that’s different again and, as far as I know, not yet implemented for the Librem 5.

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Thank you for your answer!
Yes, unfortunately I know it isn’t implemented yet, but when I read that I imagined it was finally! I supported picture password financing it, hoping to have it when I’ll receive my L5!
Have a nice day