I received my Librem 5 (Evergreen) a couple weeks ago. To be frank, I’m not terribly thrilled with it.
I contributed to the kickstarter back in 2017. I knew this would be a first-generation device and would be very underwhelming, but it’s worse than I thought. This phone is essentially unusable.
- It’s massive.
After the 12th notice that my shipment would be delayed, I finally bought a new Android phone two months ago, upgrading from my previous 7 year old phone. I had been delaying getting a new phone because Purism was promising to ship “any day now”, but I needed a phone and my previous one, which I’d constantly upgraded and replaced the battery several times, was literally falling apart. So I could delay any longer.
My new phone, a Nokia, is just under 9mm thick. The librem is 16mm. It might not sound like much of a difference, but it’s very noticeable. I’d be embarrassed to be seen using a phone this large and bulky. It looks like it’s about to give birth.
- Terrible UI.
The UI feels like generic Gnome with some very minimal attempts to make it “mobile”. Emphasis on the minimal. There’s a top bar that you can tap to expand a mobile menu, and a bottom bar to expand an application menu, but they’re missing all the functionality that’s been on Android for the last decade. Everything has to be very precisely tapped and swiping doesn’t appear to be supported anywhere except on the lock screen. Not being able to swipe anything is very frustrating and unnatural.
- Terrible power management.
When I unpacked the phone, I plugged it, and then largely have just let it sit there. Despite it literally doing nothing, it’s noticeably very warm. My new phone can run GPS, play music, and hold a call while still feeling cold. Even without being plugged in for hours, it barely uses its battery.
Meanwhile, with the Librem, as soon as I unplug it, it shows its battery at 75%. Since it’s already very warm, if I seriously started to use this phone, would it catch on fire or melt? Or would the battery die long before that after maybe an hour of use? I’d like to try using it, but that brings me to my next point.
- No apps.
Other than the built in calculator, web browser, and chess program, there are virtually no apps you’ve come to expect on a modern phone. There’s a “PureOS Store” but it’s slow, takes forever to open and “download the catalog”, and even then there’s very little there that actually works on the phone.
One of the apps I use a lot on my Android phone is AntennaPod to listen to podcasts. It’s open source and works very well. The closest thing to it I could find in the store was gPodder. I installed it, and then clicked “launch”, and the store just freezes and the app never launches.
If I kill the store app and launch gPodder through the app menu, then it runs, but it’s largely unusable. It only semi-works in landscape mode, which is another annoyance. Apparently, Librem doesn’t have an accelerometer, so it can’t do auto-rotate, so you have to manually switch orientation based on what the app requires. This is very frustrating, since the normal impulse to switch modes is to simply turn the phone on its side, which you can’t do with Librem.
I found gPodder had a screen to search for podcasts via Soundcloud, and I tried adding a few, but it never seems to be able to download anything. Eventually, I realized it was downloading a list of all the podcasts episodes, which numbered in the thousands, instead of the last few dozen as most apps do. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to actually listen to the podcasts. I suspect there are some controls I’m not seeing, as I see some controls at the bottom of the screen clipped off by Librem’s insanely small resolution, but that means gPodder doesn’t work on PureOS. And I suspect most other apps have the same problem.
Physically, it feels solid and looks nice aesthetically as long as you don’t view it from the side. So there’s that.
Am I being too harsh? Can someone talk me down? I want to like this phone, but I’m not seeing any silver lining. Like I said, I knew this would be a first generation device. But the Purism laptop was generally pretty good, albeit it also had some novice design flaws in its physical chassis.
I honestly don’t know what to do with this phone since it’s unusable as a phone, but it also feels like a waste to just throw it away.