It has now been a few months since I received my Librem15 and I think it is time to write a review of it (it is actually long overdue).
The first impression is very positive: a quite large laptop that is also quite light (for its size), good build quality and a nice, pure aluminum casing (no colorful stickers all over the place). The screen is bright and offers a good quality. It is also great to see the hardware switches that allow cutting off the wifi or the camera/mic. A welcomed improvement would be to add labels to these switches (as well as On/Off markings). All the ports are properly marked, the switches should be too! A final touch to this feeling of robustness, would be to add a support under the vents on the back of the laptop: when grabbing a closed laptop by its back, the casing moves a little bit because the vents located exactly there are not supported on the inside. Nothing problematic, but this would make a better feeling. After a little bit of use, one see a few shortcomings to the build quality: one key on my keyboard does not fit perfectly through its hole and one USB port has a slight angle compared to the casing (so it quite hard to insert a usb stick).
When turning the laptop on, the boot time is very short (I have an SSD version). The boot through PureOS is very smooth and looks very professional. One drawback: the battery life is very average. I quickly installed Debian Stretch and after some tweaking (both in the Bios and with updated software), I manage to get a some improvements (10%? 15%?). These updated version are also quite important for performance reasons (latest Mesa, DRI, kernel, ffmpeg, …) for the GPU (now recompressing videos is very fast).
If we have a look at the software side, the bad news start to pile up… First, forget about coreboot. There is currently no coreboot running on this machine, although this is in development. Moreover, I found some default bios options quite bad: although this is a computer aimed at FOSS enthusiasts and security paranoids, Intel’s AMT is turned on by default. And although I ordered mine with an SSD, it was configured as a hard drive in the bios. By fine-tuning the bios, I was able to save more than 1 W in normal use. Second, the SSD… I was assuming that Puri.sm had carefully, lovingly selected all components to be the best choice for Linux. But the SSD (sold at a premium price) is an entry level SSD that is NOT supported by Linux. Yes, you can use it with Linux but it is often described on forums as the worst possible choice for Linux and its firmware can only be updated from Windows! If it would not be a Samsung 850 EVO but PRO, Samsung Magician for Linux would support it. To this day, I still don’t understand why puri.sm chose this ssd. If I would have known, I would have ordered one without ssd in order to add a Linux-friendly ssd myself. Because of this ssd, my laptop can not suspend as it fails to properly wake up from suspend (this did not work from PureOS either). After lots of googling, this comes from the ssd. The most common advice is “update its firmware” which would require to install Windows (which I don’t have and don’t want to have)…
I also realized after receiving mine that although there is a bluetooth module, there is no driver for it. Yes, in the specs you see bluetooth but you need a proprietary driver in order to use it (no open source driver yet).
And the touchpad… Under PureOS, things work well. The driver has been mostly open-sourced, but this consists of bits and pieces floating around. A project on github collected all these pieces and made a (partial) dkms module. A driver has also been integrated into the mainline kernel before being disabled because it was breaking the automatic detection of others touchpads. The truth is, the maker of this touchpad doesn’t work with the community, doesn’t provide any documentation at all and there is not even a proper way to identify the device (many fields are left as “to be filed by OEM”). Moreover, it is a so-called “transitional device”, ie it is not a true multi-touch and will never play nicely as a multi-touch device. For now, I still have to try to merge the dkms and mainline drivers and see if I can load this manually at each boot (since I can also not suspend…)
So, to wrap it up: the hardware is nice, it is a pleasant laptop but there are huge gaps between what it promises (with a heafty price tag) and what it delivers in term of openess / FLOSS. No bluetooth, no coreboot, wrong ssd, no suspend, half broken touchpad. I think that puri.sm should refocus its efforts and invest less in PureOS (who needs one more Linux distribution??) and more on making sure that at least all its hardware works properly with Linux.