PINE64 isn’t doing hardly any software development, whereas Purism is creating the vital software to make Linux+GTK+GNOME into a mobile operating system, including libhandy, Phosh, Phoc, Calls, Chatty, Tweekboard, Kings Cross (fork of GNOME terminal), Web (fork of GNOME web) and a fork of TinyMail. Purism is creating a new app store for community contributed apps and trying to create Linux as a viable mobile OS, so it can be an alternative to Android+Play Store and iOS+Apple Store.
The i.MX 8M Quad in the Librem 5 costs $20 per chip in 10k quantities, whereas the A64 in the PinePhone costs $5 in large quantities, and the A64 is an outdated chip that doesn’t support USB 3.0, OpenGL ES 3.0, Vulkan and 4K video, whereas the i.MX 8M does (note that the free Etnaviv driver only supports OpenGL ES 2.0, so OpenGL ES 3.0 and Vulkan will only be available in the Librem 5 if you use the proprietary Vivante driver and we don’t know whether 4K video over USB-C will be supported). The maximum camera that the A64 supports is 5 MP, whereas the i.MX 8M has a 4-lane MIPI CSI-2 interface that can support modern 20+ MP cameras. The Mali-400 MP2 GPU in the A64 isn’t nearly as good as the Vivante GC7000Lite GPU in the i.MX 8M.
Librem 5 has a much better camera (13/8MP vs 5/2MP).
The 4 kill switches in the PinePhone can only be set by peeling off the back cover with a fingernail, whereas the 3 kill switches in the Librem 5 are on the case, so they are easy to use. The GNSS is in the cellular modem, so you can’t use the cellular modem without revealing your location. In contrast, the Librem 5 has the GNSS on a separate chip and has a mode to turn off all sensors, so it can turn off more than the PinePhone.
PinePhone uses binary blobs in U-Boot and the kernel, whereas Librem 5 doesn’t, which means that Purism had to do development and design work to run the cellular baseband over USB 2.0 through M.2 connector, the ST GNSS over IC2, and the Redpine Signals 80.112n+Bluetooth over SDIO 2.0, plus add an extra memory chip to hold the code to train the DDR PHY which is loaded by U-Boot.
The Librem 5 is the only phone in the world with a replaceable cellular modem (on M.2 card), which means that the phone can be adapted to different regions and new bands. (However, it can’t be upgraded to support 5G in the future due to its extra power requirements and its antennas won’t support mmWave used by 5G in the US.)
The Librem 5 is the only phone in the world with a Smartcard reader, so it can use an OpenPGP card, so its identity can’t be faked with software and it is more secure for encrypted communications. Purism promises end-to-end encryption over XMPP (and Matrix although it might not be available at launch). Purism is also promising that it will provide a way to use the Librem Key with the Librem 5 to detect any tampering.
PINE64 says that the PinePhone will cater to people who need security, but it doesn’t say how. Binary blobs in the PinePhone’s kernel could pose a security threat since they aren’t auditable.
Purism promises that the Librem 5 will offer convergence so it can be used as a desktop PC when attached to a desktop monitor via a USB-C cable and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, although this functionality probably won’t be available at launch. The PinePhone will support video out over USB-C, but there is no promise of convergence and PINE64 doesn’t have the programming staff to make convergence possible.
Purism is an organization that sees its mission as fighting for the digital rights of users, which is why it is working to make the Librem 5 the first phone in the world to receive the “Respects Your Freedom” certification from the Free Software Foundation.
The KiCAD schematics files for the Librem 5 will be released under the GPL 3.0+, so anyone can easily modify them and make parts and modifications, whereas PINE64 only releases the schematics in PDF and doesn’t provide them under a free license. (Todd Weaver said in an interview that the Gerber files will be released in “3 years, 5 years, something like that,” after Purism has recovered its development costs for the Librem 5.)
Purism tends to make expensive products, but it supports them much better than PINE64, which relies on users figuring out how to solve many of their software problems. The PinePhone will be a great phone for tinkerers, but it isn’t the best choice for ordinary users who expect support from the company.
The PinePhone has a few advantages over the Librem 5. PinePhone is thinner (8mm vs 14mm) and lighter. Its soldered modem supports more LTE bands around the world than the Librem 5, so it is better if you want to travel. PINE64 promises to make the PinePhone for the next 5 years and only use mainline Linux, so it is a great phone for DIY projects and 3rd party mods. PINE64 will also offer more expensive models, so it will probably offer more RAM and more Flash memory than the Librem 5. PINE64 is also working actively with more communities than Purism, so PinePhone will probably be supported by more operating systems and projects than the Librem 5. For example, Purism took a long time to get their Dev Kit to UBports, and UBports is reportedly focusing on porting to PinePhone before the Librem 5.
The biggest difference is that Purism wants to reform the tech industry, push changes up the supply chain and fight for user’s digital rights to privacy, security and freedom in a convenient package that can be used by non-technical users. Purism believes in “free software” because it believes in the larger goals of the FSF and wants to make a better world. There are extra costs to making the Librem 5 with its separate chips and extra development work, so you are paying for that difference, if you decide to order the phone.
In contrast, PINE64 wants to be a community-based company that works in collaboration with community projects to make hardware for tinkerers, developers and enthusiasts. PINE64 calls itself an “open source” company, and wants to produce Linux hardware which is affordable, not hardware which is free of binary blobs and ideologically pure.
Frankly, we need both companies to grow the mobile Linux ecosystem, but as you can see there are huge differences between the two phones and the philosophies that guide the two companies.