Why does the librem5 costs so much more then the Pinephone


#1

I have been asked, why the librem5 costs so much more then the pinephone (https://www.pine64.org/pinephone/): 600 € vs 150 €. I think, one of the reason is, that the librem5 has better hardware. For example more RAM, more Memory, a far better Camera, …

It would be nice if someone could exlplain, what are the reasons.


#2

Hardware is a large part of it. Purism is putting a lot of work into making sure the phone would qualify for the Free Software Foundation “Respect Your Freedom” (RYF) certification. It’s not just better hardware, it’s hardware that is engineered to give you a secure device. The Pinephone makes no such effort.

Purism has also put a lot of work into software development. The Pinephone has put, as far as I’m aware, no effort into software development (according to their homepage, it runs mainline Linux and “anything else you’ll get it to run.”) All of their efforts in this area consist of taking existing OSes developed by other companies/organizations and making them work on the phone. That’s not to say that this approach is wrong, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee a functioning (or supported) phone once the customer gets the hardware.


#3

it’s also got to do with the fact that the L5 is the first iteration and that there is a premium for the “tip-of-the-spear” products - price will come down depending on how much more users are going to buy it and the future revisions.


#4

The Pine64 phone is going with a preexisting board design and with very low end specs. They are not designing an OS instead they are advertising the OSs that you could put on it. The librem 5 in contrast has taken significant R&D, a new board design, decent specs, and OS development. It’s a very heavy lift for a company to undertake and the price is modest given the effort put in.


#5

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.


#6

In a way, Purism and people who backed/ordered the phone are subsidizing a lot of the Linux mobile development (Phosh, libhandy, testing, using, etc), which is benefitting the PinePhone and other projects. This is in addition to the extra measures Purism is taking with the Librem devices to ensure they are compliant with the FSF…

So PinePhone can get away with releasing hardware and letting the community port/develop the software, in part because the software is advancing, and it’s advancing in part because Purism has done a lot of the work in the past 2 years, in addition to the community.

On the other hand, with more device types out there, and cheaper ones to reach a larger audience, this will also benefit Purism and Librem 5 owners, as the development will feed back into the community and what is available to use.


#7

Thank you all for your answers. They help very much in discussions.


#8

Yeah. Basically, what @amosbatto wrote should be sent to every reviewer out there, because they just don’t seem to get it. In Germany, the Golem and heise article on final specs were a bit like “well, an Android with these specs is about €150…€200, but for the price you get some privacy functions and full Linux support”.
I don’t think that is close to do it justice, and tech magazines should care a bit more :confused:


#9

Excellent post. There is just one point I think deserves a little more elaboration.

I think the more important disadvantage to combining GNSS with the cellular modem is that you can’t use the GNSS without revealing your location. All cellular modems reveal your location, so you can never expect to use a cellular modem without revealing your location. Removing the GNSS functionality from the modem merely limits the precision with which it can reveal your location.

Although the Librem 5 will have a separate GNSS chip, its modem will still contain GNSS functionality. It’s just that Purism is not going to use that functionality or connect it to a GNSS antenna, so it will lie dormant.

They should publish a FAQ answer for “Why is it so gosh darn expensive?!”


#10

is the GNSS separate from the BM818 variants as well?


#11

All modems include a GNSS, but Purism will never use it. Possibly it does not even get an antenna signal, so the modem can’t have an exact position (but the cell tower can have a rough position by triangulation).
The active GNSS is a separate, soldered chip. It still works if the modem is turned off or removed.


#12

has to have a script or something to activate it?


#13

The BM818 has a built in GNSS, but Nicole Faerber told us on another thread that Purism wouldn’t connect the antenna to the cellular modem’s GNSS, so we don’t have to worry about it.

The Teseo LIV3F GNSS is can be turned off by turning off all three hardware kill switches at the same time.

With the physical buttons you can have:
Wi-Fi on, GNSS on, cellular modem on
Wi-Fi on, GNSS on, cellular modem off
Wi-Fi off, GNSS on, cellular modem on
Wi-Fi off, GNSS off, cellular modem off

The combination that I want most of the time will be:
Wi-Fi off, GNSS off, cellular modem on
but the only way to get that is to turn off the GNSS with software which sends commands over the I2C bus (or by physically disconnecting the antenna).


#14

There are some reviewers like Anandtech that take the time to understand the hardware that they review, but most reviewers are lazy and they will see “4x Cortex-A53” in the A64 and i.MX 8M Quad and decide that they are the same.

They won’t realize that the A64 is 20% (0.3GHz) slower, because it is built on a 40nm node, whereas the i.MX 8M uses a 28nm node. The Mali-400 MP2 in the A64 is an outdated GPU from 2008. They won’t realize that the A64 only supports up to 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and is 32 bit for everything outside its CPU cores, whereas the i.MX 8M supports up to 8GB LPDDR4 RAM and is a true 64 bit SoC.

These differences are important because the i.MX 8M provides Purism with an upgrade path for version 2, with more RAM and a better camera and a 14nm node, whereas PINE64 is stuck with a maximum of 3GB of RAM and a 5MP camera and no upgrading because Allwinner hasn’t provided any information to the Linux community on the A80 and isn’t a Linux-friendly company like NXP.

PINE64 is basically stuck, because it has no upgrade path. It will probably have to switch to Rockchip RK3588 or NXP i.MX 8M in any future phones. I’m really happy that we will have economical Linux phones from PINE64, but I’m worried that the company is locked into a low-quality SoC for the next 5 years, and we really need mobile Linux to take off at both the high end of the market where Purism operates and at the low end where PINE64 operates.


#15

I was wondering that . in the future will we have the option to upgrade to a better board seeing this phones modular nature ? And why do you think purism didnt max out the board they already decided on ?


#16

It is possible that someone will take the GPL 3.0+ schematics and produce the same circuit board with more RAM and Flash memory. I would love to see that.

It is pretty clear to me that Purism went over-budget in creating the Librem 5. They originally planned for 16 months of development costs after the crowd funding campaign started, but it will be 24 months if they release in September, which is why the price has been raised by $100 and they didn’t give us better specs.
What I think happened was that Todd Weaver wanted to give us a high-spec phone which is obvious from his interview two weeks before the crowd funding campaign started. Then, Purism did the numbers and decided to be very conservative with the specs, when it launched the campaign, because it knew that all sorts of delays and cost overruns could happen.

Unlike most Silicon Valley startups, Purism isn’t willing to go to a venture capital firm and ask for money, because it could be forced to compromise its principals, so it has to self-finance its development, which means that we have to pay higher prices and get lower specs on version 1 of the phone. Once Purism recovers its development costs, however, I expect that v2 will offer 8GB RAM and 256 or 512GB Flash.

The other thing to keep in mind is that a Snapdragon 425 may have the same CPU cores and the same node size as the i.MX 8M Quad, but it only costs around $10-$12 in large quantities, whereas Purism is probably paying over $150 in components to get the same functionality as a Snapdragon 425. The i.MX 8M Quad costs $20 in large quantities and the Gemalto PLS8 on M.2 card probably costs $35, plus $5 for the M.2 slot. Then add in the ST Teseo GNSS, Redpine Signals 80.112n+Bluetooth, USB 3.0 Host/Power Delivery chip with fast charging and probably a chip to convert the video to DisplayPort or HDMI Alt Mode as well, which is all included by default in the Snapdragon 425. If we want a fast camera, then Purism will have to add a separate DSP or ISP, since the i.MX 8M doesn’t include that either (which is why the camera will probably be slow). Then, add in the Smartcard reader and a circuit board that is twice as large as in a normal phone. It is not surprising to me that the only way that Purism can make it all work was to cut down on the RAM, Flash and give us a low-resolution screen.


#17

I have to settle with the chinese broadmobi because the gemalto doesnt have any of my local bands.


#18

There is no indication that this is it.
On the contrary, at the time they were rather purely technical constraints.
The processor considered was i.MX6, which only supports 3GB of RAM.
For the screen resolution, this is explained by the gpu capabilities and power consumption of the SoC.
And so on and so forth.

For comparison, an iPhone XR from 2018 is 3GB of RAM and 64GB of flash memory.
It cannot be said that the Librem5 was designed with low spec option.


#19

Fair point on the i.MX 6, but 32 GB of Flash was considered a low amount of memory in 2017 for a $600 phone and that isn’t limited by the i.MX 6 processor. Within a few months after launching the campaign, Purism knew that it would use the i.MX 8M and its specs were listed as “RAM: 3 GB minimum (subject to change)” until recently, so Purism was considering providing more RAM, and decided against it. That indicates to me that Purism is economically constrained. Also, the GC7000Lite GPU can handle a 1080p screen.


#20

My 32-inch tv screen is 1080p.

I think 720 will be plenty for a 5.7 inch screen :slight_smile: Anything more sounds like overkill to me. I’d rather Purism puts the money into software and services than for more pixels on the screen.