Fri Jun 16 2023

Unboxing the Purism Librem 5

by e(Liz)abeth (Mars)ton

I try not to over-invest emotionally in capitalism, so unboxing articles won’t be usual fare for this blog.

That said, I am thrilled to have finally, at long last, received the Librem 5 I ordered from Purism at the height of the pandemic. Shipping and manufacturing disruptions kept my order in limbo for two-and-a-half years!

The world has changed much since I hit ‘add to cart’, but the need for a secure, tamper-resistant handset has done nothing but increase.

First impressions are as follows.

This is a reasonably well-made artefact. It comes in a nice box, with a pleasingly robust 20-watt ‘PD’-grade USB-C adapter and cable. Unlike every other phone I have purchased, though, this one came with additional ‘adapter adapters’, so the USB-C adapter can get juice from e.g. a European-style outlet, etc. It also comes with a pair of surprisingly high-quality wired earbuds, highlighting the fact that this phone, unlike most others, is still able to work with what I will until my dying breath call “real” headphones.

The phone is quite heavy, a brick, really, and it is studded with firm little plastic switches on its left edge, with the now-standard Android volume and power buttons on the right. The case itself is ABS plastic, which after a decade of glass-sandwich-style phones feels cheap, but I know that this perception is not really accurate; I have broken enough of those glass-sandwich phones to find a ruggedized plastic chassis something to look forward to.

The camera and flash on this phone are both small. The rear-facing camera has a single lens (as opposed to the two or three now common on other phones), and I definitely don’t think I’d be using this phone to do photography or videography.

One subtle detail that I loved is that the backplane actually has a small notch in the lower-left, making it much (much) easier to remove than most phones. It looks like I’ll be able to replace the battery on this thing when I need to. Unless I leave it on the roof of my car, that is!

Speaking of failure modes, it turns out that the Librem 5 is not waterproof. Which means I also have to fear dropping it in a toilet, or, you know, just having it out on a typical Vancouver day. This is probably my least favourite anti-feature of this handset, but I appreciate the inherent tradeoffs of sealing a phone against water: you also make it that much harder to hack, to replace parts, and to manufacture.

So that’s the hardware. On to the software.

The first boot experience is a bit odd, as the device demands a disk decryption password; I obviously haven’t set such a password yet. This occasioned ruffling the manual, and sure enough, I found the default password listed in the manual.

After boot completes, you’re thrown into a friendly surprise: a mobile Gnome environment! As someone who uses Linux exclusively for her general computing loads, and specifically, the Gnome desktop, this felt like someone buying me my favourite cake for my birthday.🍰 There is a choice between using Gnome Web or Firefox as the mobile browser, which is great news, because I use Firefox for everything, across all my devices. All my bookmarks and tabs and add-ons will follow me into this phone with very little effort.

I opened the Purism App Store and immediately found several apps I’d be interested in downloading, but before I could, I was offered an OS update. I took that option, and I’m now awaiting reboot.

That’s as far as I got today with the Librem 5, but I’ll be posting further updates over on mastodon.

I do not yet regret my purchase, and there seems like there is a solid possibility that this will be a phone that I genuinely love. Tentatively, I recommend this handset to anyone who uses Linux (especially Gnome flavours of Linux) as their daily driver.


Calligraphic embellishment of the name 'Liz'