After paying 0.163 BTC for a pre-order, I patiently waited two and a half years for the Librem 5 to finally arrive. Now after half a year with the phone, I finally lost patience. For some more context, please read my former blog posts The Librem 5 phone is still at an early stage and One month with the Librem5.
A computer that looks like a phone
When the phone arrived it could do computer things, but no basic phone tasks. The browser worked very well from the start. So it was more like a small tablet. Phone calls didn’t work at all for the first month. And text messages started working after about a week, but only with weird workarounds.
An expensive hand warmer
When the phone arrived, there was no power management implemented, meaning it constantly ran at full speed. No wonder was the device always warm and the battery was flat after an hour on average. It didn’t make a difference whether I used it or not. After about one or two weeks of having the device I charged it over the night while it was switched on. When I grabbed it in the morning, it was so hot that I could not hold it in my hands. The plastic part between the cellular and the wifi cards started melting together with the back cover.
One common occurrence was from early on that it it would no longer react to any inputs after a while, but still burn the battery down at the same speed. It also at the same moment stopped responding from SSH connections, so it was not just the display.
The first freeze happened five minutes after I switched the phone on for the first time. When the issue started, I had a freeze about every second day, then every day, then twice a day. For a while it never ran for more than 15 minutes without freezing. Since about the time I had the phone for a month, it rarely runs for more than five minutes before freezing.
The freezing is the issue that rendered the phone completely useless for me. It triggered me to move the SIM card back to my five years old UBPorts phone. For the next few months I switched the phone on about once a week to install the latest software upgrades. Every time I hoped the freezing issue would be solved. From the responses on the forum, it appeared like my device was the only one experiencing these difficulties, but still it appeared like they were working on resolving the issue through software updates.
Bricked for the first time
Instead of fixing the freezing, an upgrade around Easter made the phone not boot any more. It started to boot, but was stuck at the terminal that is usually only visible for a second. Apparently it was a known issue, but the remedy that was provided, didn’t work on my phone. So I was advised to re-flash it. But the flashing procedure also didn’t work. After a while and some experimentation, I found out that, out of a computer and two notebooks, only my XPS13 was able to flash the phone. I am still puzzled why it didn’t work with the Librem13 especially. But to my disappointment, the freezing issue persisted.
I kept installing the upgrades on a weekly basis. In between I usually removed the battery. When I tested the voltage, it was always between 3.6 and 4 Volts. Then one day I left it plugged in with the original charger for about a week or two. Since then It wouldn’t boot any more. Not only did it stop booting in the middle of the process like before. This time there was no sign of life whatsoever. When I tested the battery, now it read 0 Volts no matter how many times I tried to charge it. I tried with the original charger as well as with others. I read somewhere that the L5 has an issue with the charging, in that it starts discharging after the battery is full. After that it apparently doesn’t start charging again until it is re-plugged. But I didn’t expect this to result in a battery that appears to be totally dead. Even if I wanted to charge it with an universal LiPo charger, I wouldn’t even know which way to connect it. The phone doesn’t run with a dead battery, and it also doesn’t boot without a battery.
Sending it back
The only thing left for me left to do is sending it back. I didn’t sign up for a museum piece. I just want a phone that works. It is up to Purism now if they can repair my phone, send me one from the current batch, or one from the mass production batch later on. After being through all this, I would prefer to wait for the batch that is hopefully more reliable. But I will take whatever Purism sends me.
I am often asked about this open source phone that I told everyone when waiting for it. I would love to tell them how great it was, and convince them to order theirs as well. I still think it is very important to have a phone that you can trust. But unfortunately I have to tell them what a disaster it was so far. I tell them that it appears that I got an exceptionally bad sample, and that most others are probably fine, or at least usable. But I can see from their reactions, that my experience is enough of a deterrent for them not to consider buying one.
Update September 2020
Soon after sending back the phone, I received a replacement unit. Unfortunately it came with a US modem. So I waited for another month for the correct modem. It arrived yesterday, and it was easy to replace. Now I finally have a working phone. I switched the SIM to the Librem5 and use it as my main phone now. Some things have improved a lot since last year. Especially the power consumption. Others not so much, such as bluetooth in the car. Anyway, I plan to write another post after gaining some more experience with it.
How’s the new Librem5 worked out since September? I’m strongly tempted to order one (as I’m a long-time Debian GNU/Linux user), but I haven’t found many actual user-reviews of the phone.
I used the Librem 5 as my main phone for half a year after writing this post. In hindsight, my expectations were probably too high. But still I was a bit disapointed. Everybody I phoned complained about bad audio quality and a disturbing echo. The battery lasted only a couple of hours in standby. So I had to plug it in wherever possible.
If I remember correctly, it was in March, when I received the PinePhone Mobian edition. The operating system is very similar, but there are some things that ran better from the start:
+ hardware kill switches on the outside and usable
+ feels snappier
– battery live
– audio quality
– bulky and heavy
– hardware kill switches not practical at all
– feels underpowered
– I don’t think the baseband is separated as well as in the Librem5
+ phone calls and text messages worked from the beginning
+ battery live
+ audio quality
+ external monitor worked from the beginning
+ apps like electrum, telegram or firefox worked from the beginning
+ camera works
+ usable virtual keyboard for the terminal
And then there is a con for both: I have still no way to read QR codes for BTC transactions. The Mobian phone app can read the QR codes, and has a button called “copy” but that doesn’t actually copy it to the clipboard.