My experience with Linux phones
My Librem 5 arrived after 3 years and 10 months of waiting. During this time I felt very disappointed with Purism but I am getting over it quickly. The Librem 5 seems really nice. I’m going to start with a bit about the PinePhone but mostly this will be about the Librem 5.
I will be sticking with my OnePlus 6 running the degoogled /e/OS as my every day phone. The PinePhone hardware just isn’t that good, the Librem 5 is really nice and makes for a great mini PC but isn’t a great phone, at least yet.
First a bit on the PinePhone:
As a phone it is working better for me then the Librem 5. I had success with phone calls, texting, group texting, multimedia, the whole 9 yards. So based on this you may wonder why I don’t really like the hardware. Its SLOW… Painful even. Since I have had the PinePhone for a long time while waiting for the Librem 5 I have made many attempts to make it a daily use phone. They all ended the same, frustration. Its awesome that a Linux ‘phone’ can cost so little but in the end you get what you pay for.
Next I decided since it isn’t really a good phone I will try to use it as a ultra portable computer. No way! Too slow. I docked the phone and connected it to my 2K monitor. Typing in a text window is slow, how is that possible? Ok, perhaps I should not expect 2K from such a little device so I tried a 1080 monitor. Nope, too slow. Can’t play videos without them jumping or just turning into audio only. Perhaps just as a small web browser to keep up with mastodon. Too slow. How about for reading Linux Magazine on the device itself. Kinda works but zooming and moving around isn’t great.
Perhaps if I use it for listening to anonradio shows and chatting on com. First thing I tried was connecting Bluetooth speakers, which worked. Next to connect the Bluetooth keyboard. Nope, music stops and is jumpy. Can’t handle two Bluetooth devices, too much for it I guess.
I did find one thing it did pretty good. Watching videos using VLC on the phone itself, no external monitors, Bluetooth devices, etc.
If someone involved with this project were reading this I would want them to know: I love people can experiment with a Linux phone so inexpensively. I love the hard work the developers have put into this phone. It may be a great development device, to keep programmers from writing inefficient code. The work you have done to get a very poor quality camera to take not horrible pictures is amazing. Thank you for all your hard work! Perhaps the PinePhone pro is a step in the correct direction, I have not worked with that device.
From the moment I took it out of the box I started liking it. It feels quality. I’m not saying its perfect, its very thick. Like two PinePhones taped together thick. But its really pretty and solid feeling. After messing with it for a couple of days I still feel very happy with it. It won’t be the phone I carry every day but it will be an awesome mini PC I can dock and work with that also can be used undocked pretty well.
When I powered mine up it seemed to have some testing software installed. This was frustrating as I wanted to start using it right away. Turned out to be very easy. I run Pop!OS and using this guide I was up and running quite quickly. Link
Texting works great! Multimedia, text messages, group texts, all working fine. I thought calling didn’t work at all because trying to make calls from home didn’t work. I traveled to a more populated area and the phone started working. Seems when I make a call, and NOT at home, the screen changes to say 2G. 2G? Really, is that still a thing? I read online VoLTE is experimental and not yet working correctly.? More research here is required but I can say this. All other phones, including the PinePhone, work for making calls at home. I’ll try and update this as I learn more.
Network Mode: 2G,3G,4G(Preferred)
Access Point Names: I added ‘T-Mobile’, ‘fast.t-mobile.com’
Preferences, SMS and MMS settings..
Request Delivery Reports, SMIL for MMS both on
Proxy: Left blank
As a mini computer
Everything I have tried has worked. I have it connected to a 2K monitor playing videos, running terminals, chatting, minicom connected to a ham radio setup. The processor seems to be about 40% faster then whatever is in the PinePhone but even more important is video. Refresh is fast and videos, windowed or full screen, work great.
This photo shows the Librem 5, on the left, connected to a USB dock. 2K monitor on a stand showing htop, a video called Lunarcy playing, and firefox showing mastodon.sdf.org. Its also connected to a USB mouse, keyboard, Bluetooth speakers.
It has a good camera, but its all manual. Gain, exposure, balance, focus are all manual. If you have all the time in the world, are warm and comfortable, and feel like playing with camera controls, you will like the camera. If it has automatic controls, I have not found them yet.
Left to right: OnePlus 6, Librem 5, PinePhone. These pictures were all taken at the same time. Its a picture of a person standing in a dark doorway at Fort Baldwin in Maine. The sky over the fort creates a challenging situation for any camera.
The OnePlus did an amazing job, and was fast. The Librem 5 did pretty well but took me a long time messing with controls to get this picture. I suspect it could have even done better if I had reading glasses with me and spend more time trying. The PinePhone did the worst by quite a bit but at least I didn’t have to mess with camera controls. Did I mention the PinePhone was slow? :) One place it really shows just how slow is when you take a picture. I believe the camera is very bad and the people developing the post processing are doing an amazing job. While the underpowered CPU does this magic you wait, and wait, and wait. In fairness the Librem 5 does some processing also, but its quicker.
Not good news here. I will try and report specifics later but the summary is the battery goes fast and it takes a while to recharge. Because the battery is easily replaceable it could be an option to carry a spare but that isn’t a great option. It seems to use a lot of power. They supply the phone with a 3A rated charger. I suspect it uses it all for charging and operating at the same time. Not just any phone charger is going to be able to do the job.
I didn’t pay much for my PinePhone but other then entertainment I don’t see a lot it can do for me. The Librem 5 is pricey and getting more so but I suspect I’ll start using it over my laptop frequently. Its easy to carry, can be docked for a full PC experience. The hardware leads me to believe that with software improvements it may yet make a good phone.
I really like my Librem 5. It will make me an awesome mini computer that I can use stand alone or docked. I love the hardware, the serviceability, replaceable battery, cell modem, WiFi card, etc. I also love the contributions Purism has made to Linux and software freedom. While waiting for them to deliver on a promise, I would not buy from them. They have now delivered. Probably not going to pre-order anything but looking forward to supporting them through available products and services.