[ blog » 2023 ]First Look at the Librem 5 (by Philipp Gesang, location: The Tech Saloon)

Electronics bought online can take while until they arrive, but even so orders rarely take almost three years to complete. The glacial production output is not the only aspect in which Purism Librem 5 differs from your run-of-the-mill smartphone. Let’s have quick first look at that “freeest of phones” which the mailman just dropped at my doorstep.

Privacy Features

What sets the Librem 5 apart is how the design is optimized for privacy. On a hardware level this is provided by three separate hardware switches that allow completely turning off the LTE modem, the wifi and bluetooth, and camera and microphone, respectively. On press of a button and the baseband – which as in other smartphones is a separate CPU running its own firmware – is gone. But even when active the (non-free) baseband can’t access the primary CPU’s state, being separated physically from the SoC.

On a software level, the pre-installed PureOS distribution is transparent about using LUKS to encrypt the storage, which is great.


Pureism’s PureOS is just another Linux distro with a Debian-ish userland so the familiar apt suite of software management tools just works. Thus software wise this puts it miles ahead of those primitive apps store driven Android devices. (The Librem comes with a GUI program called “PureOS store” pre-installed but I haven’t figured out yet what that does.)

After setting up an SSH server we can now explore the Librem. First impression: with a recent-ish Bash and systemd I felt right at home on a phone for the first time since the demise of my trusty N900. Thanks to the package repository it’s trivial to install compilers and everything required to get productive, no annoying workarounds like “termux” or “userland” required.

GUI wise Purism went with Gnome. While I am not familiar with it as a desktop environment I understand that substantial parts of it are written in Rust nowadays so that is a definitive upside.


As for the CPU, it’s not weak at all. Raw computing power approaches ²/₃ of the aging desktop I’m writing this blog post on as measured with openssl speed:

device                type                  16 bytes     64 bytes    256 bytes   1024 bytes   8192 bytes  16384 bytes
Librem5 NXP i.MX      chacha20-poly1305    43896.73k    95690.19k   194337.02k   226616.01k   240719.19k   241593.00k
AMD PhenomII X4 945   ChaCha20-Poly1305   139585.37k   284333.16k   333575.19k   354044.06k   361192.98k   360656.22k

Though the device starts emitting quite some heat during the benchmark.

Regarding the camera, the Purism folks got it working after all! Image quality is not remotely comparable to contempory phones but that it takes pictures at all is a triumph in itself.

Phoney Things

Not tested yet: just how well the Librem runs Android software geared towards actual smartphones. Of course, anything that requires hardware attestation will remain off limits, but that’s on the app vendors. As a daily driver however it will at least require some kind of Android emulation because even free software devs seem disinterested in supporting a regular Linux environment. Thus is the deplorable state of mobile computing of our times.

The Librem So Far

A mobile platform that makes sense – this is probably the best single sentence summary of the Librem 5. Interacting with it just feels right as the phone mostly behaves as it should. The Librem’s flaws are either superficial (thermal dissipation, the chunky case) or external (lack of support by app developers). Naturally the SoC didn’t benefit performance wise from the three years of production delays, nor did the hype from the early crowdfunding days. Putting these considerations aside, Purism delivered a fine device nevertheless and, more importantly, proved that most of the anti-privacy, anti-user properties of phones these days aren’t by necessity but by choice.


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