Comparing the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta

Contents:
Look and feel, Branding and custom design, Extra accessories and box, Protection of hardware, Hardware kill switches, Extension ports, Flashlight / Flash, Charging, Display, Performance, Heat, Power Management, Haptics, Audio, Disassembly, Longevity, Tech support and community

I have been avidly following the development of the Librem 5 and PinePhone since they were first announced in August 2017 and in October 2018, respectively. One of the reasons why I’m so excited by these Linux phones is the fact that I can look at their schematics. The Librem 5 and Librem 5 USA are the first phones with free/open source schematics for its printed circuit boards, since the Golden Delicious GTA04 in 2012. PINE64 also releases the PinePhone schematics to the public, but they are proprietary so no one can reuse or modify them.

At one point last year, I got so obsessed by these two phones, that I went through the schematics of both models, and looked up the manufacturer and documentation for every named component with a model number in the phones and posted that information on the wiki for the Librem 5 and PinePhone. I also wrote a script to count the number of each type of component in the two phones’ schematics, in order to find out how many resistors, transistors, inductors, crystal oscillators, ICs, etc. were in each phone. My only excuse for this nerdy fascination with the two phones is that I had a lot of free time last year to obsess over the two phones due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been difficult for me to get my hands on these two phones, because I live in Bolivia. PINE64 currently doesn’t ship to South America, so I can’t buy the PinePhone. Purism offers free worldwide shipping, so theoretically it is possible for me to buy the Librem 5 or Librem 5 USA, but it currently takes about 4 months for normal mail to get to Bolivia from the US due to the logjam of mail that was created by the COVID-19 crisis. Even USPO Priority Mail Express, which costs $70 and is supposed to arrive in 3-5 business days to most countries, currently takes two months to get to Bolivia. Getting anything out of Bolivian customs is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take weeks or even months. The 28% import tax that Bolivia charges for electronics is not cheap, and I would probably have to pay a lawyer to help me, so it ends of costing even more.

To avoid those complications, I had both the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta Convergence Package shipped to my parent’s house in Indiana, USA, where they arrived in July 2021. I thought that a friend would be able to bring me the phones in October, but her travel plans changed. I ended up having to travel from Bolivia to the US in order to retrieve the two Linux phones.

I was very eager to finally be able to play with the two Linux phones when I arrived in the US. Sadly, I discovered manufacturing defects with both of the phones.

The Librem 5 USA is the first phone which is assembled in the US, since Motorola shut down its Moto X assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas in 2014. Purism is actually running its own board assembly line in Carlsbad, California, which means running a solder paste printer, parts feeders, a pick-and-place machine and vapor phase reflow oven to do the PCB assembly, plus solder rework stations to manually fix any misplaced components. From what I understand that is a large investment in both equipment and training personnel and it takes quite a bit of practice to learn to use that equipment.

I was one of the first people to receive the Librem 5 USA, and I suspect that Purism had not yet perfected its manufacturing technique when the board of my phone was assembled. The internal speakers on my phone did not produce any audio. I heard good audio, when I plugged a headset into the 3.5mm audio jack, so I know that the WM8962 audio chip was working, so it may have just been a problem with the speakers or the communication lines to the speakers. Here is what dmesg reported about the audio:

[ 10.643478] input: WM8962 Beep Generator as /devices/platform/soc@0/30800000.bus/30a40000.i2c/i2c-2/2-001a/input/input5
[ 10.663816] input: pwm-vibrator as /devices/platform/vibrator/input/input6
[ 10.691765] cfg80211: Loading compiled-in X.509 certificates for regulatory database
[ 10.700956] [drm] Connector status: 0
[ 10.701822] wm8962 2-001a: ASoC: error at soc_component_read_no_lock on wm8962.2-001a: -16
[ 10.723129] wm8962 2-001a: ASoC: error at soc_component_read_no_lock on wm8962.2-001a: -16

I also discovered that the cameras were producing grainy, orangish images, as if the image sensors weren’t receiving any blue color information and I had to turn the gain in the Megapixels camera app to maximum to have a visible image. When I checked in dmesg, the MIPI CSI2 camera interface reported errors:

[ 196.508309] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 493.564120] edt_ft5x06 2-0038: Unable to fetch data, error: -6
[ 494.485813] edt_ft5x06 2-0038: Unable to fetch data, error: -6
[ 720.869981] edt_ft5x06 2-0038: Unable to fetch data, error: -6
[ 2205.224426] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 2205.256348] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: frame in unexpected fb 1
[ 2206.004389] s5k3l6xx: i2c_write: error during transfer (-6)
[ 2206.010091] s5k3l6xx 3-002d: failed to start stream: -6
[ 2254.234377] mx6s-csi 30a90000.csi1_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 2442.373084] edt_ft5x06 2-0038: Unable to fetch data, error: -6
[ 2492.252890] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 2527.221721] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 2527.285564] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0
[ 2528.141764] mx6s-csi 30b80000.csi2_bridge: Skip frame on fb 0

Purism support tells me that this “indicates that the camera failed to start” and I needed to send the phone back to be serviced. Since I knew that Purism wouldn’t be able to repair the phone by the time of my flight back to Bolivia, I decided to play with the phone and benchmark it while I was in the US before sending it back to Purism.

I was also disappointed to discover that the USB-C hub that comes in the PinePhone Beta’s Convergence Package was defective. Although I can charge through the hub, and its two USB-A ports work, the HDMI port doesn’t work. I tried it with both the PinePhone and Librem 5 and used three different monitors and three different USB cables, so I’m pretty sure that the HDMI port is the problem. Because the PinePhone only comes with a 30 day warranty and I bought the phone in July, I am stuck with the defective hub that PINE64 sold me.

EDIT: I figured out that the PinePhone’s USB-C hub does output HDMI. After I upgraded to the Linux 5.15 kernel in Mobian weekly on the PP, I was able to get video out to an external monitor working. I don’t know why the hub didn’t work with the L5, but I’m guessing this is another manufacturing defect in the L5’s USB-C port, because others have reported that the PinePhone’s USB-C hub does work with the L5.

It is clear that both Purism and PINE64 need to improve their quality control, because they should have caught these defects before they shipped me the hardware. I guess this is part of the joy of being an early adopter, but I am still discouraged because I have no idea when I will be able to find someone traveling from the US to Bolivia to bring me the Librem 5 USA after Purism fixes it. I am also annoyed because I paid $50 extra for the PinePhone Convergence Package because I wanted to try using the Linux phones as desktop PCs, but I wasn’t able to.

I wanted to do more testing of the two phones, but I ran out of time before traveling back to Bolivia. I didn’t get a chance to test a number of things, such as making cellular phone calls, SMS messages, the microSD performance, the GNSS, the sensors and video out.

This isn’t a full review of the two phones since I didn’t test a lot of the functionality and was dealing with defects, but I made some observations about the differences between the two phones that I thought others would find interesting.

In this article, I refer to the Librem 5 USA as “L5” and the PinePhone Beta as “PP”. The L5 came with PureOS Amber, and I reflashed the phone to use Byzantium, which is based on Debian 11 bullseye. The PinePhone Beta came with Manjaro and KDE Plasma Mobile, but I wanted to be able to compare the two phones, so I installed Mobian with Phosh, so they would have similar software. I tried both the “stable” version of Mobian with Linux 5.10 from May 2021, and the latest weekly version of Mobian with Linux 5.15.

There shouldn’t be any difference in functionality and performance between the Librem 5 and Librem 5 USA, since they use the same schematics. Purism says that it used a 4GB RAM chip in the Librem 5 USA, but it was configured to limit the RAM to 3GB, which is what I observed. Otherwise, the components named in the schematics by their model number should be the same between the two models. Purism says that the company sourced components locally from the USA when possible, but I assume that those are only the components like inductors, transistors, crystal oscillators, connectors, etc. which don’t have model numbers listed in the schematics.

Look and feel

I expected the L5 to be too chunky and unwieldy at 15.5 mm thick and a weight of 260 grams, which is 40% heavier than the typical smartphone. Nonetheless, I got used to its extra thickness and weight pretty quickly. The case is angled on the back side, so it cradles nicely in my hand, and because it is almost twice as thick as the typical smartphone, it doesn’t feel like I will accidentally drop it, because the thick sides make it easy to grip in my hand and its textured back cover is not slippery and sticks in my hand. The L5’s extra weight actually makes it easier to hold onto, and its density makes it unlikely to slip out of my hand.

However, my sister who has sprained her wrist repeatedly in the past, picked up the L5 and commented that holding such a heavy phone for long periods of time bothers her wrist. For people who have limited arm strength, the extra weight of the L5 may be a factor. I often store my phone in the front breast pocket of my jacket, but I noticed that the weight of the L5 makes my jacket sag on one side, and the thickness of the phone makes my jacket bulge out at the breast. I have no problem sliding the L5 into the front pockets of my jeans, but people who have tight jeans or small pockets may have trouble with the extra thickness of the phone.

The L5 is the first mobile phone ever created with a replaceable WiFi/Bluetooth and a replaceable cellular modem (on two M.2 cards), which means that those components can be swapped and upgraded in the future. It is also the first phone to sport a smartcard reader, which will allow its cryptographic keys to be stored on an OpenPGP card. It has other features which require extra space inside the phone, such as 3 hardware kill switches, a replaceable battery and an internal plastic panel with screws which can be painted with glitter nail polish to determine if anyone has tampered with the hardware. The tradeoff for these unique features is the extra thickness and weight of the phone.

The bottom edge of the L5 (left) vs the PP (right)

The PinePhone, on the other hand, is 75 grams lighter at 185 grams. It is 9.2 mm thick, which is only about 1 mm thicker than the average smartphone. The PP’s back cover is smooth plastic, so it feels a lot more slippery in my hand, and I fear that I will drop it.

The PP’s 6.0” display is only slightly larger than the L5’s 5.7” display, but the PP feels a lot wider in my hand, because its back cover doesn’t have angled edges on the back side like the L5 to make it fit as snugly in the hand.

Long side of the L5 with 3 kill switches (top) vs the PP (bottom)

I appreciate the fact that the PP was designed to have the shape and size of a conventional smartphone, that is unobtrusive and thin enough to slip into pockets. The thinness of the PP is quite a feat of engineering, considering how easy it is to disassemble the PP (see below) and the fact that PP offers a removable battery that can be replaced without tools. I wish that every smartphone on the market was designed like the PP.

The aluminum frame on the sides, the extra thickness and weight, and the roughened texture of the back cover makes me feel like I am holding a quality device that is very unique when I hold the L5, whereas the PP doesn’t have the same effect when I hold it. This is a very subjective reaction on my part, but the slick plastic case and thinner form factor of the PP don’t give me the same feeling of quality when I hold it in my hand as the L5, which feels very unique and different from any other phone I’ve ever held.

The power button and volume rocker button on the L5 have more travel than on the PP, and the L5’s buttons have a more satisfying click when pressed.

Both the L5 and PP have a RGB status LED on the top of the front face of the phone, but the L5’s LED is substantially larger and brighter. I’m not sure if I like the large size of the L5’s LED, since I find it distracting when I am using the phone, and I wish that there was an option to turn off the LED when the display is turned on. However, I think that people could have a lot of fun programming the large LED to display a custom polychromatic light show at times like Xmas and Halloween.

Branding and custom design

The L5 has its model name printed on one side of the phone. The “USA” in “Librem 5 USA” is printed in a whiter ink, so it is more visible to emphasize that it was made in the USA, but there is no branding on the front or back of the phone, which I consider to be tasteful branding.

The PP has even less branding with just PINE64’s tiny pine cone logo placed between the image sensor and LED flash on the back side. The Community Editions of the PinePhone came with the logos of the distro providing the OS on the back cover, which I considered a very classy move on PINE64’s part, and I really like PINE64’s announced plan to sell back covers to the PP with the logos of community projects supplying the software, which includes a $10 donation to the project. I would feel very proud to carry around a phone that proclaims my support for Mobian, postmarketOS, KDE, etc., so kudos to PINE64 for emphasizing the community projects that provide the software rather than its own brand.

PINE64’s pine cone logo between the image sensor and LED flash

Normally, the branding used by electronics companies is not something that I appreciate, because I know too much about how many of these companies operate to be proud carrying around their corporate logos. A certain fruit logo makes me physically cringe whenever I see it, and I hardly want to be a walking advertisement for a certain Korean company after its recent union busting and political corruption scandals.

At any rate, most of the mobile phone brands are no longer designed by the companies that slap their brand names on them, so we might as well brand them as Wingtech, Huaquin and Longcheer, since those three Chinese companies controlled 76.3% of the outsourced smartphone design market in H1 of 2020. Among the major smartphone brands, only Apple, Samsung and Huawei still design the majority of their phones in house, and Samsung is the only major phone maker that still assembles a substantial proportion of its phones in house.

We know that Purism outsourced the design of the L5 to a Chinese or Taiwanese design house, since its original schematics contained some Chinese text, and suspect that PINE64 also outsources its designs, since we never hear from the designers of its products. However, I wouldn’t mind if Purism and PINE64 had included more branding on their phones, because they sport incredibly unique designs and they weren’t able to use a reference phone design from NXP or Allwinner.

The L5 and PP aren’t anything like most Android phones, where the maker of the mobile SoC, such as Qualcomm, MediaTek or UNISOC, provides a reference phone design, and then branding companies work with ODMs and design houses like Wingtech, Huaquin, Longcheer, TINNO, Chino/OnTim, Haipai, Huiye, Ragentek and FIH Mobile to tweak the base design to meet their specifications, and then they install Google’s OS along with their custom skin.

Purism and PINE64, however, had to pay for some serious design work to produce a phone without a reference design and to use a system on a chip (SoC) that wasn’t designed for phones. The L5 requires the use of six separate chips (i.MX 8M Quad SoC, RS9116 WiFi/BT, BM818/PLS8 modem, Teseo-LIV3F GNSS, WM8962 audio and bq25895 charge controller) to provide the same functionality as an integrated mobile SoC like a Snapdragon, Exynos, Helios, Kirin or A-series processor found in most phones. Those six chips in the L5 have packages occupying a total of 1483.2 mm2, which is 9.6 times as much space as a Snapdragon 845 package that is 153.8 mm2 in size. Similarly, the PP uses 4 chips (A64 SoC, RTL8723CS WiFi/BT, G25-G modem and AXP803 charge controller) in place of an integrated mobile SoC, plus it needs the ANX7688 to provide DisplayPort alt mode for video out over USB-C.

Using separate chips adds significantly to the size and complexity of the circuit boards in the L5 and PP. The L5 contains 1267 components on its 4 printed circuit boards (PCB’s), and is the most complex phone that I have ever seen. Likewise, the PP contains 672 components on its 2 PCB’s, whereas the typical Android phone has roughly 400 components and flagship phones have roughly 600 components.

In addition to the greater complexity of their boards, Purism and PINE64 had to go through a lot more board revisions, since they didn’t have a debugged reference design to follow. Purism’s CTO Nicole Faerber says that the L5 went through a dozen different board revisions to make it to mass production. In addition, the two companies have a lot more power management issues than conventional phone makers, since they have to select chips with free/open source drivers, which means using older chips with larger process nodes that weren’t designed for the energy efficiency of phones.

Given all the custom design work that went into creating the L5 and PP, I wouldn’t mind seeing more branding from Purism and PINE64 on their devices, because I think that these companies deserve more recognition for all the work that went into creating these Linux phones. These phones are nothing like the Volla Phone, which is a rebadged Gigaset GS290, or the F(x)tec Pro1 X, which is based on a Qualcomm reference design and uses Android drivers.

At any rate, I wouldn’t mind some kind of logo on the back of the L5 and PinePhone Beta to let people know that it runs Linux, because I am very passionate about letting people know that mobile Linux can be an alternative to the “Surveillance Capitalism” of Google and the “walled garden” of Apple. It may take a while for mobile Linux to provide functionality that matches the Google/Apple duopoly, but I can see it happening in real time as mobile Linux attracts more users and more apps from desktop Linux get adapted with libhandy/libadwaita or Kirigami to run on mobile devices.

One thing that a number of people have objected to in the branding of the Librem 5 USA is its “Made in the USA electronics” slogan on the box. Purism is doing the assembly of the two printed circuit boards inside the Librem 5 USA at its own facility in Carlsbad, California, and presumably the boards themselves where made by another company located inside the USA, but the majority of the components on those two PCBs were not made in the USA, as I explained in the L5’s community FAQ. I think that Purism has done a remarkable feat by managing to assemble its own PCBs, but it should change its slogan to “Circuit boards made in the USA”, because that is more accurate.

The reality is that it’s probably impossible to produce a smartphone whose electronics are entirely made in the USA, and it gets very hard to define where something is made when dealing with a globalized industry like electronics. Trying to determine where the L5’s i.MX 8M Quad processor was “made” leaves me scratching my head. It was designed by NXP’s engineering team located in Austin, Texas and it used Synopsys’s proprietary DDR timing code, so Synopsys probably provided the EDA software to design the chip, and most of Synopsys’s employees are located in California. However, NXP is headquartered in Eindhoven, Netherlands and the chip was fabbed by Samsung in South Korea, so where do you say that the chip was “made”? Probably the majority of the people who worked on the chip are located in the US, but most people would say that the chip was “made” in South Korea, since that is where it was fabbed, but it may have been packaged by ASE, a Taiwanese-based company. Roughly 80% of the world’s foundries (i.e. outsourced silicon fabbing) are located in Taiwan and S. Korea, but fabbing chips is a highly automated process which doesn’t employ that many people, so the physical location of the fab seems like a strange way to count where a chip is “made”.

From a security perspective, where the chip was fabbed probably makes no difference. If there is a backdoor in a chip, it was probably inserted by one of the chip designers. If there is an implanted spy chip in a device, it might be placed between the layers of the PCB, or added during PCB assembly when components are placed on the board or intercepted during shipping. The fact that Purism has the boards made in the US, does the board assembly in its own facility in Carlsbad, California and does the final assembly and shipping from that same facility gives it a claim to security that almost no other company can makes (except Bittium in Finland).

Extra accessories and box

The L5 comes in a big black box with a USB-C Power Delivery 3.0 charger with a folding US-type plug, 2 different electric plug adapters for international use, a black USB-C to USB-C cable, wired earbuds, an ejector pin for opening the SIM/microSD card tray, and a Quick Start Guide booklet.

Librem 5 USA and its accessories

In contrast, the PP comes in a small white box with a red USB-A to USB-C cable and two micro-SIM to nano-SIM adapters. One adapter has a clear plastic backing and the other doesn’t have the plastic backing to keep the nano-SIM card in place. Since I ordered the Convergence Package, which costs $50 more, I also got the USB-C hub with 2 USB-A ports, a USB-C port, Ethernet and HDMI port that can be used to connect with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse to use the phone as a desktop PC.

PinePhone Beta with Convergence Package

Unlike the PP, the L5 includes a charger in the box (see the “Charging” section below). The black USB-C to USB-C cable that comes with the L5 is 39 inches long and is of significantly higher quality than the red 46-inch USB-A to USB-C cable that comes with the PP. The L5’s cable is 5mm thick and is made of a material that does not easily kink, whereas the PP’s cable is 4mm thick and retains the kinks in the cable where it was folded. I assume that L5’s cable is rated for higher speeds than the PP’s cable, due to the L5’s USB 3.0 port, whereas PP only has a USB 2.0 port, which can get by with a cheaper cable. Although I would like the L5’s cable to be a little longer, I really like the quality of the cable, which is the best that I have ever seen.

The L5’s ejector pin has a nice handle to it. It is large enough, that I don’t think that I will lose it. I really hate that modern phones require ejector pins that are so narrow, that normal paperclips or wires don’t fit. It is a small thing that Purism included a quality ejector pin in the box, but I appreciate it, since it is big enough that I am unlikely to misplace it.

I’m less enthusiastic about the ear buds that come with the L5. They are 50 inches (127 cm) long and have a phone/volume controller with incorporated microphone and a 3.5mm TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) jack. They have pretty good audio quality for earbuds, but nearly everyone who needs headphones already owns a pair, and people who care about good audio, probably already own something better.

I’m guessing that Purism included these extra accessories in the box, partly to make people feel like they were getting their money’s worth, since the phone is so expensive at $1199 for the Librem 5 and $1999 for the Librem 5 USA. The L5 comes in a big box, which is designed to impress, and I can’t help wondering if it is also partly designed to convey quality.

I would like to think that I am not influenced by aesthetics and value functionality over style, but I do have to say that the L5’s big black box does make a statement, and my first thought upon seeing the box was “the wait has been worth it.” Of course, these initial visual impressions are momentary, and people’s long-term opinions of the phone will be determined more by the phone’s functionality and future software updates, so I doubt that the accessories and the impressive box will make much of a difference in how people will feel about the phone.

The PP costs significantly less at a price of $149.99 for the PinePhone Beta with 2GB RAM and 16GB Flash storage and $199.99 for the PinePhone Beta with Convergence Package with 3GB RAM, 32GB Flash storage and a USB-C hub. PINE64 makes little effort to impress the consumer with the PP’s small white box, which is minimalist in design, and it doesn’t contain an instruction manual aside from a single card with links to more information on the web site. Unlike Purism, PINE64 assumes that its customers are Linux enthusiasts who don’t need any hand-holding.

These differences in the box and the accessories for the two phones show that the two companies are targeting different audiences and have different goals. Purism markets the L5 as a complete solution for non-technical users who need security and privacy, and it comes with a 1 year warranty and good tech support. PINE64 markets the PP as a development device for Linux enthusiasts, the community software projects and hardware modders. It only comes with a 30 day warranty and provides virtually no tech support, except the community wiki and community forum, so users are largely on their own if they run into problems.

The reality is that mobile Linux is not yet ready for most non-technical users who expect the same functionality and app selection that they find in Android and iOS. Purism set out to not only create the hardware for a Linux phone, but to also develop the new Phosh interface for it and adapt a whole ecosystem of desktop GTK/GNOME applications to function on mobile devices. Doing this kind of software development costs a lot, so Purism has to charge a hefty markup over the hardware, which is why the device comes with an impressive box and lots of accessories to make people who ordered the device feel like they are getting something for all that extra money that they paid.

I don’t really care about the L5’s box or the extra accessories, but I feel like I got my money’s worth every time I go to https://source.puri.sm/Librem5 and look at all the code that Purism has written for mobile Linux, and every time that I go to Purism’s community forum and see a Purism employee answering detailed questions from the community. I also feel like my money went to a good purpose every time I look at the L5’s free/open source schematics and all the efforts to design a phone that I won’t have to throw away every two years because it isn’t designed around planned obsolescence.

I don’t mind that the PinePhone has a slow processor and subpar cameras, because I feel like I got my money’s worth when I see all the work being done by volunteers at Mobian, postmarketOS, KDE Plasma Mobile, UBports and the other community software projects that are using the PinePhone as a platform for their dev work.

I see buying Linux phones as an investment in the development of mobile Linux to help make a better future for humanity, rather than buying a smartphone per se. There have been roughly 20 attempts at creating commercial mobile Linux since Motorola released the first Linux phone, the A760, in February 2003, and all of them have been failures in my opinion. However, I think that Purism and PINE64 are finally going to make mobile Linux into a reality, and I want to support these two company’s efforts, which are very different in approach, but I think that both are necessary to grow mobile Linux into a viable alternative to the Google/Apple duopoly.

Protection of hardware

From the slippery nature of its smooth plastic and its thinner and wider shape, I have more fear of accidentally dropping the PP. Nonetheless, the PP does have a couple advantages over the L5, if it is dropped. Unlike the L5, the PP advertises that its display contains hardened aluminosilicate glass, so in theory its display should be better at resisting scratches and surviving falls than the L5 which doesn’t advertise any hardened glass.

EDIT: Within a week, I managed to scratch the screen of the PP, just from carrying it around in my pocket. I don’t know how I scratched it, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t subject the phone to much abuse, so I strongly recommend buying a screen protector for the phone to protect the screen. I found a screen protector for the Huawei Y7 (2018) that fits the PP perfectly.

Like most smartphones on the market today, the L5 and PP don’t have a raised lip in their bezels to protect the screen, so the glass display is liable to be scratched if placed face down on a rough surface. Without a raised lip, a phone dropped on its front edge will directly hit the glass, so it is more likely to crack the glass over the display. I can understand why the raised lips in bezels were eliminated on the long sides of smartphones, since they can impede the sliding of fingers near the edges of the touch screen, but all phones should at least have raised lips along the top and bottom edges to protect the display.

Because the L5 and PP come with narrow bezels and leave their displays totally exposed without raised lips in the bezels, they need to be used with a protective case and screen cover in my opinion.

Both the L5 and PP come with clear plastic covers over their screens, but PP’s looks like it was designed for people to use it as a protective screen cover, whereas I immediately removed L5’s plastic cover. Some people have been using the L5’s plastic cover as a screen protector, but others have reported finding dirt under it. Purism employee Kyle Rankin commented that this cover was only designed to protect the screen during shipping.

Purism sells a plastic polarizing privacy screen for Evergreen and the Librem 5 USA that costs $29, however, it does not sell a protective case for the L5. In contrast, PINE64 sells a tempered glass screen protector for $4.99, and a soft TPU case and hard plastic case that both cost $9.99 for the PP. The TPU case is better than the hard plastic case, because it has a bit of a raised lip to protect the PP’s glass screen.

I personally like the better clarity of tempered glass covers. ViaScreens makes 18 different screen protectors for the L5, which Celicious resells. ViaScreens/Celicious screen protectors are designed for either Birch-Chestnut-Dogwood (which are 150 x 75 mm) or Evergreen-Librem 5 USA (which is 153 x 75 mm), so make sure to order for the right model. Boxwave also makes 2 screen protectors for the Librem 5 as well.

Currently there is no custom protective cases for sale for the L5. Purism employee David Hamner designed a plastic case for the Librem 5, which you can 3D print at home. Purism has released the OpenSCAD and STL files for a number of L5 components, so people can design their own cases.

The best option for the L5 to buy a protective sleeve which only protects the phone when carrying it, but not when taking out the phone to use it. fitBAG makes the Beat Lilac Custom Tailored Sleeve for Purism Librem 5. Community members report that the L5 fits in the Waterfield Ranger Phone Case #8 (for the iPhone 11 Pro Max) and DefenderShield Cell Phone EMF Protection + Radiation Blocking Pouch (size medium).

One aspect that I like about the L5 is the fact that it has both an outer plastic back cover and internal plastic cover over the components, which should protect the electronics inside the phone a little better from splashes. The L5 isn’t designed for water resistance, but I feel a little safer carrying the L5 in the rain than the PP. The Birch development batch didn’t have an internal cover over the electronics, but I suspect that Purism added plastic panels with screws over the M.2 cards for better interdiction detection. The screws can be painted with glitter nail polish to detect whether anyone has tampered with the M.2 cards, which are used for wireless communications.

Hardware kill switches

I initially was not that excited about the hardware kill switches in the L5. While I worry about the kind of surveillance capitalism practiced by Google, Facebook and many Android app makers, and the mass data collection of the NSA and the Chinese state, I trust the software kill switches in the L5 and PP, since their drivers are 100% free/open source and I’m only using FOSS in the operating system and applications. I am not engaged in the type of activities that would make me the target of any specialized surveillance from an entity with the skill to develop special code to compromise the software kill switches on my phone, so I didn’t see the point of having hardware kill switches. After I started using the 3 hardware kill switches on the L5, however, I have turned into a fan of them, because they are more convenient to use than software switches and they help to save on battery life.

I was initially concerned that I would accidentally switch on/off the hardware kill switches on the left side of the L5, but the buttons are very solidly set, and it takes a firm press to move them, and I really like the grooves in the switches, which make it easier to move them with a fingernail. The Elybest EL-MSK02 switches used in the L5 have a seven leg design, which gives them many solder points to hold onto the main PCB and they are rated for 10,000 cycles, so I don’t think that they are likely to break over time.

The only thing that I don’t like about the L5’s hardware kill switches is that there are only 3 of them. What I am most concerned about is having the GNSS turned off when using the WiFi or cellular modem, so that it is harder to track my geolocation. If I want to turn off the GNSS while using wireless communications, I will have to do that in the software.

I understand, however, why Purism only included three switches from a usability stand point. With just three switches, I can find the switch that I want in the dark, but with 4 or more, it would be harder for me to find the switch that I want just by feel. Another issue would be finding the space on the main PCB to fit in more switches. Purism either would have had to make the switches much smaller, which would make them harder to use, or move the location of the extension port and SIM/microSD tray to the other side of the phone to make room for more switches. The L5’s main PCB is already very packed, so it wouldn’t be easy to crowd in more switches.

Purism has done an excellent job of supporting the switches in Phosh. The lock screen shows which components are turned on/off, so you can tell at a glance the state of the phone.

The hardware kill switches are much less useful on the PinePhone. To access them requires taking off the back cover, and they are miniscule DIP switches, that are so tiny, that I can’t even flip them with my fingernail. I had to get a small flathead screw driver to flip individual switches, and the text on the label that explains the purpose of each switch is hard for me to read without a magnifying glass. If you want to permanently disable a component, these switches may be useful, but they are too tiny and too hard to flip in be used in ordinary situations. I hope that someone will make a custom case with big switches on its back that can flip the tiny DIP switches inside the PP, because otherwise the switches are basically useless.

Although the PP has six hardware kill switches, they are less complete than the L5’s switches. The L5 has a “Lockdown Mode” when all three switches are off that shuts off all sensors on the phone, including the GNSS, gyrometer, accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. The PP doesn’t provide a way to cut the power to the gyrometer, accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor and its GNSS is incorporated into the cellular modem, whereas the L5 uses a separate GNSS chip.

Extension ports

I think the PP’s 6th switch that turns the 3.5mm audio jack into a UART serial communications port will be an interesting feature for people who want to create custom mods for the PP. It is easier to attach a custom mod to a wire with a 3.5mm plug, rather than creating a custom back cover that fits against 6 pogo pin I2C connector on the back of the PP.

I was surprised to discover that the L5 includes a 24-pin external connector, which is considerably more flexible than the 6 pogo pin I2C extension port on the back of the PP. The L5’s extension connector provides access to the UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) and I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit) buses and the SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) bus to the NOR Flash storage, which are all connected to the i.MX 8M Quad processor. There are also two pins for adding NFC (Near Field Communication) mods.

Unfortunately, Purism hasn’t promoted the use of the L5’s external connector port and hasn’t provided the part number so that people can buy a connector to use the port. In contrast, PINE64 has actively encouraged the community to use both the 3.5mm UART port and 6 pogo pin I2C ports to create mods for the PP. PINE64 sells a 3.5mm jack to USB cable that people can use for serial communications and making mods, and PINE64 has announced plans to sell two mods that use the pogo pin port: a physical keyboard with 6000mAh battery and Qi wireless charging or fingerprint reader.

Flashlight / Flash

The flashlight on the L5 can be easily enabled and disabled by touching the top bar in Phosh to see the quick access settings and touching the “Torch” icon. Although Purism is an American company, most of its programmers working on Phosh are Europeans, so they chose the British English term “torch” over the American term “flashlight” to use in the Phosh interface.

The flashlight in the PP cannot be turned on/off through the Phosh quick access setting in Mobian. Instead, Mobian on the PP has a separate “Flashlight” app, with a single button to turn on/off the flashlight.

On both the phones, their flashlights are not very bright, but the PP’s flashlight illuminates better, since it is a white LED, whereas L5 uses an orange LED. I can’t tell which produces more lumens, but the white LED on the PP provides better visibility in the dark in my opinion.

The white LED flashlight in the PP (left) vs the orange LED flashlight in the L5 (right).

In theory, the L5 should provide a much better flash / flashlight than the PP, because the L5 has significantly better hardware. The L5 has a dual tone flash with a white LED on the top and an orange LED on the bottom and the L5’s flash is powered by the TI LM3560 flash driver chip, which supports up to 1A of continuous current or 3.6A of peak current at 5V per LED, whereas the PP only has one LED in its flash and its Awinic AW3641EDNR chip only supports up to 0.4A continuous current or 1.2A of peak current at 5V.

The problem is that the L5 developers found that the current level was too high, which caused the LEDs to overheat and the flashlight to blink in Dogwood, although this problem didn’t occur in the Birch batch. In September 2020, the developers decided to limit the flashlight to just use one LED, and unfortunately, they chose the orange LED rather than the white LED and set it to a brightness level of 3, on a scale of 1 to 8.

I tried to increase the flashlight level with the following commands, but it did not work:
sudo -i

echo 8 > /sys/class/leds/white:torch/max_brightness
echo 8 > /sys/class/leds/white:torch/brightness

When I tried to increase the brightness of both LEDs, I get the following error:
# echo 255 > /sys/class/leds/lm36922:white:backlight_cluster/brightness
bash: echo: write error: Device or resource busy

I haven’t tested the flash for the cameras on the two phones, since Megapixels doesn’t use the flash, so I don’t know whether the L5 has also limited the output of the flash in the same way as the flashlight. However, I would recommend that the Purism developers switch the flashlight to using the white LED rather than the orange LED, if it isn’t possible to use both at the same time.

Charging

The L5 includes a USB charger in the box, which supports USB Power Delivery 3.0 and provides up to 5V x 3A (15W), 9V x 2A (18W) and 12V x 1.5A (18W), but the L5 is currently limited to using just 5 volt charging. I like the L5’s charger, because it has a fold-in power plug, which makes it convenient to carry. It measures 39 x 27 x 54 mm, which isn’t small, but it is relatively compact for a PD 3.0 charger. The charger comes with two international plug adapters, which should allow it to be used in most parts of the world (although there isn’t a plug adapter for Australia, New Zealand, PNG, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands, which require a separate plug adapter such as this one). The charger plug is folded down, and then the adapters slide in sideways over the plug. The only thing that I don’t like about the charger is that the information printed on it is in dark gray, which makes it hard to read on the black plastic. It should be printed in a whiter color for more contrast.

In March 2021, Purism reported that it had increased the maximum charging current from 0.5 to 1.6 amps when charging, and planned to enable even faster charging in the future:

For now, charging is capped at 1.6 amps. Enabling faster and higher amperage charging is being worked on now that mass-production batteries can handle more current; once completed, you can expect your Librem 5 to charge even faster.

When I measured the current with my AVHzY J7-C USB multimeter, I saw that Purism’s wall charger was outputting well over 2 amps at 5 volts, when the L5 was turned on, so it appears that Purism has managed to increase the max amperage since March. The amount of current varies a lot according to my USB multimeter, and I see the amperage bouncing back and forth when the charger’s output is over 2.2 amp. I saw it briefly flash as high as 2.69 amps, but I’m guessing that its max current is closer to 2.5 amps. In contrast, when Purism’s wall charger outputs below 2.1 amps, the current levels are steady.

EDIT: Irvine Wade informed me that /sys/class/power_supply/max170xx_battery/uevent shows that the L5’s battery is charging at 1.6 amps, and the rest of the amperage is used to run the phone. Unlike the PP, the L5 is able to operate without a battery, so it is possible to swap the L5’s batteries while the phone is turned on and running off power from the USB-C port. Likewise, the charging of the PP’s battery can be monitored in the file /sys/class/power_supply/axp20x_battery/uevent.

Using a USB multimeter when charging of the L5 from a laptop’s USB 3.1 port


If I plug the L5 into my PC’s USB 3.1 ports, my multimeter shows that the current never reaches above 2.1 amps, and the voltage drops from 5.2 to 5.0, so the charging is a tad faster when using Purism’s wall charger. A couple times when the phone got hot, I saw the L5’s front status LED start blinking red, which indicates a problem with charging, and the current was limited to 1.0 amps. When the L5 is turned off, the charger only outputs 0.5 amps, so for faster charging, it is best to charge with the L5 turned on.

All the USB chargers that I have tried work with the L5, and Purism says that the Librem 5 should work with most chargers that support the USB Battery Charging (BC) 1.2 specification, but some people have reported on the Purism forum that they have chargers that don’t work with the Librem 5. A couple of my chargers only work at 5V x 0.5A (2.5W) with the L5, so it is best to use the charger that Purism provides to get faster charging.

I would really like to see a handy app for Linux phones that reports voltage and amperage during charging, so people can easily verify how fast their phone are charging, but I haven’t found where Linux reports this information. I would like to be able to double check the current levels that I am seeing on my USB multimeter, since I don’t entirely trust the fluctuations that my multimeter is reporting above 2.1 amps on the L5.

The annoying thing about charging the L5 is that it only works with one plug orientation on its USB-C port, so I frequently have to turn the USB-C cable over on the other side and plug it in again to charge the phone. The L5 has a large status LED light above its screen that turns red when the phone is charging, so it very obvious if I plug in the phone using the wrong orientation. I find this bright red LED to be a little distracting when using the phone, so I wish that Purism would provide a configuration option in Phosh to turn off the red charging light when the phone’s screen is on. I also found that USB Flash memory sticks and USB hubs only work when plugged in a particular orientation, so 50% of the time I plug in the USB-C cable on the wrong side, and I have to plug it in again on the other side.

I don’t see this USB-C plug orientation problem with the PP or any other phone that I have used. The USB-C standard is designed to automatically adjust to different plug orientations, so I hope that Purism can fix this problem in the future.

EDIT: Other L5 owners have commented on the Purism forum that they can charge using both sides of the USB-C plug, so this plug orientation problem is probably caused by a defect in my device, which I have sent back to Purism for servicing.

The L5 always charges for me, but the phone can be very finicky about turning on. A number of times the phone wouldn’t turn on for me when I pressed the Power button, despite the fact that the phone was fully charged. Most of the time when this happens, the L5 will turn on if I take out the battery and then reinsert it.

However, a couple times, I had to start the L5 by following this complicated procedure:

1. unplug the USB charging cable,
2. hold down the Volume Up button,
3. press the Power button for 19 seconds while still pressing the Volume Up button,
4. plug in the USB charging cable,
5. finally, press the Power button to start up the phone

It is difficult to remember this complicated procedure, when you don’t have access to the internet to look it up. This strikes me as the sort of thing that shouldn’t be necessary and I wonder if it can’t be fixed in a future update of the L5’s software/firmware.

The PP doesn’t include a charger in the box, but it works with all the 3rd party USB chargers that I have tried so far. The PinePhone wiki says that the PinePhone supports 5V 3A (15W) Quick Charge and USB Power Delivery, and the PINE64 Store sells a PinePhone Battery Charger that supports 5V 2A (10W). However, Ondřej Jirman (aka, “megi”), who does kernel and driver work on the PinePhone, reports that the maximum charging that the PP currently supports is 1.5 amps, which my USB multimeter measured as a max of 1.46 amps on my better quality chargers, but on a couple of my cheaper chargers, I saw the amperage jumping back and forth between 1.3 and 1.9 amps.

Jirman reports that the X-Powers AXP803 PMIC on the PP limits the charging to 5V x 0.5A (2.5W) when using the USB ports on devices. The USB port on my PC limited the charging to 0.44A with the PP, whereas the wall charger continued to run at 1.5A, so it is best to use a wall charger for faster charging. When the PP is turned off, it limits the battery charging to 1A, regardless of whether charging from a device’s USB port or a wall charger.

The PP makes it easy to always charge when the phone is turned on, because if you plug the phone into a wall charger or USB port when it is turned off, the PP will automatically boot up once it has enough energy in the battery for booting. The only way to avoid the automatic booting is to leave the phone plugged in to charge while turning off the phone and not plug it in again. I don’t know if I like the automatic booting when charging, because it seems to me that it needlessly wastes energy and cycles the battery, but I did find it convenient when using a wall charger. However, automatic booting when charging was not at all convenient when plugged into a device’s USB port, because that drops the charging from 1A to 0.5A, which means the battery is barely charging since most of the energy is being used to run the phone.

In my opinion, it only makes sense for the PP to automatically boot if charging at 1.5A, but not at 0.5A. I would like to see an option under Settings > Power to configure the automatic booting when charging.

Here is the maximum current that I saw on my multimeter when charging:

Charging methodLibrem 5 USAPinePhone Beta% diff W
Wall charger (phone on)5.22V x ~2.5A = ~13.1W
(varies 2.2A – 2.7A)
5.35V x ~1.5A = ~8.0W
(varies 1.3A – 1.9A)
63%
Wall charger (phone off)5.21V x 0.49A = 2.55W5.26V x 0.98A = 5.15W-50%
PC’s USB port (phone on)4.97V x 2.07A = 10.29W5.12V x 0.44A = 2.25W357%
PC’s USB port (phone off)
5.06V x 1.04A = 5.26W

The L5 has 63% faster charging than the PP when the two phones are turned on. However, when the phones are turned off, the PP has 50% faster charging, although it isn’t very fast at 5W. Because the L5 has a 4500mAh battery vs a 3000mAh battery in the PP, it takes roughly the same amount of time to charge the two phones up to 100% when charging them under optimal conditions (turned on and using a wall charger). The PP, however, charges very slowly when charging from a PC’s USB port and the battery is half full or more. If I am actively using the PP and trying to charge for a PC’s USB port, the battery level hardly charges at all when doing processing intensive activities on the phone.

There is quite a bit of theoretical room for the two phones to improve their fast charging. The TI bq25895 charge controller in the L5 supports 3.9 – 14 volts and 0.1 – 3.25 amps with USB 2.0 and 3.0. The AXP803 in the PP is a less flexible chip, that is only designed for 5V when USB charging, but it supports charging at a range between 0.2 and 2.8 amps, so the amperage could theoretically be doubled.

Purism says that it plans support higher amperage charging in the future, whereas PINE64 hasn’t commented on any plans to increase the max amperage of the PP’s charging. The fact that the L5 ships with a PD 3.0 charger that supports 5V, 9V and 12V charging gives me some hope that the L5 may eventually support higher voltage charging in the future, which would make its fast charging substantially better than the PP, but we will have to see what Purism does.

Display

The displays of the L5 and PP have the same 720 x 1440 pixel resolution and 60Hz refresh rate. The L5 has a 5.7” display, whereas the PP’s has a slightly larger 5.99” display. I didn’t think that the extra 0.3 inches in the size of the PP’s display would make much of a difference, but the PinePhone screen is noticeably larger and I found it a little easier to type on the PP’s virtual keyboard due to that difference in the screen’s size.

The L5’s display appears to be brighter than the PP’s display when set to maximum brightness. I notice when reading text that letters appear a little sharper and crisper on the L5 than the PP. To my subjective eyes, the display on the L5 looks better. I probably wouldn’t notice the difference if I didn’t have the two screens right next to each other to compare them, but I definitely prefer the L5’s display.

What is very noticeable is the poor color calibration of the PP’s display, which is overly blue in tint. I assume that this is a problem that can be fixed in the software, but it does make all the colors on the PP appear cold and washed out in my opinion, whereas the orangish tint of the L5’s display makes colors appear warmer.

The PP’s bluish 5.99” display (left) vs the L5’s orangish 5.7” display (right).


My PP’s display also has a small bit of light bleed on the bottom right edge of the screen. The light bleed isn’t noticeable when using the phone, but I do see it on the black screen when unlocking the phone.

Notice the light bleed in the PP’s screen edge below “unlock”

The PP has a hardware bug that causes the backlight to blink when the screen brightness is set to low and the CTP controller is communicating on the I2C bus. It doesn’t look like it would be that hard for PINE64 to fix this bug in future versions of the PP, and people on the PINE64 forum have even proposed fixes. I held off buying any of the Community Editions, because I was waiting for PINE64 to fix this bug, but PINE64’s community manager Lukasz Erecinski stated in March 2021, “I’ve never seen any flicker on 1.2b boards”.

Seeing Erecinski’s comment, I decided to order the PinePhone Beta which uses the 1.2b revision. Sadly, I do see the backlight flicker on the PinePhone Beta when I turn down the brightness of the display.

Given the fact that PINE64 calls the hardware “Beta” and explicitly warns customers that it is “aimed solely at early adopters”, I don’t expect perfect hardware, but it does trouble me that PINE64 has shipped 4 editions (Manjaro, KDE, Mobian & Beta) with revision 1.2b, and hasn’t acknowledged that the bug exists, much less indicated that it will be fixed in the next hardware revision.

Performance

The L5 is noticeably faster than the PP. I see a lot of lag on the PP when opening windows and scrolling through lists. The Phosh interface is smoother and more responsive on the L5 than on the PP. Web pages load faster in Firefox ESR on the L5 than the PP and the scrolling of web pages is better on the L5. When I benchmarked the two phones using Hardinfo, I found that the L5 has roughly 30% better integer performance and roughly 35% better floating point performance in the CPU, when comparing to the PP running Mobian “stable”. With Mobian’s latest weekly build (20211205), I see slightly worse performance in the benchmarks, so it is better to use the stable build with an older kernel.

The Vivante GC7000Lite GPU in the L5 offers significantly better graphics performance than the ARM Mali-400 MP2 GPU in the PP. I measured 149% more frames per second when running glxgears in the L5, compared to the PP. Glxgears isn’t a very reliable benchmark, but Purism developer Sebastian Krzyszkowiak took the time to compile GLMark2-ES2 on the two phones and he measured 142% better scores on the L5 than the PP. I especially notice the difference in graphics performance when I use the Chromium browser and Qt apps that support hardware acceleration. When Phosh and GTK software get hardware acceleration in the future, the difference between the speed of the L5 and PP will be even more noticeable when using Phosh.

Hardinfo, Sysbench and glxgears benchmarks on Linux phones

ModelComponent testedLibrem 5 USAPinePhone Beta Convergence% diffPinePhone Beta Convergence% diff
OS
PureOS byzantiumMobian stable
Mobian sid weekly
Linux kernel
5.135.10
5.15
Blowfish (lower is better)integers8.6011.1530%11.4733%
CryptoHash (higher is better)integers694.18521.9033%487.5642%
Fibonacci (lower is better)integers2.443.1730%3.2031%
N-Queens (lower is better)integers7.159.3431%9.4933%
Zlib (higher is better)integers & RAM0.230.1292%0.1292%
FFT (lower is better)floating point9.5412.9235%13.8045%
Raytracing (lower is better)floating point4.836.5335%7.2951%
sysbench –test=cpu –threads=4 runCPU2923.72 events/s2196.83 events/s33%2175.92 events/s34%
sysbench –test=memory runRAM1387.49 MiB/s288.68 MiB/s381%282.90 MiB/s390%
sysbench –test=fileio –file-test-mode=seqwr runsequential file writing eMMC47.69 MiB/s26.85 MiB/s78%29.09 MiB/s64%
sysbench –test=fileio –file-test-mode=rndwr runrandom file writing eMMC13.30 MiB/s3.64 MiB/s265%15.21 MiB/s-13%
sysbench –test=fileio –file-total-size=12G –file-test-mode=seqrd runsequential file reading eMMC148.27 MiB/s24.80 MiB/s498%21.72 MiB/s583%
sysbench –test=fileio –file-total-size=12G –file-test-mode=rndrd runrandom file reading eMMC49.38 MiB/s11.60 MiB/s326%11.50 MiB/s329%
Glxgears (avg for 25s)graphics146.810 frames/s58.931 frames/s149%59.093 frames/s148%

Note: Both phones have 3GB RAM and 32GB of Flash storage and are running derivatives of Debian with Phosh. Both phones were plugged in and charging when the benchmarks were run, so there shouldn’t have been any throttling due to limited battery. Sysbench File I/O tests first ran: sysbench --test=fileio --file-total-size=12G prepare

The L5 uses LPDDR4-3200 1600MHz DRAM, whereas the PP uses LPDDR3 DRAM, which PostmarketOS runs at 528MHz and Manjaro runs at 592MHz, so the L5’s memory is theoretically 2.7 – 3.0 times faster. Usually a faster RAM standard doesn’t make that much of a difference, but when I ran sysbench’s memory test, I found that the L5’s RAM was 4.8 times faster than the PP, which is even larger than the theoretical speed difference. The L5 scored 92% better on Hardinfo’s Zlib, which is a memory intensive benchmark. I expected to see some difference in the RAM speed, but the size of the difference surprised me.

What also surprised me is how much faster the L5’s eMMC Flash storage is compared to the PP. According to Sysbench, sequential file reads on the eMMC are 5 times faster on the L5 than the PP with Mobian stable and random file reads are 3 times faster. Sequential file writes are 0.8 times faster and random file writes are 2.6 times faster. Strangely, the PP with Mobian’s latest weekly build performed 13% better in random file writes than the L5, but worse in all other tests, which seems odd to me.

I wonder how reliable these numbers are and plan to rerun these benchmarks with other distros in the PP when I have more time. However, it appears that something is bottlenecking the performance of the SanDisk DA4032 eMMC in the PP, because it is extremely slow. The PassMark Disk benchmarks of the DA4032 show that it is a slow eMMC, but it shouldn’t be as slow as Sysbench measured on the PP. According to the output of dmesg, the PP’s eMMC is using DDR52, which would limit its data transfer to a maximum of 104 MB/s, whereas the L5’s Kioxia eMMC is using HS400, which can transfer up to 400 MB/s. Another difference is that dmesg shows that the L5’s eMMC supports Advanced Direct Memory Access (ADMA), whereas dmesg doesn’t report that for PP’s eMMC, so it is probably using slower System Direct Memory Access (SDMA).

EDIT: After publishing this, I found this article by Federico Amedeo Izzo, which explains that the PinePhone’s eMMC is using DDR52 (52MHz, 104 MB/s), but it possible to switch to HS200 (200MHz, 200MB/s) by unsoldering the 0 ohm resistor R615 and moving it to the R614 position, which switches the eMMC’s voltage from 3.3V to 1.8V. Izzo says that this change more than doubled the eMMC’s read speed from 55 to 125 MB/s.

These differences in the speed of the RAM and eMMC explain why the L5 loads programs roughly twice as fast as the PP. Programs like the King’s Cross terminal which don’t have to do a lot of eMMC reads to load are almost as fast in starting in the PP as the L2, but I see a very large difference in loading a large program like Firefox ESR which has to do a large number of reads from the eMMC and takes 3 times as long to load on the PP as the L5.

Below are the application startup times that I measured manually with my stopwatch on the two phones:

Load times for applications in seconds

ApplicationLibrem 5 USA
(PureOS Byzantium)
PinePhone Beta Convergence
(Mobian stable)
firefox-esr (web browser)3.8ll.2
gnome-control-center3.07.8
gnome-calendar3.45.2
gnome-maps5.411.3
kgx (terminal)1.41.7
geary (email)3.25.5

The L5 doesn’t load apps very fast when I compare it to my Android phone (a Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 with LineageOS 17), but it is fast enough that it doesn’t bother me. However, the amount of time that it takes to open apps in the PP does annoy me, especially when I open a web browser or maps, which are particularly slow.

When I open web sites like YouTube, Reddit, Hulu or CraigsList (after clearing the cache), I see that the L5 loads large web sites roughly twice as fast as the PP. Scrolling in Firefox ESR and Chromium is faster and smoother on the L5 than on the PP.

The PP with Phosh is still usable despite the lags, but using the L5 is a more enjoyable experience for me. The L5 feels slow compared to my Android phone with a Snapdragon 660, but the L5’s lags are within an acceptable range, whereas I get impatient with the lags when using the PP.

If Phosh is laggy in the PP with the Allwinner A64 processor, I can’t imagine how much slower Phosh would have been if Purism had decided to use the i.MX 6Quad processor, which was the original plan when the L5 was announced in August 2017. The i.MX 6Quad is a 32-bit processor from 2012 with significantly worse performance than the A64. Frankly, the L5 would have been a dog of a phone, if it had been based on the i.MX 6Quad, and Purism would have had to do a lot of dev work to make the modern GTK and GNOME libraries run adequately on such a slow processor.

Nonetheless, Purism’s decision to use the i.MX 8M Quad instead of the i.MX 6Quad processor caused all sorts of delays in developing the L5. NXP didn’t start mass production of the I.MX 8M Quad until Jan. 2018 and it wasn’t possible to get i.MX 8M Quad module boards until March, so that probably contributed to the delays in the release of the Librem 5 DevKit, which wasn’t shipped until Dec. 2018. NXP has been very slow at implementing key features in the i.MX 8M driver in mainline Linux, so Purism had to do commits to mainline Linux to support critical features such as video out. NXP also poorly documented its MIPI CSI2 camera interface, which caused many months of painful trial and error for the Purism developers working on the cameras, which in turn delayed its FCC certification.

Purism has received a lot of public criticism due to the fact that it took the company 39 months to start shipping the L5 (Evergreen), rather than the 17 months that Purism originally projected, and at this point, Purism has only shipped 2600 phones, so there are backers who are still waiting 4 years after they ordered their phones. I was just as impatient as everyone else for the L5 to ship, however, after seeing the difference in performance between the L5 and PP, I think that Purism made the right choice to wait to use a new processor that didn’t yet have good Linux support, despite the many delays that it caused.

Heat

The tradeoff for the better performance of the L5 is the fact that the i.MX 8M Quad processor in the L5 generates more heat than the A64 in the PP. The L5 uses thermal paste to distribute the heat from its processor through the aluminum frame/case and the metal backing of the screen. When holding the L5, I can feel the black aluminum sides of the case and glass display heating up, whereas the plastic back panel of the phone feels cooler.

While I can appreciate that the L5 is designed to distribute the heat through the aluminum frame and display of the phone, the drawback is that the metal sides and touchscreen get warm when I am doing processing-intensive tasks on the phone. I never see the CPU, GPU and VPU in the i.MX 8M Quad getting over 50.0°C, so I suspect that Purism decided to throttle the phone to not get warmer than that, but even at that temperature, I don’t feel comfortable holding the phone for long periods of time.

The “Thermals” tab in the L5’s “Usage” app reports the exact same temperature for the CPU, GPU and VPU in the L5’s i.MX 8M Quad processor, whereas the max temperature can vary in the CPU, GPU1 and GPU2 in the PP’s A64 processor, so I suspect that the PP is not configured to throttle as strictly based on the temperature.

Thermals on the PP (left) and L5 (right). Note that both phones are charging from a PC’s USB ports.

One minor annoyance for me is the fact that ARM processors do not report their temperatures and current clock speeds through /proc/cpuinfo like x86 processors, and a quick Google search didn’t turn up a handy script to pull this information from the various files for each CPU core, so it was hard for me to easily figure out whether the processors were being throttled as they heat up. I’m guessing that one of the /proc files has the throttling policy for the phones in it, but I couldn’t find it, and I didn’t have the time to write a script to collect the temperature and clock frequency info for each core over time, so I could figure it out.

While the L5 has relatively weak CPU performance, its GPU and RAM are plenty fast in my opinion, and I think those components can afford to be run at a slower clock speed. I recommend that Purism consider adding an option in the settings to allow users to limit the heat by lowering the clock rate of the GPU and RAM, if that is possible (I haven’t checked the documentation to see if the i.MX 8M Quad allows this). If it isn’t possible, then maybe Purism should consider a configurable option in the settings to start throttling the CPU once it reaches a certain temperature, such as 45°C. On the other hand, people using the phone as a convergent PC sitting on their desk may want to allow the phone to get hotter than 50.0°C, so a configurable max heat option would help them as well.

The PP runs roughly 10°C hotter than the L5 when the processor is running full throttle for an extended period of time. I saw the PP reach temperatures up to 62°C in its CPU and GPU. However, the high temperatures in the A64 processor do not heat up the entire phone like they do in the L5. Instead, the high temperatures are localized in the upper back cover of the phone, where my fingers do not generally touch the phone, so I don’t feel as much heat against my hand, despite the fact that the PP is running at significantly higher temperatures than the L5.

When I disassemble the PP, I see that the A64 processor is under a metal housing covered by a black material that I suspect contains a graphite sheet for heat dissipation. I also see a similar black material on the inner side of the back case of the phone. I assume this black material serves to transmit the heat of the Allwinner A64 processor to the metal back of the screen and to dissipate the heat from the Quectel EG25-G modem. I usually don’t feel much heat when using the phone, because the frame and back case of the PP is made of plastic which is a poor conductor of heat. I do feel the heat in the upper part of the back of the phone where the principal chips are located on the main PCB. Because I haven’t tried using the PP’s Quectel EG25-G modem, I don’t know how hot the PP can get, but the modem chip has a substantial heat spreader built in, which is why it is so large.

Disassembly of the PinePhone. Notice the black material for heat dissipation on the side of the PCB that faces the metal back of the screen and on the inner side of the back cover

Power Management

I find the L5 to be less convenient to use than the PP, because I am constantly discovering that the L5’s battery has drained to empty and the phone has shut down. I haven’t tried using either the L5 or the PP as cellular phones, but just using them as WiFi internet devices, I find the PP to be more useful, because its battery usually lasts me 1.5 days (with the screen off most of the time, the cellular modem off, the WiFi on and the Bluetooth off), whereas I have to charge the L5 every 11 hours when I use it in the same state. I am not an intensive mobile internet user, so I suspect that most people will have to charge these devices more often than I.

Both the L5 and PP suck more current than the typical smartphone, because the L5 uses six separate chips and the PP uses 4 separate chips to provide the same functionality as an integrated mobile system on a chip (SoC), such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon or MediaTek Helio. These mobile SoC’s are typically only produced for 2 years and supported for 3.5 years by the manufacturer, so they contribute to planned obsolescence, but they are built on newer 14 to 5 nm FinFET process nodes, which make them more energy efficient. In contrast, the L5’s NXP i.MX 8M Quad processor uses an older 28nm planar node and the PP’s Allwinner A64 uses an ancient 40nm planar node, which makes them larger chips and limits their performance and energy efficiency.

The principal reason why I don’t find the L5 very useful as a mobile device is the fact that it does not offer suspend to RAM, so its processor is constantly running, even when it isn’t in use. Purism developers say that they can implement suspend to RAM with the i.MX 8M Quad processor, but the BM818 cellular modem and the RS9116 WiFi/Bluetooth currently can’t wake up the system when receiving a phone call or text message.

When writing the section on battery life in the L5’s community FAQ, I was struck by how hard of a problem it is get good power management on a phone. Here are the outstanding issues that need to be solved on the L5 for good power management:

Purism has made remarkable improvements in Phosh’s energy efficiency, but I don’t expect Purism to solve all these power management issues any time soon. I think that Purism’s most realistic path forward is to work on implementing DVFS on the Librem 5, and keep the processor constantly running at a very low voltage when the phone isn’t in use, because suspend/resume and getting the BM818 and RS9116 to wake up the system look like hard problems to me.

Purism developers say that suspend-to-RAM works with the i.MX 8M Quad processor, so I recommend that Purism implement it today as an option for people like me who would like to have a usable PDA, media player, mobile internet device and convergent PC, and don’t need to use the L5 as a mobile phone for receiving calls. Even if the L5 can’t wake on calls, implementing suspend-to-RAM today would make the L5 a usable device for me, but having to charge the L5 every 11 hours means that I am going to leave the device sitting on my desk since I can’t rely on it to have a charge when I need it.

The PinePhone may not have great battery life compared to my current Android phone, but at least the community has solved many of the PP’s power management problems and phone now wakes up faster when receiving cellular phone calls, so people are less likely to miss important phone calls. I will have to use the PP for a while to determine whether I want to risk using it in place of my Redmi Note 7, but I don’t see that as a realistic option with the L5 until it has better battery life.

Haptics

In my opinion, the haptics motor in PP sounds and feels a little better than the haptics motor in the L5, which feels thin and tinny. However, both phones are a far cry from the quality of the haptics that I experience on my Xiaomi Redmi Note 7, much less an iPhone. Of course, the haptic feedback in Mobian on the PP is largely due to the dev work that Purism has put into feedbackd.

Audio

In theory the L5 should have better audio than the PP, since the Wolfson Media WM8962 audio chip in the L5 has a better DAC and audio processor than the built-in audio in the A64 processor in the PP. However, I couldn’t test the speakers of the L5, since they weren’t working. To my admittedly unrefined ears, the audio in the headphones that came with the phone sounded pretty good, but I didn’t think to do a sound comparison with the PP before I sent the L5 back for servicing.

The two speakers on the PP produce decent audio, but they sound a little tinny and lack base. The PP’s speakers can get significantly louder than any mobile phone that I have ever used. The speakers on my Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 sounds a little fuller and the base is better than the PP, but the Note 7 doesn’t get nearly as loud as PP. The audio through the PP’s 3.5mm audio jack also sounds a little tinny and has less bass than my Note 7 when using the same headphones, so I wonder if this is a calibration issue in the PP’s software.

When plugging headphones into the PP, you need to be careful to lower the audio volume or you risk blowing out your ear drums. The Phosh interface allows the audio volume to be incremented to 18 different points when pressing the Volume Up/Down buttons. I normally don’t set the volume above 6 on the PP, and it starts to get painful above 9.

One thing that I dislike about Phosh is that there is no quick way to mute/unmute the audio, and there is no easy way to quickly scale up or down the volume. On most phones, holding down the Volume Up or Down button will quickly scale up or down the volume, but Phosh required pressing the button for each increment of the volume, so it requires 17 key presses to go from 0% to 100% volume. I would like to see audio mute/unmute added to the quick access menu at the top of Phosh, and I would like to see automatic incrementing when long pressing the Volume Up/Down.

Another thing that I would like to see is the audio automatically being cut to 50% on the PP when plugging into the 3.5mm audio jack, because it will probably save someone from ear damage. People can override this by manually increasing the volume past 50%, and there can even be option to turn the 50% volume limit off, but the default should be to protect people’s ears. I felt physical pain in my ears when I accidentally started playing music at 100% volume while using headphones.

Disassembly

Both phones have a notch in a lower corner of the phone to pry off the back case with a fingernail. I do worry about breaking the plastic pressure tabs on the L5’s back cover, since they make an audible cracking noise when the back cover pops off and it takes a bit of force to pry up the cover. It takes less force to pry off the back cover of the PP, which is made of polycarbonate and feels softer and more flexible than the plastic in the L5’s back cover.

The L5’s 4500 mAh battery is very thick, and it has a clear plastic pull tab to remove the battery. The PP’s 3000 mAh battery is thinner, and can be easily found anywhere in the world, since it is the same sized battery as is used in the Galaxy J7. The PP has a notch to pry up its battery, and it comes out easily. Many European countries don’t allow batteries to be shipped without a device in the mail, so the ability to find replacement batteries anywhere in the world is a nice feature of the PP.

I didn’t take apart the L5, but I did disassemble the PinePhone. It is the easiest smartphone to take apart that i have ever seen. All 15 of the Phillips head screws holding down the internal cover are the same size, so they can easily be interchanged. Taking out the main PCB just involved pulling off 4 connectors and unhooking one antenna that stretches between the main PCB on top and the USB PCB on the bottom, below the battery. Then I had to pry at two points with a flat-head screwdriver to pop out the main PCB, and there were helpful dips in the plastic frame to show where to pry.

Taking off the PP’s inner panel
Back side of the PP’s main PCB
Front side of the PP’s main PCB (i.e. side facing back of screen)

The only difficulty that I encountered was that it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t necessary to disconnect the front and rear cameras in order to take out the main PCB. It also took me a while to reconnect the antenna, because the connection felt like it was loose. I thought about using a drop of glue, just to make sure it was really connected, but I found that wasn’t necessary and the antenna works fine even though it feels like it isn’t on very tight.

There is no glue or solder to deal with when replacing components in the phone, and PINE64 sells replacement parts for the PP on its web site, so PINE64 designed the PP to be as easy to disassemble as possible. It only took me 15 minutes to figure out how to take it apart, and the next time, I will probably be able to do it in half that time. I wish that every phone manufacturer designed their phones for easy disassembly like the PP.

The only aspect that bothered me during disassembly was the sticker that I found covering one of the screws, so that PINE64 will know whether I disassembled the phone or not. Currently PINE64 only provides a 1 month warranty for the PinePhone, but PINE64 is planning a future retail version of the phone with a standard 1 year warranty. I wonder if PINE64 included the sticker, because it plans to deny warranty service if the phone has been disassembled or only if the phone was damaged by disassembly. In my opinion, the former situation should be condemned by the community, whereas the latter is fair. The company should not have to pay for disassembly mistakes made by the user, but it also should not deny warranty service for people who have taken apart their phones.

Purism posted an article and video explaining how to disassemble the L5, so the company wants its customers to know how to disassemble their phones, but the same article also warns customers that they can damage their phones:

The Librem 5 is designed for longevity with software updates for life, but part of longevity is also being able to repair a device outside of warranty. We plan to stock replacement parts in our shop in case you need to replace your modem, camera, or even the main PCB.

Disassembling your Librem 5 may risk damaging it. Any damage from disassembly is not covered in your warranty. If your Librem 5 is under warranty, please contact support first before you attempt this process.

I’m really happy to see Purism promising to sell replacement parts for the L5 in the future, since that is one of the areas where PINE64 has a better track record than Purism. This text about disassembly under warranty, however, is ambiguous in my opinion. The text is clear that Purism won’t honor the warranty if the customer damaged the phone by disassembling it, which is fair, but what is unclear is whether Purism will honor the warranty if customers disassemble their phones, but don’t damage them by disassembling them. This text makes it sound like Purism wants people to first contact Purism to get authorization or instructions from the company before they disassemble the L5 if they want to maintain their warranty. Since I needed to send the L5 back to get its audio and cameras fixed, I decided to not risk disassembling it, because I wasn’t sure whether that would violate the warranty or not.

The Librem 5 USA with back panel removed

From Purism’s article, it doesn’t look too hard to disassemble the L5, but it isn’t as easy as the PP. The L5 has 4 antenna wires, compared to just one antenna wire in the PP, and the L5 has more connectors attached to the main PCB than the PP’s main PCB. Purism’s instructions warn that there are a couple parts that are easy to lose during disassembly and to be careful to not damage a spring clip against the frame, since it is part of the GNSS antenna.

Longevity

Today’s smartphones have a number of anti-features that shorten their lifespans and promote planned obsolescence, such as glued shut cases that require heat guns and suction cups to open, non-replaceable batteries which are often soldered or glued down, bezelless designs with no protection of the display when dropped, screens that curve over the edges (which are easier to crack and difficult to cover with protective cases), replacement of plastic or metal cases with crackable glass cases, removal of microSD card slots so storage can’t be expanded, USB ports that require replacing the main PCB when damaged, removal of the 3.5mm audio jack (which obsoletes many headphones and external speakers) and the use of expensive OLED or curved screens that are too costly to repair compared to the price of a new phone. Many phone reviewers are idiots who praise these anti-features in phones, as if ordinary people want to be forced to prematurely junk their phones, and spend hundreds of dollars buying a new one every 18-24 months, just because their batteries no longer hold a charge.

Fortunately, both the L5 and PP don’t contain any of these anti-features, which in my opinion, sets both the L5 and PP above the vast majority of smartphones on the market today. I have nothing but disgust for the phone industry for promoting planned obsolescence, and I particularly despise Apple, since it was the first company to mass market a PDA, media player, phone, tablet and laptop without a replaceable battery. For that reason, I have been boycotting Apple for the last two decades, but sadly Apple’s overwhelming profits and prestige in the electronics industry have now led most manufactures to follow its lead in designing hardware based on planned obsolescence. I tear out my hair every time I see Lenovo and Dell release another Thinkpad and Latitude that tries to mimic Apple.

The L5 is the first phone ever marketed whose manufacturer promises to provide lifetime software updates. As I explained in the L5’s community FAQ, this promise is credible, because Purism is making commits to the mainline Linux kernel, so it will properly support the L5’s hardware, which will allow Purism to keep providing upgraded kernels with minimal work in the future. Because the L5 can run on a standard kernel with all free/open source drivers, it should be possible to port the L5 to any Linux distro that supports a mobile interface in the future.

Purism designed Phosh as a thin overlay on top of GTK and the standard GNOME libraries. Purism has put a ton of work into making GTK/GNOME mobile friendly and adapting GNOME applications to work as mobile apps, so that Phosh should be able to easily run on top of future versions of GTK/GNOME. All the code that IBM/Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical and Google contribute to GTK/GNOME will end up benefiting the Phosh mobile environment, which makes it much easier and cheaper to maintain than KDE Plasma Mobile and Ubuntu Touch that receive almost no corporate support.

Purism also chose chips with long term support from the manufacturers, such as the i.MX 8M Quad which NXP promises to sell until Jan. 2033, so they should continue to get firmware updates, unlike the standard integrated mobile SoC that is only manufactured for 2 years and only receives 3.5-4 years of support. See the sad saga of the Fairphone 2 to understand why this limits the lifespan of phones.

In all of these areas, the PP offers the same advantages in terms of longevity as the L5. The PP is the first phone in history which the manufacturer promises to sell for 5 years, because PINE64 wants to create a stable platform based on the A64 with many form factors (laptops, tablets, phones and SBCs) which can be used for making hardware mods. Nobody is going to invest in creating mods if they don’t think the platform for the mod will exist for very long and they don’t think that the mod can run on very many devices, so there are important reasons for PINE64 to make that 5 year guarantee, even though the hardware in the PinePhone will be hopelessly outdated by 2025. Because of that guarantee, PINE64 had to choose chips which will have a long production lives and be supported for many years by the manufacturer, so the hardware is more likely to receive firmware updates. Since the PP’s hardware runs on 100% free/open source drivers just like the L5, it should be possible for the community to maintain the drivers forever and make them work with future Linux kernels.

Since PINE64 doesn’t provide the software for the PP, it can’t make Purism’s promise of lifetime software updates, but for all practical purposes we have that guarantee, since the PinePhone being ported to 20 different distros and 7 different interfaces. Even if some of those distros and interfaces disappear in the future, with so many options, it is virtually guaranteed that there will be some communities that keep releasing software updates for the PP.

If the PinePhone gets damaged, PINE64 sells replacement parts for a very affordable price and it is so easy to disassemble, that it is highly likely that people will choose to fix it, rather than junking it. Even if PINE64 disappears, there have been so many PinePhones sold that is won’t be hard to get used parts of eBay to fix the phone. In contrast, Purism doesn’t have a good track record of providing replacement parts for its products. However, Purism has promised to sell replacement parts for the L5, and it already offers replacement batteries and BM818 modem M.2 cards on its web site, so I’m crossing my fingers in hopes that Purism may become as good as PINE64 in terms of selling replacement parts.

One advantage that the L5 has over the PP is the fact that the schematics of its circuit boards and some of its mechanical parts files are free/open source, so in theory anyone will be able to legally produce replacement parts for the L5. However, Purism hasn’t released the original CAD or Gerber files, so it would take a lot of effort to create parts for the L5. CEO Todd Weaver says that Purism needs to recover its development costs before releasing the Gerber files, which they are “thinking about releasing in a time capsule” of “3 years, 5 years, something like that.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Purism does release the CAD and Gerber files, since it because more likely that replacement parts will be created by 3rd parties and we can even hope for someone to sell an upgraded board with more RAM, more Flash memory, etc.

The BM818 cellular modem and RS9116 WiFi/Bluetooth on two M.2 cards in the Librem 5 USA

Another advantage that the L5 has over the PP is that the cellular baseband and WiFi/Bluetooth cards can be changed to support new and different wireless standards, so people are less likely to junk the phone.

Realistically, I expect that the older A64 processor and its slow USB 2.0 port and the soldered cellular modem in the PP will limit its effective lifespan to 3-5 years, whereas the better graphics in the i.MX 8M Quad processor and its support for USB 3.0, and the replaceable cellular modem in the L5 should give it a 5-7 year lifespan. Of course, the hardware in these phones doesn’t hold a candle to the performance of recent Snapdragon, Dimensity, Exynos, A-series or Kirin processors, so people who want Linux phones with that kind of processing power as going to see the L5 and PP as obsolete from day 1.

However, I do think that there will be an active market for used L5’s for many years, just like the N900 maintained its resale value for over a decade due to its unique properties. I don’t expect the PinePhone to maintain the same resale value, because the PinePhone Pro and PinePhone 2 will offer much better performance that will make the original PinePhone obsolete.

On the other hand, I think that there is more risk of Purism going out of business than PINE64 or giving up on Linux phones. The cost of developing the L5 was significantly higher than the PP, and it is unclear whether Purism will ever recover its high development costs. However, the fact that Purism was able to raise $7.3 million in new convertible notes gives me some assurance that the company will be around for quite a while.

Tech support and community

Purism pays 3 people to provide tech support for users. Every time that I have sent an email to support@puri.sm, I have gotten a prompt answer, and the Purism tech support is very helpful in my experience. Because Purism pays 11 people to work on the L5’s software and kernel, 2 people to work on the hardware, 2 people to maintain the PureOS distro, Matthias Klumpp to develop the Laniakea infrastructure and Matt DeVillier to develop the Coreboot/PureBoot ports, the company can call on some very knowledgeable people when there is a technical issue.

A number of the Purism developers also answer people’s questions on the Purism forum, Reddit’s r/Purism, Purism’s Mastadon social network and Matrix chat rooms. Plus, the Purism developers attend to the issues that are filed under source.puri.sm and their GNOME projects (libhandy, libadwaita and Calls). If you have a question, you will almost always get an answer, although you may have to look in the right place to find the person to ask. The software is in development, so there may not always be a ready solution, but the Purism developers do pay attention to the feedback that they get from the community.

The development of the software on the L5 is a very open process, and the Purism developers are very friendly and helpful in my experience. One of the things that I really like about Purism as a company is the fact that the developers try to commit upstream as much as possible to projects such as the Linux kernel, wlroots, GTK, GNOME and its applications, Matrix, Coreboot and Debian. Purism is trying to get much of the software that it develops incorporated as official GNOME projects (libhandy, libadwaita, Calls and Chats/Chatty), and trying to make GNOME applications mobile friendly. The company works very hard to contribute to the standard GTK/GNOME ecosystem, rather than running siloed development projects, like Canonical did with Ubuntu Touch or Mozilla did with Firefox OS. Purism hired developers from GNOME, Debian and Mobian, which helps ensure that the L5’s code flows upstream and the software is developed in an open manner with wider community participation.

With the PinePhone Beta, you are basically only buying the hardware and PinePhone’s tech support only consists of ensuring that the hardware got shipped to you and you have 30 days to send it back if it is defective. PINE64 plans to offer a more expensive retail version of the PinePhone in the future that offers a 1 one year warranty, web stores in Europe and North America, and tech support provided by Manjaro, but for now, tech support consists of what you can find online at the PINE64 wiki and forum, and the community software projects, such as UBports, postmarketOS, Mobian, Manjaro, KDE Plasma Mobile, Phosh, LuneOS, etc.

PINE65’s CEO TL Lim and Community Manager Lukasz Erecinski try very hard to foster community engagement and I have gotten responses from both of them when I have posted on PINE64’s forum, but they are the only two people at PINE64 who engage with the public, whereas Purism has about a dozen people who interact with the public, and many of them are developers, so what they post is more technical and interesting in my opinion.

What PINE64 does well is that it sends out detailed monthly updates on its blog, which let everyone know what is the current state of the hardware and the porting efforts of the community software projects to that hardware. Plus, PINE64 is very good about letting the public know its future plans and when it expects its hardware to ship. PINE64 is remarkably straight forward in its blog, and the company does little sugar coating of its communications with market speak, which helps foster trust with the community.

With Purism, you will have to deal with a lot more marketing in what gets published on the company’s web site at puri.sm/posts, so if you don’t appreciate that, it is best to follow what the Purism developers post at forums.puri.sm and social.librem.one.

Since PINE64 bills itself as a company which is “friendly” and “community driven”, one would assume that its community is going to be much better than the community around the L5. However, I think that the communities around the two phones are simply different, and it depends on what type of person you are, whether you will find the communities of the L5 or the PP to be better.

The PINE64 community is larger, but it also tends to be more atomized into different products and different distros, so there is less interaction between the subcommunities. I think that PINE64’s products help to create communities, but they tend to congregate in their specific communities (postmarketOS, Mobian, UBports, etc.), rather than the larger PINE64 community per se.

I think that the PP’s community is an excellent vehicle to steer people into community development projects. However, the L5’s community is more interesting for me, because I want to follow the dev work being done by Purism on Phosh, which I believe has strategic advantages over the other Linux interfaces.

The PinePhone’s wiki is very good, and I wish that Purism would set up a similar community wiki, since the official documentation that Purism provides is often hit or miss. Purism has a Librem 5 community wiki under source.puri.sm, which is hard to find, but it has a lot of information posted by people like me. The L5’s community wiki uses Gitlab, which makes it harder to edit the posts than MediaWiki used by the PINE64 wiki, but I personally like the Markdown format in Gitlab more than MediaWiki’s format.

I like the Purism forum a lot more than I like the PINE64 forum, but I am admittedly biased, since I have posted 1847 times on the Purism forum, whereas I have only posted 62 times on the PINE64 forum. I find the Purism forum to be a lot more engaging and interesting, so I go there often as a form of nerdy entertainment, whereas I go to the PINE64 forum only when I have specific questions.

The Discourse software used by the Purism forum is better at generating engagement and discussion than the MyBB software used by the PINE64 forum. I used to manage the forum for an open source software company, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how forums work, and I think that Discourse is better for creating community discussion.

Purism is based on the “free software” school of thought and is more ideologically driven, so it tends to attract people who have an ideological bent, and those people are more likely to wax eloquent (or ineloquent) on the Purism forum. In contrast, PINE64 is closer to the “open source” line of thinking and it tends to attract people who want to play with the hardware rather than talk philosophically about it. People are less apt to express their political beliefs on the PINE64 forum, whereas they do on the Purism forum.

If you post something on the Purism forum, several people are likely to respond and you are more likely to get a discussion going, whereas there are far fewer long-winded discussions on the PINE64 forum. However, this tendency to discuss means that people can go way off topic and there is more censuring of the posts by the Purism forum moderators. In contrast, the PINE64 forum has the opposite problem, that nobody may respond to your posts, and you may wonder if anyone is out there in the ether.

There are a lot of very frustrated Purism customers after waiting 4 years for the L5, and others who distrust Purism’s marketing, so you have to deal with a lot more negativity when reading the Purism forum, and it is especially bad at r/Purism. If you want to avoid bitter fanboi vs hater debates, the PINE64 forum is a more tranquil place to hang out.

My frustration with PINE64 lies not with the community per se, but the fact that PINE64 charges such low prices, that it doesn’t have the budget to attend properly to the feedback from the community. For example, PINE64 doesn’t have a place to file bug reports about the hardware, and posts on the forum about hardware problems tend to be ignored. There is no place for me file a bug report about the flickering backlight or the fact that the volume levels on the audio jack are too high and can cause ear damage. When I asked what components were being used in the PP, since the schematics list 2 accelerometers/gyroscopes and 3 magnetometers, I got no response.

I spotted a number of problems with the PP’s schematics that need to be corrected, but when I asked on the forum how to get the schematics corrected, I got zero response, so I posted these issues on the PINE64’s wiki, where they also weren’t addressed. Since I still want to get the schematics corrected, I’ll repost the problems that I found here:

P.4 LPDDR3 FPGA178
Note: The title of this schematic page should be changed from “LPDDR3 FPGA178” to “LPDDR3 FBGA178”, because the RAM chip is a 178-pin fine pitch ball grid array (FBGA), not a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

X500:
Seiko Instruments Inc. (SII) SC32S 32.768KHz crystal oscillator
Note: Not clear if using the SC32S-12.5PF20PPM or the SC32S-7PF20PPM

J600:
BA5924211-R battery connector
Note: Picture shows this part as having 8 pins, but the schematic shows 6 pins. One page says that it is made by LateralPressure, but another says it is made by ROHM.

U700:
Kimtigo KM110SS0016GxA-DDD00WT 16GB eMMC 5.1 TLC NAND Flash memory, FBGA-153 11.5×13.0×1.0 mm.
Note 1: The schematic says the package is BGA-169, but the Kimtigo documentation says it is FBGA-153.
Note 3: The schematic lists the part as KM110SS0016GxA-DDD00WT, but these photos show that its variant, the KM111SS0016GxA-DDD00WT, is being used in the 16GB PinePhone.

J1000:
T03-1025-FG01 27-pin connector to the rear camera.
Note: The schematic says “GC2035-200W”, which is a mistake because the rear camera is the OmniVision OV6540.

J1001:
T03-1025-FG01 27-pin connector to the front camera.
Note: The schematic says “GC2035-200W”, which is a mistake because the rear camera is the GalaxyCore GC2145, not the GalaxyCore GC2035.

J1101:
CON6-0.5, TP_6PIN-ZQ01 8-pin connector to the capacitive touch panel controller
Note: The label says that the connector has 6-pins, but the schematic shows 8-pins.

Q1500:
Will Semiconductor WPM1481 single P-channel, -12V, -5.5A, power MOSFET
Note: The documentation shows 6 pins, but the schematic shows 8 pins.

5 thoughts on “Comparing the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta

  1. delcolux

    Thanks for the write-up. I have a PinePhone UBPorts edition (PCB1.2_ no rev letter). I had read that removing the 0ohm resistor R1318 would mitigate the issue, so I removed it, but the issue persisted. Apparently I misunderstood and it only fixed the issue where the backlight would dim when you plug in the phone. So yeah the flicker issue persists on 1.2b at low-ish brightnesses.

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  2. Pingback: Comparing the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta - The web development company Lzo Media - Senior Backend Developer

  3. Pingback: Comparing the Librem 5 USA and PinePhone Beta – Handset Magazine

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