Purism Librem 5 Linux Smartphone Campaign Set To End At Around $2 Million

Written by Michael Larabel in Hardware on 22 October 2017 at 08:43 AM EDT. 36 Comments
Tomorrow marks the end of the crowdfunding campaign for Purism's Librem 5 smartphone campaign.

The campaign is looking like it will close at around two million dollars with the current tally as of this morning being at $1,962,517 in funds raised for this effort to build an original GNU/Linux smartphone stack with either GNOME Shell or KDE Plasma Mobile comprising the UI/UX elements.

When the campaign first launched back at the end of August, it looked like the campaign wouldn't succeed. But since then with the endorsements of KDE e.V. and the GNOME Foundation committing their community resources to working on the project, it successfully reached their $1.5 million dollar milestone and should close around $2 million, but short of their stretch goals that began at $4 million.

Now is their difficult road ahead in actually coming up with the hardware and software to make this privacy-focused Linux smartphone a reality and to hit their goal of shipping in early 2019... Given the past efforts with Sailfish, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Mobile, OpenMoko, and others, it will be a very difficult mission ahead and to do so on a roughly two million dollar budget.

It will certainly be interesting to watch Librem 5's development over the year ahead. Among my reservations still about the project include:

- The uncertainty over the i.MX6 or i.MX8 hardware powering this smartphone. If they have to settle for the i.MX6 tech, it will be a huge letdown. The i.MX6 SoCs rely on dated ARM Cortex-A9 cores with Vivante GC2000 graphics. These SoCs have been around since 2011 and are already dated, only more so by 2019 if shipping in a $600 smartphone. With i.MX8 there are at least 64-bit Cortex-A53 (and the possibility of Cortex-A72 companion cores based on the SoC), Vivante GC7000 graphics, decent video processing capabilities, etc.

- The other specs of 3GB LPDDR3, 5-inch touchscreen (with no mention of resolution), 32GB eMMC, etc will be just mediocre for a ~$600 smartphone shipping in 2019.

- Among many other software engineering challenges around the project, their plan to use the Etnaviv driver stack for the Vivante graphics of the i.MX6/i.MX8. The Etnaviv developers can be commended for their great work over the years in delivering an open-source, reverse-engineered driver, but there is still a lot of work ahead for it to be a competitive driver for smartphone graphics. Only now they're about at OpenCL 2.0 levels while obviously OpenGL 2.1 and OpenGL 3.0 are big milestones ahead... Many longtime readers will recall how long it took the other Mesa drivers to advance in the GL3 era. Vivante GC7000 series hardware is capable of OpenGL ES 3.1 / OpenCL 1.2 / OpenGL 3.0 and it's perhaps not too likely they will have a full-featured graphics driver ready in just one year, not to mention no work yet on OpenCL compute support. Other 2018~2019 smartphones meanwhile have Vulkan, OpenGL ES 3.2, etc. Especially with this phone advertising convergence capabilities, the driver will need to be in sufficient shape for driving an external monitor at decent speeds.

- Whether GNOME Shell or KDE Plasma Mobile will make-up the default user experience on the Librem 5. It will be an interesting friendly competition between the KDE and GNOME camps which project will have a superior mobile experience in one year's time.

- From the orders so far, they are at about 213 orders for the developer kit board. For the Librem 5 pre-orders at this point it's about 2,672 smartphone orders. It will be difficult getting any dedicated smartphone app/game vendor to be interested in the platform with current numbers like that, and so at-launch will likely be limited to just the community software projects. Even Ubuntu had a tough time getting an interesting app ecosystem going.

That said, I certainly wish the project best of luck and look forward to seeing it evolve. For those less concerned about hardware kill switches and privacy and more concerned about performance and usability, it will also be interesting to see what comes of the recently announced Samsung DeX for convergence and running Linux distributions from the Android-powered Galaxy smartphone.

Share with us in the forums what your current thoughts are on the Librem 5 this weekend. The latest details can be found at Puri.sm.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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