3 min read

Purism Librem 15 Review

After 2 years of daily use, a review of how well the Librem 15 has held up.
Purism Librem 15 Review

I've owned a Purism Librem 15 laptop for over 2 years now as a "daily driver" for work and wanted to share my experience given that it's a niche product for privacy conscious users. As is the case for products that focus on privacy and security, you generally have to make some trade-offs...

The Good

While I'll be covering a variety of gripes and frustrations I've had, I'll start by saying that on the whole this laptop has served me well. I also generally like PureOS; if you're familiar with Debian or Ubuntu then it won't feel too alien. I even installed PureOS on one of my desktops to see how well it worked on non-Librem hardware; I've had no issues on that machine. The biggest annoyance I've had with the OS is when trying to manually install software and trying to figure out which version of "Debian" I'm running so that I download the correct build.

As a privacy conscious user, I really appreciate knowing that my microphone and camera are disabled when I flip a simple switch. Flipping this switch doesn't just turn them off, it makes them completely undetectable by the operating system because the hardware gets physically disconnected.

The Bad

Throughout 2018 there were several OS upgrades that actually broke aspects of the system. Once or twice it screwed up the graphics drivers and I had to roll back to an earlier kernel. On a few occasions updates broke the ability for the laptop to detect that an external monitor was connected. These upgrade issues seem to have stabilized as of 2020.

After less than a year of use my first Librem stopped powering on. It turned out that some component of the motherboard had died and it simply wasn't powering the motherboard from either the battery or the power cord. This is somewhat understandable given that the Librem's motherboard is a low production volume product. However, I can't say that the replacement process was great. It took over a month for Purism to ship me a replacement after they had received the defective laptop.

Upon receiving the new laptop I noticed that it was a completely different shell; I assume they had to redesign the motherboard configuration for some reason. The biggest difference was that the kill switches for the wi-fi/bluetooth and webcam/microphone had been moved from above the keyboard to the right side of the shell by the USB ports. I have to say that I felt this was a step backwards in usability. In this configuration you can no longer determine the status of the switches from a normal position of using the laptop. Over the next year I found myself fumbling with these switches more often and having to lean over and squint to try to determine what position they were in. I also found that while sliding the laptop in and out of my tote bag, the switches would often get flipped, causing me confusion when I started using the laptop again later.

After a year of use I can still get ~3 hours of battery life out of the Librem 15, though the notification for when the battery is about to die leaves something to be desired. It will get down to around 10% and say that I have 15 minutes remaining, then the laptop will die about 30 seconds later.

The Ugly

The most frustrating ongoing issue I've had to deal with is that the wi-fi strength is much weaker than my other laptops and phones. Perhaps this is due to the aluminum chassis and/or how the antenna is positioned inside it? When I'm not in direct line-of-sight of a wi-fi router I often end up having to turn on my phone as a hotspot and essentially have it act as a wi-fi extender relay, which is pretty silly... but it works.

After 1 year of use the glued-on feet started to fall off due to the heat on the bottom of the laptop. This led to massively decreased performance that took me a while to diagnose. It turns out that the intake fans are on the bottom of the laptop. Thus if the feet aren't there to offset it, there's no airflow and the laptop will overheat, causing the CPU to be heavily throttled. This also means that the laptop is not usable on soft surfaces because, once again, the intake vents will get blocked and it will overheat.

Moving Forward

The Purism Librem is built on a solid foundation of principles, hardware, and software. I think it has worked remarkably well given the niche nature of the product. The design issues that I've found to be frustrating flaws don't seem like they would be particularly difficult to resolve. I'll certainly be keeping track of future generations of Purism's products and hope to continue being a customer!