Linux phone battery bug: Purism's Librem 5 delayed until April 2019

Purism gave its Librem 5 phone an updated SoC, but found it has a battery-draining bug that's delayed production.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Purism, a maker of Linux-based laptops, has hit a hitch with its forthcoming Linux smartphone, which will delay production by three months.

Purism's crowd-funded smartphone, the Librem 5, had been scheduled to ship around January 2019, but the company now says it expects a delay in production until April 2019.

The reason is a silicon bug in the system on chip that caused "extreme" battery drain. By extreme, Purism means the device would have had a battery life of just one hour.

For those interested in the exact problems, Purism has provided links to documentation from its silicon vendor, NXP, outlining two issues that affect power management and power consumption.

The Librem 5 will ship with PureOS, a Debian Linux OS, which supports the GNOME and KDE Plasma Mobile interfaces as well as Ubuntu Touch, originally developed for Canonical's abandoned efforts to offer an alternative to Android and iOS.

The phone is available for pre-order for $599 and comes with a number of features that the security-conscious could appreciate, including hardware kill switches for the camera, mic, as well as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a cellular baseband modem for anyone concerned about carriers possibly sharing real-time location data with the police.

SEE: 20 quick tips to make Linux networking easier (free PDF)

Purism also hopes to capitalize on concerns over Google tracking Android users' location even with Location History turned off.

Unfortunately, the cause of the battery-drain problem is linked to the company's decision to ship the Librem 5 with an updated NXP SoC.

Originally it had planned to ship with NXP's iMX 6, but it will now come with the newer iMX 8, bringing a 64-but CPU and more GPUs. However, it was in this new chip where the battery draining bug surfaced.

The Librem 5 will come with a five-inch display, 3GB RAM, 32GB onboard storage, front and rear cameras, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB Type-C port, and the already mentioned hardware kill switches.

The company has also provided a detailed rundown on the difficulties of producing a non-Android smartphone that runs a Free Software Foundation approved OS, chiefly the firmware and software to run components, such as the cellular baseband chip, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on.

"The difficulty comes down to the firmware and the software that run these devices," explains Nicole Faerber, Purism's CTO.

"The necessary firmware to operate the cellular modem, Wi-Fi, BT etc is provided by the chip maker, including the drivers for the GPU and more. The firmware and software included is proprietary with no source code and with little to no alternatives."

Faerber said there is a possibility the phone could be ready earlier, but production probably can't happen in February due to disruptions caused by Chinese New Year where "effectively the entire country is shut down for that month", leaving March as the only realistic ramp-up phase before full production in April.


Purism emphasizes that the design of the Librem 5 is a work in progress.

Image: Purism

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