Can a Librem 5 Linux Phone Replace My iPhone?

I’ve had a Librem 5 Linux phone on pre-order since 2017, and they hope to finally ship it in Q3 of 2019. That’s Real Soon Now.

I also have a iPhone XR which is only a couple of months old that I like alot. I feel the need to put my money where my mouth is and support the privacy based Librem 5 effort. The catch is, I know the Librem 5 is not going to be able to fully replace my iPhone when first delivered. (I think it might lack a calendar app at first and I need that and the calendar needs to sync across numerous devices.)

The Librem 5 should come with enough apps and functions to make it roughly comparable to the very first iPhone (2007): Phone, SMS, Web Browser, email, weather, camera, contacts and maybe a few more. For everything else I’m going to have to rely on the web browser and HTML5 web apps. Web apps are fine for a lot of things but they don’t quite handle notifications quite as well as a dedicated app.

Fortunately, the Librem 5 will launch with an app store so third party app developers can quickly make their new apps available to all users.

I’m already making mental notes of apps I use on my iPhone and web equivalents I can replace them with:

*Twitter - actually I like the web app interface on Twitter so no loss there.

*Apple News - web versions of MSN News, NewsNow.co.uk, BBC News.

*Notes - I don’t see any mention of a note app, but I have to believe somebody will come up with a note app fairly quickly. Simplenote’s web interface might work.

*Rain Gauge - (a doppler radar measurement of how much rain has fallen at your location.) I actually use this quite a lot. I don’t expect a replacement to ever be available. :-(

*Apple Maps - (or any map Nav app) Not at first. They show a Maps icon but I’m told it does not really do navigation. The work around might be DuckDuckGo search engine, which uses Apple Maps. I’m not sure if it does turn by turn navigation. I don’t use Navigation very much, but when you need it it is darn nice to have on demand.

*Wunderground Weather - there is an HTML5 version. It’s not quite as good as the iPhone app but it should do.

*PDF reader - I do get a lot of PDF’s as attachments. I’m hoping the Librem will be able to open them for reading. It will be Real Annoying if I can’t.

*Calendar - there is a web version of Google Calendar. Maybe it will do or maybe it will be Real Annoying. This is a must have for business users and me. My work flow is to enter appointments into my Phone and it syncs with Google Calendar to all my devices. Google may be a privacy liability on this but it just works, were all others have failed so I’m keeping it for now.

I’ll still miss things like Kobo Reader, Amazon, Aldi app, etc., but I can make do. Plus I doubt the Librem will ever sync with my cars. I still think it’s important to get Linux really working on Phones (tablets too) and break the Android and iOS monopoly. If Librem 5 fails and turns out to be nothing more than an expensive toy, I can always switch back to my iPhone.

All this, initial, reliance on HTML5 web apps puts great responsibility on the web browser. Librem 5 is using a modified version of Gnome browser (aka Epiphany) which is light weight and probably good enough for a phone, IF it can handle passwords properly. Hopefully, Firefox browser will get ported over someday.

If the Librem 5 is to be a success, they need to emulate the launch of the first iPhone. A phone is a critical piece of gear in peoples lives, downtime is unacceptable, it has to just work right out of the box.

Brad Enslen @bradenslen

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