I've had laptops for about 25 years, from a variety of companies. My newest laptop is the one I'm using now, the Framework Laptop. This laptop is one of two laptops I purchased recently that aim to be user serviceable, the other, the MNT Reform is a very different animal and not really comparable. This laptop is a much more traditional piece of equipment, very similar to my previous laptop, the XPS-13. I've owned several XPS13 laptops and have enjoyed them a lot, so the Framework is in for a challenge!
This review will be as unbiased as possible, but will emphasize my experience with the laptop, as well as an emphasis on my angle as a FLOSS enthusiast.
This is a small laptop, certainly in the same category as my old XPS13. It's a little larger but not substantially so, and weighs the same as the XPS.
The difference in the laptops' length is largely due to the difference in the screen, something I'll cover later in this review.
The construction of the Framework feels a bit plasticy, though not cheap. It has a bit of a hollowness to it that I feel is a bit unsatisfying, but this same feel can be found on other laptops, including my wife's Acer gaming laptop. It's also not present on Lenovo Thinkpads.
When holding the laptop, I can sometimes feel the plastic frame give a little under my fingers, and the machine sounds a little hollow.
I wonder how much of this feeling of plastic/hollowness is due to the nature of being repairable rather than other possible factors such as the type of material used.
This change is likely due to either different plastic or a lack of metal in some areas. It's a shame because it does make the laptop feel "cheaper".
The keyboard is decent, with good key press and some distance between the keys. The complaint I have is that as I press keys, there's a sense and a sound of hollowness from the device, which is unfortunate.
At the same time, the keyboard has decent key press, I notice a little more travel distance between this keyboard and my XPS-13. I feel a little more finger fatigue even while writing this, I think because of the feeling at the bottoming out of the keyboard.
The size of the keyboard is a little large, and this has been an issue for me since to get to certain keys I need to drag my palm, which leads to the touchpad getting pressed accidentally.
The touchpad is decent. It's quite large, and while that might be a benefit to some, for me the laptop's size means I can't type at certain angles because the laptop frame gets in the way. I also find myself running my palm into the touchpad sometimes. I hope this is just due to needing to adjust to a new layout, as it's happened more than once.
The screen is good, and it's clearly an area where Framework made some deliberate choices.
It's a 3:2 display with a resolution of 2256x1504. This display ratio sits in contrast to many laptops which are using a 16:9 ratio. Framework claims that this is better for coding and document preparation. After a couple of weeks, I think they're right that the increased vertical space has made coding and document preparation easier and that is a definite plus.
An unfortunate downside of the monitor size is that it's forced the bottom of the laptop to be larger, which is why I have the problem with typing at all angles.
It should also be mentioned that the Framework laptop has a glossy screen. While this isn't something that bothers me, I know that for some it's a dealbreaker. While one can purchase an after-market plastic screen protector for the Framework, the glossy screen may make it a non-starter.
The speakers on this thing are not great. At lower volumes they sound tiny and muffled. While at higher volumes this is reduced, it's clear that speaker placement wasn't high on the priority list.
So far, the battery life on this laptop has seemed good. Six hours on a single charge is plenty good for me. I could probably optimize the laptop more if I were willing to to investigate some more power optimizations. This laptop is certain on par with the XPS13 and the System76 Lemur.
I do wish that it had an externally accessible battery pack, but that wouldn't fit with the slim design that this laptop offers.
The Framework laptop, like the XPS13, uses USB-C ports that allow peripherals, but also allow the laptop to be charged from any port. This is an important feature to me and differentiates these laptops from other laptops such as the System76 Lemur laptop, which uses a round power connector and offers USB-C charging, but from only one port.
The USB-C feature also connects with the Framework "Expansion Cards", which I'll describe below.
The Framework laptop has several "expansion cards" which are swappable components that slide into housing in the laptop's side. They remind me of earlier laptop's PCMCIA cards, which could expand a laptop's functionality. In reality the Expansion Cards are nothing more than USB-C connected devices that slide into the laptop's housing, but by being so convenient, and USB being so fast, they serve the same purpose as PCMCIA, and are very convenient.
When I purchased my Framework, and at the time of this writing, the options for cards were somewhat limited, so I purchased three USB-C ports and one MicroSD expansion card. I am looking forward to having other cards in the future, namely a USB-A card and an HDMI card.
Drivers/Linux/Free Software functionality
The Framework laptop is clearly designed with Windows in mind, and when I ordered mine, I did not see a Linux or "No OS" version, though. I do not believe that it's possible to use a 100% Free/Open Source operating system without binary blob drivers on the Framework at this time.
Similarly, the Framework uses a proprietary UEFI and it does not support Coreboot/Libreboot.
The most intriguing thing about this laptop is that the company behind it has stated that they stand firmly behind Right to Repair, a social movement that says we should be allowed to fix our own equipment. The laptop came with a screw driver and the website has a repair guide. More importantly, the company says it will create a marketplace where owners can purchase replacement parts such as keyboards, mainboards, and maybe most importantly, replacement batteries.
This is in stark contrast to Dell, which makes buying replacement OEM parts very difficult and discourages consumers from touching their computers, instead suggesting they buy new computers every few years just because a battery is starting to lose charge.
I stand behind the Right to Repair and feel it is complementary to the Free Software movement. While Framework hasn't been stellar about Free Software, I hope that this changes over time.
Despite some small issues with the layout and build quality, I like the Framework laptop. It was a good purchase and I hope to be using it for years to come!
I would like to see competitors to the Framework from more established folks in the Free/Open Source areas too. System76 is offering an open source desktop- they could surely offer a laptop that offers most or all of the same features, and also hasa greater emphasis on Linux/Free Software compatibility.