• Home
  • Blog
  • Contact
  • Projects
  • Content Mirror
  • Matrix Guide

  • Framework Laptop First Impressions

    October 4, 2022

    I ordered a Framework laptop back in August because I had heard it would work well with OpenBSD, plus it's a very modular and repairable laptop. As I'm sure you know if you've read any of my previous posts, I like to tinker with things, and I like to dig into my computers and swap components. Sometimes they break, and I like to do my own repairs, but sometimes my needs just change.

    Anyway, I'm typing this on my Framework laptop right now, and I have to say, I'm rather impressed. The keyboard will take a little getting used to. It is very quiet, which I really like, but it feels good. They keys are kind of soft, and the action is kind of "mushy," as the forums tend to say. But I actually rather like it. I can type fast, and not bother everyone around me while doing so. The soft keys feel nice under my fingers, and the key placement is exactly what I'd expect—I say that because I've had some ThinkPads that swap keys all over the place and it is a pain to figure out. I also like that the escape key is so big. On my last laptop, the escape key felt like an afterthought. It was so small and so far away from everything else. On the Framework, it is almost twice as big as the function keys, which are as wide as the regular keys. Being a vi(1) user, I very much appreciate that the escape key feels like it belongs on the keyboard, because I use it constantly.

    I've heard from the forums that the touchpad is just absolutely horrible. I have not found that to be true at all. The touchpad, in my opinion, is quite wonderful; the best I've ever had on a laptop, in fact. It is very large, and very smooth. Multi-finger gestures work wonderfully. Everything is very responsive. I usually enable tap-to-click, so I never click the buttons, but the clicks on this touchpad actually feel really nice as well, so if I did need to use them, I'd still be impressed.

    The other complaint I hear is that the battery life is bad. OpenBSD seems to be managing it well though; I think I get longer battery life on my Framework than I did on any previous laptop I've ever owned. Granted, it's no M1 Macbook with 16-hour battery life, but I'm happy with about 6 hours of battery, because that's more than I've ever been able to get out of a laptop in the past. My university has plenty of places to plug in throughout the day, so I've never had to worry about battery life. Really, the most battery life I need is about 2 hours between classes, so having triple that is rather nice. The power supply is very small and from what I can tell, doesn't get hot, which is really nice. All my other power supplies get so hot that you almost can't pick them up after you're done charging, but this one is not that way at all. I can't yet comment on how quickly it charges the laptop, because I only charged while I was working on it, and then overnight, and the battery came about half full. So I'll have to see how that goes, but I'm sure it won't be a problem.

    The speakers are mediocre, but I don't use the speakers anyway. Anything I want to do with audio, I do with headphones. The headphone jack works great. I'm not super big into audio, and OpenBSD can sometimes be finickly with audio, but it is nice to know that the hardware is there if I ever need it, and honestly, I can't complain about it. I've never had good speakers in a laptop, nor have I needed them.

    The hardware switches for the microphone and camera are super nice. Instead of having to put a sticky note over my top bezel, I can just flick the switches, which physically disconnect the camera and microphone from the motherboard. OpenBSD recognizes them as USB devices, and the switches quite literally unplug the USB.

    The aluminium construction of the body is top-notch. It looks really sleek. The Framework logo is unique, yet minimal. I'm excited to tell people about Framework if they ask about it. When I hold the laptop in my hands, I'm pleased with how sturdy it feels. I've held a lot of smaller and lighter laptops like the Framework in my hand before, and they all felt cheap and fragile. The Framework does not feel cheap or fragile. It feels just a like a Macbook.

    As I'm typing this post up now, I'm noticing that the screen is a little wobbly. Maybe I'm just a hard typer, but I have heard complaints online that the hinges are a little weak. I think I could get stronger hinges if I wanted, but other than the slight screen wobble when typing, I actually do like the hinges. The other thing that isn't my favorite is the glossy screen. I'd much prefer a matte screen, because they tend to work well for my use case, which involves spending a lot of time in a lot of different places, all with different lighting situations. As I write, I can see my reflection in the screen, and I can see out the window behind me. It can get a little distracting, and be a little harder on the eyes, but I'm honestly not too worried about it. I'm sure I'll get used to it.

    The whole laptop itself is a little smaller than I was expecting. I've always been one to get the biggest laptops they make. All my previous laptops were 17-inch, or 15.6 inches at minimum. The Framework is just 13.5 inches, so it is pretty tiny. That being said, it is very portable. It feels heavy for its size, but I like that because it makes it feel sturdy. I can slide it into my backpack and not have to worry about it bending or anything like that. Given the choice between the size I have and a bigger one, I probably would've gone with a bigger one, but I'm not disappointed at all. I think it is a nice little laptop.

    So that's how the Framework fares as far as tech specs go. Overall, not bad at all. It's the most high-end feeling laptop I've ever had, and it looks high end too. But what I'm most excited to talk about is what makes the Framework laptop so appealing, and the reason I bought it in the first place: expansion cards, and ease of repair.

    My very first experience with the Framework was to unbox it and find that it had no memory, no hard drive, and no expansion cards. That's exactly what I expected. The memory was in its factory packaging, and I brought my own NVME SSD that I already had sitting on my desk. Disassembling the laptop is an absolute joy. You just undo the screws on the bottom, and pop the keyboard cover off. It is attached magnetically, so there's no need to plunge a spudger inside the laptop to break all the plastic clips, like any other laptop. There are no clips, just powerful magnets. Everything is easily accessible under the keyboard, so I slipped in my memory and my NVME in just a few minutes. The WiFi card was already installed, so that's all it took. I've honestly never had so much fun opening a laptop since the old days when laptops had two or three panels on the bottom that could be removed to access the memory, hard drive, and WiFi card.

    After I got my keyboard cover back on and the screws all tightened, I slid in my expansion cards. I may have gone a little overboard on the expansion cards... I ordered a few too many. But it is always nice to have spares. I slid in 3 USB-C and 1 USB-A, so I could use a flash drive to install OpenBSD. The expansion cards slide in fairly easily, and they "click" into place once they're secured. Getting them out is a bit more difficult, so I probably won't be changing them often, but that's okay, because I don't need many ports these days. I've always been an advocate of ports on laptops, to me, the more ports the better, so only having 4 ports on a laptop seemed like a downgrade at first, but then I realized that I almost never use more than 4 ports at a time, and with the Framework, I can mix and match any ports I want using the expansion cards.

    At the time I ordered my Framework, the Ethernet expansion cards were out of stock, but when they come in stock, I'll definitely be getting myself one. Another thing I'm seriously considering ordering is the blank keyboard. It looks really clean and minimal, which I of course like. I just have to memorize what symbols are on the number keys, and then I'll be ready to do that. But that's the cool thing about Framework laptops, is that they're incredibly customizable. I could even change the color of the screen bezel if I wanted.

    So all in all, the hardware is just great. It feels great in my hands, and it looks great too. My only complaints are the wobbly lid, which really isn't even that wobbly, and then the glossy screen, which I'm sure I'll get used to. I would highly recommend a Framework laptop to anyone looking for a sleek, modern, and portable laptop that is also extremely customizable and repairable. I fully intend on this being the last laptop I ever own, because every component can be replaced. Every few years, if things start feeling sluggish, I can upgrade my mainboard and get a whole new CPU. If my battery starts to go bad, I can just order another one and pop it in. Or, if I dent, scratch, or even break the lid or body, I can just take all the guts and put them in a new body.

    The next order of business is OpenBSD. OpenBSD has become an absolute must for me over the last year and a half; I can't really use a personal laptop without it. So it's incredibly important that OpenBSD functions like one would expect on the Framework laptop. I knew that out of the box, the latest release of OpenBSD wouldn't support the WiFi card, but I saw a few weeks ago that they did merge support for the WiFi card in, so when OpenBSD 7.2 is released, my WiFi card will work great. Until then, I'm running OpenBSD -current, which does have working WiFi. It took me a little while to actually get the firmware loaded, and I even tried swapping the WiFi card out with another one before realizing that one wouldn't work, but eventually I got the WiFi card that shipped with my Framework working. In 3 or so weeks, I'll be installing OpenBSD 7.2, because I much prefer to be on the stable versions instead of -current, but I'm pleased right now that my WiFi works.

    Actually, I'm pleased that everything I've tested so far just works. My last laptop, which I was borrowing from my job, technically ran OpenBSD, but not very well. Suspend wouldn't work very well, it would randomly panic, and audio only came out of my left earbud. I'd have to reboot it multiple times a day. My Framework laptop is not like that at all. Suspend and resume work every time I've tried, I've had no random freezes or panics 1 and the audio just works without any tweaking. I can adjust the screen brightness as would be expected, and all the expansion cards work like they should. People say that OpenBSD works best on Thinkpads, and it is true, my last ThinkPad ran OpenBSD pretty much flawlessly, but I have to say that the Framework runs just as smoothly, and it is a bit more modern than my old ThinkPad.

    In fact, the Framework might even be more well supported. I haven't tested the microphone yet, but the camera works better than it ever did on my ThinkPad. So, now I have a laptop that is customizable, designed to be user-servicable, and can run OpenBSD pretty much perfectly! What more could I want? Honestly, nothing. It's been less than 24 hours, but my first impressions have been great. This is a laptop I can see myself hanging onto for a very long time. Of course, I said that about my System76 laptop as well, but the only downfalls of that were that it wouldn't run OpenBSD because it had a Nvidia card in it, and it was too hard to take the bottom cover off. So now that laptop sits on my server rack and hosts my Matrix server. Given that it is very powerful, I think that's a good use for it.

    One thing I do have to add is that the screen is very high resolution. So high resolution in fact, that at the moment, my status bar is very very tiny. I haven't yet figure out how to scale X up yet, but I did increase the page zoom in my browser, and made my xterm(1) font size a lot bigger. So it is perfectly fine for now, but eventually I think I'll want to scale up my status bar and the browser tab UI somehow. That's really the only downside to OpenBSD, and it isn't even OpenBSD's fault, because I could probably install Gnome and just set the display scale and have it work fine. So this papercut is really more of a self-inflicted one. I'll have to play around with the DPI settings and see if I can make things bigger.

    Overall, it really feels like the Framework laptop was made for me, because it checks all the boxes. The community around it shares my values. And I really appreciate that. Congratulations Framework, I think you just gained a lifelong customer. And here's a huge shoutout to the OpenBSD project as well, for all the hard work that has been put into making OpenBSD work well on standardized modern hardware. I think the only places OpenBSD doesn't work well tend to be weird hardware. One of Framework's goals is to be Linux-friendly, so they purposely picked components that are mainstream and standardized, which means things inherently work well with OpenBSD too.

    That's all for this topic. I've got my ideal laptop, now I just need my ideal phone. I'm still rocking the busted iPhone Xs, but that will hopefully be replaced by a PinePhone, the phone equivalent to the Framework laptop, by the end of this year. Keep an eye out for a post on that, if I can ever get it working. I have no doubt that phones are a lot harder to make work than laptops.

    1. Well, okay, my touchpad stopped working for a minute, but logging out and logging back in fixed the problem. I think Chromium was just hogging some resources and causing it to become sluggish. That only happened once. 

    © 2019-2024 Jordan Bancino.