For many years I have been known as the “ThinkPad guy”. I’ve always used IBM / Lenovo ThinkPad laptops where possible. To the extent that a few years ago I had a lengthy chat with JFK airport security about why I had four ThinkPads in my hand luggage. I’ve been using a high-spec ThinkPad T495 for a few years and I’m getting more and more dissatisfied with the newer ThinkPads in general. So, I figured it was time for a change. I’ve seen a lot of talk of Framework laptops and added myself to the wait list for UK shipping. Many people have asked me for a review of the laptop (which arrived today) so I figured I would write my thoughts.

First a disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Framework and this is not a review model. This is a model purchased by my company for me and Framework are not aware that I am writing this beforehand.

Ordering

I can’t remember exactly when I added myself to the notification list for the start of UK shipping for the laptop, but I placed my order for a DIY edition on the 4th Jan with a £100 deposit with an estimated March shipment date. The DIY edition is very flexible with the options and this is the specification I ordered:

On the 7th March I got notification that they were preparing to ship my laptop, payment was taken a couple of days later, it shipped on the 10th and arrived on the 16th March (via DPD from Taipei). They were very verbose about every step, with helpful emails along the way.

Box Opening

What arrived is a plain brown box, inside this were two more boxes, one containing the laptop itself and one containing the accessories.

A majority of the packaging appears to be recyclable which I think is a very nice touch. Under the laptop there are some stickers, a tool and a small fold-out document.

The tool is very interesting, it has a T5 torx bit in it which can be reversed to be a PH0 head. On the other end is a smudger. This is very much a laptop that is designed to be repaired. Scanning the QR code brings up an iFixit-like web page that shows you exactly how to build the laptop.

This is the laptop itself, you’ll notice that it is a bit squarer than normal, this is because it uses a 3:2 2256:1504 resolution screen. This was a nice selling point for me, taller screens are typically more useful for software development than widescreens. On the underside there are 4 holes. These are for expansion cards so you can make the ports whatever you want them to be.

I ordered a good assortment of expansion cards so that I could reconfigure the laptop for my needs on the fly:

Assembling

As this is the DIY edition, I needed to open it up to install the RAM and SSD. The instructions were very clear on each step with photos showing you what to do. Simply unscrew the 5 screws on the bottom using the tool that comes with the laptop. They stay in place once unscrewed so you won’t lose them, the bottom left screw (when upside down) actually levers the top for you to make it easier to open.

You can then take the smudger side and open up the case. I was expecting it to be clipped together like most laptops but I was pleasantly surprised to find it is magnetically locked together, the smudger just helps you separate the bezel parts. The keyboard is attached using a push-in connector with a loop on it to tug and unclip it. There is plenty of cable so that you don’t accidentally break it.

See all those QR codes? That is to help guide you in assembling / disassembling those parts of the laptop and ordering spares / upgrades. One screw needed to be removed to insert the SSD storage and then the RAM was inserted.

Easy! Literally anyone who can use a screwdriver can do this!

First Boot

I initially plugged in 3 USB-C expansion card and a USB-A expansion card. Stuck in a USB stick with Fedora 36 pre-beta on it and plugged in a USB-C PD power cord. I then hit the power button, and… nothing. No power lights or activity. After trying some things and head scratching I went searching around and found that this sometimes happens with new Framework laptops and when it does a full mainboard reset is needed.

Once again there were iFixit-style instructions how to do this. Basically pop-out the backup battery, disconnect the main battery and hook up the charger. After this there are steps for preparing the battery again.

Once reassembled, when pressing the power button it immediately booted my USB stick and I could install Fedora. Fedora defaulted to 200% scaling, something I’ll probably tweak later.

General Usage

The keyboard has surprisingly deep travel for the keys and a very tactile feel. The layout is pretty good, a few things I need to get used to and I’m not so much of a fan of cursor key layout, but that isn’t a deal breaker. I probably would have liked it if the “Windows key” was a more generic “Framework key”. I suspect this laptop will be used a lot by Linux users as they discover it.

The trackpad should be very familiar to Apple users, but is a physical click instead of a tactile one. I kinda miss the TrackPoint in ThinkPads, but the trackpad is good enough that I think this will be OK.

At the top of the screen there are physical kill switches for the microphone and webcam. Unfortunately there isn’t one for the WiFi / Bluetooth but there is an “airplane mode” key on the keyboard.

As far as thermals go, this thing runs really cool. It is barely above room temperature as I write this on it and whilst I’ve been migrating everything over has stayed incredibly quiet.

Another thing that surprised me was that the screen automatically adjusted brightness to the room. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this working on any Linux laptop. A really nice touch.

For a general comparison, this is the Framework next to my T495, both with the screen set to 50% brightness.

Conclusion

Apart from the setup hiccup I’m very happy with this laptop so far. Framework have put an incredible amount of thought into how to make a laptop that is serviceable by anyone. This is what should be the norm, not the outlier. I hope that right to repair starts to take hold and makes this more commonplace. In the mean time I give huge praise to Framework! Check them out at https://frame.work/.

I’ll likely follow-up after I’ve been using the laptop a while to give some more opinions on usage, battery life, etc…