The first worldwide official Ubuntu phone

Slashdot it! Delicious Share on Facebook Tweet! Digg!

Ubuntu Calling

Ubuntu fans have been waiting a long time for this: Canonical, through its partner Bq, has released its first official Ubuntu phone worldwide. The Android and iOS alternative is convincing in tests, although it does show room for improvement.

Does the smartphone market, which is saturated with Android, iOS, and Windows phones, as well as various exotic options, really need another competitor in the form of the new Ubuntu phone? Many users are asking this question.

The issue with Canonical's new offspring is about quality and not quantity – even if the Linux distributor itself aims at wanting to address "each user."

A quick glance at the underlying Ubuntu phone [1] technology elicits curiosity: Canonical ensures that applications derive from QML [2], a powerful declarative language for creating user interfaces from the Qt framework.

QML is easily combinable with C++, and other language bindings exist – creating perfect conditions to attract not only many, but also very passionate developers who appreciate the technical advantages. But, how do users view the new Ubuntu phone?

Ubuntu on the Phone

The first official Ubuntu phone [3] comes from Spanish manufacturer Bq and is derived from its Android-equipped Aquaris E4.5 model [4].

Experimentally inclined owners of the Android version report that the Android system of the conventional E4.5 can be replaced with Ubuntu. However, the Ubuntu version of the device is missing the touch buttons at the bottom of the screen, along with some software functions such as a radio application.

The E4.5 has an A7 quad core processor from MediaTek with up to 1.3GHz clock rate. The 1GB RAM and a display resolution of 960x540 pixels should be sufficient.

The Aquaris E4.5 has two SIM cards and an SD card slot that supports SDHC cards with up to 32GB memory. The internal memory is just short of 8GB, of which 4GB are available for images and music. The camera shoots pictures with 8 Megapixel resolution – quality that is impressive at such a low price.

The Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition seems rather light in weight at about 123 grams with its generous 2150mAh battery. As with many other devices, the battery is fully integrated into the phone; therefore, the housing makes a stable impression, even if the plastic does not. The device's design definitely falls into the "simple" category – being somewhat reminiscent of the iPhone 4.

The display, which is surrounded by a wide frame, wins points for its brightness and for the scratch- and impact-resistant Dragontrail glass that feels pleasantly smooth under your fingers. The plastic frame fits well over the top of the glass edge to protect the screen.

In the packaging next to the phone, you'll find a USB loading device, a substantial USB cable, the manual, and a small tool for opening the SIM and SD card slots. Bq dispenses with the obligatory poor-quality headphones that other manufacturers often include.

With a retail price of about 170 euros, the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition is positioned somewhere in the lower midrange. The price-performance ratio on pure technical terms rivals that of competitors with other operating systems in the price range.

Aquaris E4.5 in Detail

Of particular interest to Linux users is the silicon heart of the device: the Ubuntu Touch operating system. Even a year ago, technically savvy users could install Ubuntu Touch on their smartphones. For a development device, Canonical provided the LG Nexus 4, which came very close to the actual Ubuntu phone's performance. The avid developer community unfortunately ported Ubuntu phone to a series of other smartphones [5], thus the quality of implementation varied greatly from model to model.

The Ubuntu phone, unlike Android, iOS, or other smartphone systems, is totally devoid of a keyboard, requiring you to memorize several gestures (Table 1). Depending on which side of the screen you swipe, you can open the application menu, drag in notifications and quick settings, or switch among running apps. Whether you swipe from the left or from the right makes a difference, as does whether you make short or long swipes or drag across the middle of the screen.

Table 1

Swipe Gestures

From top to bottom As with Android, a swipe from the upper screen edge down pulls down the status bar for making quick and convenient settings (see Figure 1). It also shows email notifications, SMS, and other news.
From left to right A quick swipe from the left edge of the screen opens the starter bar (see Figure 2). This shows the important apps, with the selection adjustable. Pressing one of the icons for a while opens a context menu. If you drag it from the left toward mid-screen, you wipe the current app to the background and access the main menu (see Figure 3).
From right to left A short swipe from the right toggles between the current and the previously invoked application. Dragging farther into the screen shows an index card view of all currently open apps (see Figure 4). Dragging an app to the top and out of the picture shuts down the app.
From bottom to top A swipe from the bottom screen edge opens the context menu for each application. This has different functions depending on the program. With phone applications, for example, this gesture opens the call list.
Figure 1: Quick settings and messages come down from the top of the screen.
Figure 2: A quick swipe from left to right brings the starter bar into the foreground.
Figure 3: The main view provides access to all installed apps.
Figure 4: A long swipe from right to left pulls the application view into the foreground.

One function especially stood out. Over a docking station, the Ubuntu mobile phone can also be used with the familiar desktop interface [6], or you can seamlessly switch on a tablet between the mobile interface and the Ubuntu desktop [7].

Canonical thereby could achieve what no other manufacturer has done: the full porting of an operating system with interchangeable user interfaces.

The mobile device could thus change its guise – if desired – to a personal computer that you can transport with all its data. Unfortunately, the Bq Aquaris E4.5 is a bit too weak for this function and cedes it to other, more powerful devices.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF

Pages: 3

Price $0.99
(incl. VAT)

Buy Ubuntu User

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content