As on the latest episode (48) the Ubuntu phone OS was discussed and guys seemed to think that it cannot be used as the only smart phone, I decided to write a review on the topic, since I have quite happily used it as the only device in my pocket since the beginning of May.
First of all, I love the phone. I feel so much more at home using this device than Android, as my previous phone was Moto G. After I got the device, I’ve booted the Moto G once and the reason for that was only that I did not know that USB tethering already existed in the Ubuntu. I’ve also found myself using the phone much more than I did the Moto G (also my girlfriends observation).
I will divide this review to five main sections: The essentials, apps , scopes, performance and the problems.
So the basic functionality, by which I mean phone calling messaging, core apps and so on. I have never failed to have a phone call or send a text message. The phone functions pretty well and even though the performance is a little problem, the calls and messaging gets done. The clock app wakes me up in the morning and the telegram lets me chat with my friends and send them pictures and other stuff. Telegram doesn’t however make notification sound, but the led is working. My friend told me that on his device the Telegram sounds work, but for me that is lacking. So the basic functionality section is simple: it just works.
The essential apps that are email, calendar and so on are mostly also quite good. I can read and send email with dekko as I can on any android. I can also save and open attachments which is sometimes important. Calendar has some issues considering notifications (the notification sound plays, but I don’t see any actual notification and have to check the calendar what that was for), but I don’t rely those so much so I can live with that. The Browser seems to be just fine, I don’t have any problems with it. Same can be said for Clock and Document reader. I use PDF-train tickets a lot so it is really important that they work. The thing ships with web app for Nokia Here maps, but I feel that a web app for google maps is better experience. Both how ever have gotten the job done for me, though I would of course prefer good native application for maps.
About the app situation. There are a lot, and a lot is also absent. I’ve personally found a ton of nice apps, but the store is full of non-functional web apps and many cool services are of course not there. For me what I use the most are the web browser, podcast app, email, pdf-reader, terminal, music player, telegram, facebook and twitter. All of those are there and I think all of those work fine. The podbird is a fine example of good podcast app. I realize that my needs aren’t that big so Ubuntu is already fulfilling them pretty well. As I’ve transferred myself to Telegram, I don’t even miss Whats app, though it has more users on my contact list. The terminal is fantastic for using IRC. I just ssh to the server, open running irssi session and it’s done. The navigation buttons implemented to the terminal help to use irssi very much.
The big question in everybodys mind is of course how the web apps perform when compared to native ones. This is actually a big reason why I wouldn’t recommend this phone for any non technical person yet. The UI of a web app is mostly just a mobile page so the experience can sometimes be quite horrible though at its best it can compete with native apps quite well. The facebook and twitter are good examples on that. I use both quite a lot and at least everything I’ve had to do in those apps have been possible to do. Hoewever the web app-interface is problematic, because for example when you scroll the page, all the controls scroll away from you. After reading 400 tweets it requires a little scrolling to get back to new ones. Also posting a picture on facebook or sending one to twittersphere is not as simple as with the android apps, since one must very manually go and upload them with the browser ui. It is also pretty irritating to get asked to download the android app of some web page, which is the case with some web apps. How ever, as I understand that the web app is mostly just a web page, I can live with that very well. I get things done, as I know how to navigate and use a web page and don’t expect complete app experience. Some not so technical people how ever would not understand how hard it is to upload picture to facebook.
The general performance of the apps is not perfect, but somewhat fine in my opinion. All the games I’ve tried run smootly and responsively and it is fantastic to see awesome ports of the legendary linux games, such as Planet penguin racer, or neverputt and neverball, being transformed to the platform. The performance problem lies in starting the apps, since that takes usually quite a while. Many apps also die every now and then, but luckily that doesn’t always mean that whole phone freezes, so restarting the app helps. The apps can sometimes also loose responsiveness, which is a little annoying, but that happens with Android apps as well, however much less at this point of evolution.
Scopes are interesting. At first I did not use them at all, since I couldn’t find anything interesting there. Scopes that are most advertised are most useless for me. I haven’t found any good use for the Today scope, except it shows my calendar marks for the day. For that reason only I’m better off opening the calendar app. The problem of the nearby scope for me is that I live in Finland so it shows me couple of points of interests within 20 km and not much more. I tried it more while visiting Glasgow and it worked much better.
After a while I had found couple of useful scopes and those are xkcd, softpedia uappexplorer and Jupiter Broadcasting. I think native xkcd-app is the first thing that arrives to new platform and it was definetely one of the first things among ubuntu apps and scopesphere. It is nice and seemless way to follow the comic, so I like it very much. Uappexplorer-scope let’s check quickly all new apps in, or coming to app store, and that’s why it is useful. As I want to just generally scroll through every app that comes there to see if something useful is added, the scope works very fine for that purpose. The softpedia scope is my main linux-news platform these days. It shows me the headline and the leading paragraph, and gives a link to open in web browser. It is quick way to check if there are any new stories and wether they are worth opening completely. The JB-scope lets me just quickly check if the new Tech Talk Today episode is already released or not. Okay, this is just me explaining what scopes I’m using and what for, but I don’t see how I could really review them any better, since what is useful is so dependent on the user, and those examples show that there are some real potential in the scopes as a way to use smartphone. However there lies a problem with the scopes at the moment. They lag and load slow. As I’m using them mostly, cause I’m too lazy to do that in browser, it would be nice to actually save time there. The problem is probably smaller in the Meizu device, since it is much more powerful than the BQ, but at least on my device changing the scope is laggy and scrolling thorugh them is even more laggy. Thats why changing from the first scope to fifth or sixth is quite annoying. They also load the contents usually completely from the internet, so I don’t even see the old posts while I’m waiting for the new ones. These hopefully get fixed at some point.
The total performance is good and bad here and there. I’m happy to say that the top menus work usually very responsively and fast. The multitasking view is usually responsive and fast, but lags a little sometimes. So the main pieces of the user interface work fine. The biggest problem is the time that it sometimes take to open an app. For something as simple as the clock app, it is annoying to wait over 2 seconds it to open. As I already said, the scopes perform quite laggy as well, and that is little bad since they should be the big thing on this platform. The games such as Cut the ropes or neverputt work very fine, so after the app is loaded it seems to perform very well even on such low powered device as the E4.5.
The problems list is long of course. One big general thing is that I need to reboot the phone once a week or two. It is not that bad, since I can compromise that much for free software, but of course it is not what general customer wants to do. The phone just gets slow and then usually freezes completely. Then after a reboot it works just fine next week. I’ve had some problems on getting the phone to locate itself, but my friend was able to use the navigator app quite well. The location is however quite important thing, so hopefully this also gets better. Freezing of the apps is sometimes also problematic, since it is quite hard to explain to the train conductor that I’m using this experimental phone OS and the PDF-reader just died, so it takes a while for me to open the ticket again.
Another problem lies in the app ecosystem. Even though most of the things can be solved to some extent with web apps, sometimes there can be things that one needs an android or iOS-app. The best example is the railway company of Finland that is using mobile ticket system that works in the app that is available for Android, iOS and windows. At the moment this is not a problem, since I can always buy normal ticket, and I don’t specifically need a mobile ticket to any train, but in the future things might change and then being outside of the largest ecosystem can get problematic. At least with Jolla the android app would probably work and the problem could be solved. I can just hope that this won’t cause any problems for me in the future.
All in all, I really really love the BQ device much more than the Moto G, and I find the interface to be intuitive and clever way more than the android. It seems to fit my usage very well. There are the rough edges Stuart mentioned in the Show, but unlike him, I’m very well capable of living with them as I know that the platform is getting better and better all the time. All of the OTA updates that have come out yet have been very good and improved the phone signifficantly and I’m always excited to wait the next one. However I would certainly not suggest anyone to buy one, unless they know exactly what they are buying. If you are like me, a little masochist, love Ubuntu and Linux in general and willing to sacrifice a little time of your life waiting your apps to open, just so you can run Linux on your phone, Ubuntu can certainly be used daily. I’m living proof of that, and I know at least one friend of mine who has pretty similar experience.
These were the first things to pop to mind about the phone, so if you have any questions about the phone or my usage of it, feel free to ask and I’ll try to remember to come back here and answer.