Hands on with Ubuntu Phone
Ubuntu Phone OS is here!
It's been around 32 hours since the first development release of Ubuntu Phone OS was made available to the public and 30 or so hours since I flashed it on a Galaxy Nexus - unfortunately, I can't drive and flash a phone at the same time or that would have been a lot sooner!
It's built upon a bare-bones CyanogenMod Android layer allowing it to utilise the Android Kernel and all drivers, etc already in place for Android phones. This is great for manufacturers as it means existing hardware can already support Ubuntu Phone OS with minimum effort, therefore taking all of the hard work out of manufacturing a device specifically for Ubuntu and instead allowing for existing and new devices to be shipped with either Android or Ubuntu. Win win!
Following the instructions provided here was quick and painless, requiring no more than 10 mins of prep before I began the process. Shortly after I was greeted with a nice (currently static) lockscreen.
On swiping the lockscreen away (right to left), the first thing you're introduced to is the Home screen. It lists frequent applications, favourite and recent people, music and popular videos.
Swiping left and right takes you to People, Music, Apps and Videos. All of the media based screens offer a selection of featured items as seen on the image above (Favourite people) as a carousel with a mix of local and recommended (online) items below it. The carousel spins fluidly and infinitely. It's worth noting that with this preview there's a lot of pre-installed media and contacts to give a view of how it'd look fully set up and in use. I like the idea of this though it's easy enough to remove for those who wish to view only their own content here.
Most of the installed applications are HTML5 web apps which don't fully reflect the experience one would get with native applications utilising hardware acceleration, though with the copious amount of dev work going on already, I'm sure this will quickly change.
As for the preinstalled native applications I could test, there were two I particularly like. The Phone application which integrated the dialler, contacts and conversations, the latter being a mix of call logs and SMS messages per contact...
...and the gallery which fully embraced the swipe, allowing you to see more in all directions.
Worth noting are the smooth transitions between apps. As an OS based on and promoted for it's use of every edge for navigation and menus it needs to get this right from the get-go. Even though there's a smidge of stutter on occasion, they've done a great job with it so far.
The image above is swiping from the right edge of the screen to the left, this allows navigating between running applications. Swiping from the left edge of the screen opens the app list:
I can either swipe a short way across the screen to expose the app list or carry on with the swipe to the right of the screen to return to the home screen. The app list can either be swiped open with a partial swipe and release from left to right, or opened only temporarily, keeping the pressure on the screen and sliding vertically to select the application I wish to switch to. It works very well and feels fairly natural.
The notification bar is fairly unique in it's approach also, allowing the user to slide from left to right while pulling down in order to access different panes.
And swiping up in most apps will reveal a menu for that application, as shown here with the browser:
And to top it off, even the camera works pretty well!
Yes, Ubuntu Phone OS - as a developer preview - is more than impressive. I've even managed to make calls and send messages without any issue, though that's not to say it's without bugs.
For example, the screen has yet to turn off since I began writing this post, however when it feels like doing so, it'll turn off the screen and take ages for it to turn back on again. There's no shutdown menu, so it appears to simply die when the power button is turned on. There's no GSM based data connectivity which was already covered in the official documentation and finally, every web based solution I've used with the browser has asked me to download their iPhone App, which I find odd.
Ubuntu Phone OS gets a solid 6/10 for effort. 5/10 for implementation. I like the UI, love the fact that there's a proper linux userspace I can interact with as I would on a computer (though obviously it won't run anything that requires a traditional DE) and already sit logged into it via SSH over WIFI for tinkering. I hope to see a lot more of it as time progresses and more of the community get involved with porting and fixing code to make it a viable alternative to BlackBerry, iOS, Windows phone and even - just maybe - Android too. At least if it truly will be dockable, exposing a full OS with full desktop apps through a monitor. Here's hoping!
In the meantime, I'll flash a daily every now and then to see how it's progressing. It may not be long before it's a daily driver, but I'm not yet holding my breath.