Ubuntu Touch – a preliminary review
Canonical made a brave move earlier this year by jumping into the mobile OS race. Since then, Ubuntu Touch has generated a good amount of interest in the mobile OS news circle. Mark Shuttelworth announced last month that household brands are interested in Ubuntu Touch. All we know that development of Ubuntu Touch has been going on at a frantic pace. So, what’s the current situation with the mobile OS? Is Ubuntu Touch ready to handle the daily chores like the established iOS and Android or like the new players like Sailfish OS and Firefox OS ? Lets find out.
Ubuntu Touch debuted a very interesting lockscreen. Unlike the other mobile os, this lockscreen doesn’t need unlocking and is more intuitive. It gives you information about calls, tweets and messages. Currently, the lockscreen is partially working. It can display call records, songs played and messages received. You need to double tap on the first information to get the second one. The greeter still does not have integration to Twitter or Facebook nor does it cycle the information automatically.
- Are you a blogger? Now you can make money from Muktware….check it out: Muktware’s Bloggers Network
Contacts and Phone book
Manual insertion is possible and the contacts are stored on the phone. Synchronising contacts with Ubuntu One is not enabled. You can download contacts from Google Contacts (Gmail) 50 at a time, but that needs to be done manually via command line. The script is incomplete as it skips special characters in passwords i.e. if you have “!”,”@”,”#” etc. at the beginning or end of a password, there is every chance that the contacts will not be downloaded. I couldn’t find any option to import contacts from sim card as well.
Dialer and calls
Dialer looks complete, basic functionality of calling to other phones work. Auto complete of contacts work as well. However, I do not like the incoming calls occupying only 1/4th of the whole screen on my Nexus 4, that too on the top. This makes accepting an incoming phone call virtually impossible. My left thumb cannot reach the top right, nobody’s can, unless they have monster fingers! I consider this as a serious design flaw! However, it does allow you to receive calls when you use two hands which is the most important function of a phone. The dialer still doesn’t support on screen display of information like call charges or USSD services.
The messaging app receives and sends SMS without issues except for the fact that the SMS indicator shows the wrong date for message receipt (Says Jan 01).
The browser is one of the more stable apps of Ubuntu Touch. It can handle almost everything except flash. Ubuntu Touch will not support flash at all. The browser was quite responsive to touch and scrolling was smooth. The pages loaded quite fast. I did not run any benchmark test though.
I really like the look of the weather app. It’s shaping up quite well. It shows daily temperature, humidity and wind speed. It also dynamically changes colour w.r.t the temperature. One functionality still missing is 3-day or a 5-day forecast.
Music & Video apps
They are still under heavy development. Music player can play mp3 without need of extra codecs. I tested a number of .mp3 files, all worked fine. I could not get the video player working though.
File manager is fast and responsive. Navigation through the folders is very smooth. It support list view and hidden folder view. A grid view is not supported yet.
Calendar is one of my favourite apps of Ubuntu Touch. Its beautifully designed, has a very nice colour. According to me, its the best looking calendar app yet on a mobile OS. Adding new event is supported locally. A one way sync with google calendar is supported. It’s a good start I must say.
Camera and Gallery apps
Camera app can take pictures and videos without issues. It has basic functionality of zoom and flash. No fancy camera effects are supported yet.The camera app supports the front camera too. All photos are stored in pictures folder, accessed by the Gallery app. The gallery app is a very well designed app. It works well at this stage.
Phone Signal, Wifi & 3G
Phone signal on Nexus 4 seemed weak when compared to Android on the same device and sometimes the phone displayed “no signal”. Wifi and 3G (GSM) are working. You can browse the internet comfortably on 3G data. A recent bug fix now allows Ubuntu touch to connect automatically to saved wifi networks on reboot. One thing I must point out, channel 13 on wifi networks do not work for Ubuntu Touch. The phone just simply refuses to recognize the wifi signal. This doesn’t happen on mylaptop which runs Ubuntu 13.10
System Settings allows you to automatically download Ubuntu Touch updates when connected to a wifi network. You can also change your background wallpaper, add accounts – Facebook,Twitter, Google and Ubuntu One are allowed. U1 is required for downloading apps from the app store.
Performance, Stability and battery
Ubuntu Touch development team have decided to publish 3 images per day to minimize regression. Every second day, they will promote a build which can be used . At this stage performance is not that good. The OS is sluggish, which is very evident when you open 3 or more apps and try to scroll. It slows down so badly that it looks as if you are watching a movie in slow motion. Battery backup is really bad too. You cannot get more than 4-6 hours at this stage.
Unity 8 and Mir
A big part of this performance and battery issue lies with Mir. Mir is the new display driver for Ubuntu Touch. Its still in alpha I would say. Unless Mir is sorted Ubuntu Touch wont see any performance or battery life improvement.
The App Store
Ubuntu Touch allows third party apps from the appstore. You can also download applications from the Ubuntu App Store . Currently there are more than 30 apps available for download. A few games, torch apps, stock ticker and a number of webapps for Google Maps and Open Street maps. There are no chat apps at the moment yet. That is a serious drawback.
Currently there are performance, stability and battery issues plaguing the mobile OS. There are no apps yet to synchronise emails like Gmail, Google Drive, Hotmail or any cloud storage. There are no chat apps either. No Whatsapps, Line, Tapatalk or Gtalk. So, at its current state we cannot use UT as a daily driver.
Having said that, the Ubuntu community are taking good interest in Ubuntu Touch and the devlopment is going great guns, things are steadily improving. Even this early in development stage, there are about 30 completed third party apps in the app store. The team has till April 2014 to get Ubuntu Touch ready for prime time they are confident they will be able to. Until then we have to play the waiting game.
PS: If you are still interested to try Ubuntu Touch find the list of compatible phones here.