Long Awaited First Ubuntu Phone

Want to try something different from the iPhone, Android or Windows Phone? Then feast your eyes on the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, the first-ever Ubuntu Phone.

Ubuntu has long been known as an alternative operating system to Windows or Apple Mac computers. It’s open source and has a thriving community of developers and tinkerers, but isn’t widely used among consumers. For the last couple of years Canonical, the British company behind Ubuntu, has been working on expanding the operating system’s reach so it works in other devices such as phones andtablets.

Canonical is working with Spanish manufacturer BQ as well as Chinese manufacturer Meizu, andUbuntu versions of the Aquaris E4.5 and Meizu’s MX3 were previewed a year ago. The MX3 is still in the works, but the E4.5 is the first proper fruit of that labour to actually go on sale.

Loaded with the Ubuntu operating system, the phone moves away from the familiar idea of apps downloaded to your phone, instead giving you “scopes”, or home screens that mix online sources and the stuff on your phone. Developers working on Ubuntu phones don’t have to create another proprietary version of their app as they would with iOS, Android or Windows Phone; instead they code in HTML5, the language used to create modern websites.

You control the phone by swiping in from each side of the screen. Bringing your finger in from the left reveals an app launcher filled with icons for your currently open apps and other favourites, all arranged in a column. Tracing your finger from the right opens the multitasking carousel, which lets you quickly scroll through all the apps you have open in a nifty 3D animation that looks like you’re turning the pages of a book.

Once you’re in an app, swipe up from the bottom for that app’s menu. And pull down from the top for notifications and status indicators, which you select by swiping left or right. They include recent messages, network information such as your signal or Wi-Fi, upcoming events and a battery readout.

Flash sales

It isn’t just the software that does things differently: the phone won’t be sold like other phones either. Instead, it will appear in a series of “flash sales”, going on sale for a limited time. The first flash sale will be announced on Tuesday 10 February on Ubuntu’s Twitter, Google+ and Facebook pages, and BQ’s Twitter account bqreaders.

The Aquaris Ubuntu Edition costs €170, which converts to around £130, $195 or AU$250.

The phone will only be on sale in Europe. Ubuntu has done deals with GiffGaff in the UK, Three in Sweden, Amena in Spain and Portugal Telecom to offer SIM bundles when customers buy the phone. It’s unlocked, so you can use it on any network supported by the phone.

There are no plans for a US launch.

“Since we’re at the beginning of the journey, we’re targeting early adopters,” says Cristian Parrino, the VP of mobile at Canonical. “A lot will come from the existing Ubuntu and BQ user bases, but it’s certainly not limited to that. This is very much a consumer device.”

Apps vs. scopes

The biggest innovation of the Ubuntu experience is the use of scopes. Scopes are home screens dedicated to one topic — for instance music, video or news — that pull together content from various sources. For example, instead of having a YouTube app for watching online videos and a separate app for watching the videos saved on your phone, the video scope pulls them all together in one place.

The music scope unites online sources like Soundcloud and Grooveshark with the songs saved on your phone, so all your tunes are in one place. And the NearBy scope tells you the weather and shows you interesting things near you, using reviews on sites such as Time Out and Yelp.

Instead of building apps, developers create scopes with HTML5. Canonical reckons this makes a scope easier to build than an app, and much cheaper than building a new app for every platform. It’s also intended to solve the chicken and egg problem — people don’t buy phones with no apps, but developers don’t make apps for phones that no-one is buying.

The hardware

The E4.5 is a smartphone with a 4.5-inch full HD 1080p screen. It sports a 5-megapixel camera on the front and an 8-megapixel snapper on the back, with a Largan lens, autofocus and dual flash. The phone comes in black.

Under the bonnet is a MediaTek quad-core Cortex A7 processor running at up to 1.3GHz, with 1GB of RAM. There’s 8GB of storage for photos, movies and music.

The BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition will be shown off at industry trade show Mobile World Congress 2015, where manufacturers, app builders and other mobile companies gather to display their latest phones, tablets, smart devices and other wares. We’ll be there in force to bring you our first impressions, with glossy hands-on photos and videos of all the coolest kit you need to know about.

Source: Cnet