Open Source

Questions and answers: Ubuntu bq tablet

After Jack Wallen's recent review of the bq Aquaris M10 tablet, he was hit with a number of questions about the tablet. Jack addresses some of those questions to help you decide if the Ubuntu tablet is a worthy investment.

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Image: Jack Wallen

As I mentioned in my initial review, Ubuntu Touch on the M10 tablet is surprisingly fantastic, especially when used in desktop mode. Canonical has something very special on their hands, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for serious improvement (something I'll address in a moment).

Enough with the jibber jabber, let's get on with the questions.

Can you install WINE on the Ubuntu tablet?

Simply put, no. There are a number of reasons why this isn't happening, but the main user-facing issue is that WINE is not available in the Ubuntu Touch app store. Of course, if you happen to install the terminal app, you

might well find out that apt-get is available for use. However, the Ubuntu Touch system is mounted read-only, so apt-get doesn't actually work like you'd expect. One major issue is that the Ubuntu Touch developers aren't testing apt-get install scenarios, so you never know if what you are installing is going to work (or cause systemic issues due to broken dependencies).

You can mount the system read-write (and then use apt-get as you would on the desktop), but doing so will disable updates. Seeing as how Ubuntu Touch is still somewhat in its infancy, the last thing you want to do is disable updates. Trust me, you want those updates coming in.

What apps are available to install?

This is a tricky question to answer (which is why it's hard to get an "official" answer). Here's the thing...much of what Ubuntu Touch runs is handled via Scopes. In most basic terms, Scopes are simply apps or services as displayed through a webpage. Although that's not far off, these Scopes are optimized to be used in the Touch environment, so they display nicely and work well.

That being said, what apps are available? Out of the box, the bq M10 tablet comes with both GIMP and LibreOffice installed (and they both work great), so one would think all Linux apps are available. They aren't. For example, the only email client for Ubuntu Touch is Dekko (and it's a worthy contender for sure). The Firefox browser is also available, but not Chrome. That Chrome isn't available is a shame as Firefox doesn't run well on the platform and the default browser isn't fully supported on sites like Google Drive and Inbox.

As for the listing of apps, here are the official Core Apps for Ubuntu Touch. If you're looking for a complete listing of all apps available for Ubuntu Touch, you need to visit uApp Explorer.

Does it really behave like a desktop?

Yes. In fact, when using Ubuntu Touch on the M10 tablet (and with a mouse and keyboard connected), it feels very much like using a standard Ubuntu desktop. The only caveat to that is the slight lag with the cursor.

What would keep me from loving a Ubuntu tablet?

This is a tough question to answer with any accuracy, simply because everyone uses their mobile devices differently. It's also the one question asked by the majority of readers interested in the Ubuntu tablet. However, I'll try to answer the question with a nod to generality. The first issue that will keep people from loving the Ubuntu tablet is the lack of a home screen. However, when using the device in desktop mode even that issue is rendered /dev/null. In Desktop mode, you get to enjoy a pseudo home screen (although you cannot add launchers to it). And having the ability to switch from Desktop mode to standard mode is an incredibly handy feature.

Another issue that could be a deal breaker for some (one that I mentioned earlier) is the browser situation. The default browser is good, but it isn't fully supported by the likes of Google Apps. This is not good and needs to be immediately addressed by the developers. Yes, you can use Firefox, but I find that browser to be way too slow and less than efficient to use on Ubuntu Touch. The default browser is built on WebKit. Considering the rendering engine is that which is used in Safari as well as various iOS and Linux applications, one would think it a fantastic choice for the Ubuntu Browser. However, until the default browser can work with necessary sites (such as Google Apps), I find it less than an acceptable platform for everyday work.

Finally, if you're accustomed to the notification system and the lock screen working in conjunction (as in either Android or iOS), you're going to be a bit disappointed in Ubuntu Touch. Yes, the lock screen will indicate if you've read or sent messages, but it will display nothing in the way of actionable information. To find out what has come in (via messaging, email, etc.) you have to unlock the device and either pull down the notification shade or open an app or two. Although this is great for those who prefer privacy over ease of use (which everyone should), it does add a step or two to get to the most important piece of the puzzle, which is data.

Should I buy or not?

Here's the thing about Ubuntu Touch: In its current state, it's something geeks and Linux nerds will love. The platform offers far more power and flexibility than any other mobile ecosystem on the market. But considering some of Ubuntu Touch's idiosyncrasies, it's a platform that will easily frustrate the average user. Give Touch a year or two and it'll be the platform everyone will want. In the meantime, for anyone who enjoys the Ubuntu desktop, the bq Aqarius M10 tablet is a worthwhile investment.

I will say this. So far I've used the Ubuntu tablet for over a week and prefer using it over any other tablet...even with its quirks. In fact, it's the first mobile device that has me comfortable being away from my trusty desktop environment. Having mobile versions of The GIMP and LibreOffice alone is worth the price of admission. It's not perfect (far from it), but it's a sleek, mobile version of Linux that works incredibly well, especially considering how young it is.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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