Tablets

Create the look and feel of Ubuntu Touch on your Android tablet

Do you want to make your Android tablet look and feel like the Ubuntu Touch interface without rooting your device? Jack Wallen shows you how.

If you're itching to get your hands on a Ubuntu tablet but can't stand the wait, I have a solution for you. You won't get the full-blown touch experience that will come with the Ubuntu tablet (the full-on Magic Edges feature, for one), but we can come somewhat close to getting the look and feel of the Ubuntu Touch interface. The best part is that you won't have to root your device. All you have to do is install a small collection of apps and make a few simple configuration changes. After that, you'll have a very Ubuntu-esque tablet on your hands.

You might notice, depending on your tablet, that not every aspect will be spot on. For example, with a Samsung Galaxy Tab, there's no method to hide the bottom panel. That's one feature that you'll have to live with. Other tablets, like the Toshiba Thrive, can obfuscate the bottom panel, thereby creating a much more accurate look.

Let's begin the process. I'll be demonstrating on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Launcher

To get some of the swiping effects, you'll need to install the Nova Launcher Prime. This launcher costs $4.00 (USD). You could opt to go with the free GO Launcher EX and install the Ubuntu Theme, but there's one caveat to that -- you can only either disable or enable to Dock. That, in and of itself, is fine; but with the Unity Launcher (to be added momentarily), you cannot add shortcuts for the app drawer. Not having quick access to the app drawer is fairly limiting, so we'll go with the Nova Launcher Prime.

To install Nova Launcher Prime, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for Nova Launcher
  3. Tap the free version (this must be installed first)
  4. Tap Install
  5. Tap Accept & download

Once the free version is installed, you'll need to purchase the Prime version (if you want the swiping gestures). Here's how:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for Nova Launcher
  3. Tap the Nova Launcher Prime entry
  4. Tap the purchase price
  5. Tap Accept & buy
  6. Allow the installation to complete
When you tap the home button, you'll be prompted to select which launcher you want to use. Tap Nova  (Figure A), and then click the box next to Use by default for this action (if you're sure you want to make Nova your default). Figure A

Launcher selection on the Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy Tab.

While we're dealing with Nova, let's go ahead and configure this new launcher. What we want to do is hide the panel and create a gesture to bring up the app drawer. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Tap the menu button (three vertical dots in the upper right corner)
  2. Tap Nova Settings
  3. Tap Dock
  4. Uncheck Enable Dock by tapping
  5. Tap Gestures and Buttons
  6. Tap Swipe up
  7. Select App Drawer from the list (Figure B)
  8. Tap the home button to return to the home screen
Figure B

You can set more gestures if you like. This is just to make sure you have quick access to the app drawer.

Before we move onto the next step, you might want to remove all launchers and widgets from the home screen (unless you don't care for a minimal, clean display).

Unity Launcher

Understand that this isn't the official unity launcher -- it's just a reasonable facsimile. There are two versions: One for free and the other for $1.99 (USD). The difference is that the paid version allows you to customize the launcher. To add this launcher, do the following:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for "Unity Launcher" (no quotes)
  3. Tap the free version
  4. Tap Install
  5. Tap Accept & download

If you want to customize the launcher, go back and purchase the paid version.

Once it's installed, go to the app drawer and start the Unity Launcher. When you do, a simple "how to" will open that informs you what you can do. Tap through this information or tap your home button to return to the home screen.

Now, tap the left edge of your screen to reveal the launcher. By default, it has no apps. To add apps, simply tap the plus sign [+] and then tap either Add Application or Add Shortcut. After you tap one of the entries, a listing of all apps or shortcuts will appear. Scroll through the list of apps and check each one you want to include in the launcher. After you've selected your apps/shortcuts, tap Save to save your list.

Now, tap the left edge of your home screen to reveal the launcher with included apps (Figure C). Figure C

The home screen reveals the launcher with included apps.

Live wallpaper

The final touch is the Ubuntu Live Wallpaper. This wallpaper includes the animated clock and a nice Ubuntu-themed background. Here's how to install this:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for "ubuntu live wallpaper" (no quotes)
  3. Tap the entry for Ubuntu Live Wallpaper Beta
  4. Tap Download
  5. Tap Accept & install
Once the installation is complete, tap the menu button on the home screen and then tap Wallpaper. Click Live Wallpapers and then select Ubuntu Live Wallpaper. Before you tap Set Wallpaper (Figure D), tap Settings, and then set the Date and Clock formats. Figure D

You can switch between 12 and 24 hour time in the Settings.

At this point, you should now have a reasonable facsimile for what the Ubuntu tablet will look and feel like. It's obviously not perfect, but for anyone with enough curiosity (who doesn't want to root their tablet), this will work like a charm. And for those that might be questioning the purpose, I have found this set up is actually a very efficient way to work with your tablet. Give it a try, and I think you'll enjoy it quite a bit.

About

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 getjackd.net.

3 comments
microbins
microbins

. . . NO . . . thank you. :-)

The Former Moley
The Former Moley

The order of your instructions does not quite appear to accord with your screen shots, which apparently show some elements of Ubuntu already installed in advance their actual instructions. I did follow your instructions (*) and briefly the Ubuntu setup worked but then stopped working after a tablet freeze-up. So I have uninstalled everything and will try again tomorrow. (*) except that there was no 'Gestures and Buttons' setting to configure. I rather like the idea of a Ubuntu Unity style interface, although I now use Gnome 3 in preference to Unity on my computers. I'll follow up to report success or failure.

jack42
jack42

Trying this out, certainly like the idea of it. I bought Nova Launcher when I got my Nexus 7 (hooray $25 credit!), but I've never made use of it. I had Glovebox installed, but it seemed to get in the way more than being useful. I like the Unity Launcher's implementation, allowing re-sizing/locating the activation area. Now if only there were a way to (completely) turn off the Google Now swipe-up action while playing Temple Run 2 on my Nexus 7.

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