I finally received an Ubuntu Edition Phone. I had been anticipating it for years... holding my breath on just about every announcement that the platform was ready for prime time. In teaser videos, it looked like the perfect mobile interface... one forged in logic and reason, with a UI that anyone—regardless of experience—could enjoy.
Unfortunately, that bit of fiction never made it into the land of reality.
After experiencing this platform for the first time, I would be thrilled to at least tell you my reaction was a hearty "meh." The unfortunate reality is that my first blush reaction to the Ubuntu Phone is "ugh!" That reaction sets aside the following facts about the BQ Aquaris E5:
- The hardware is laggy and slow at best
- When you're prompted to install an app (such as the Google Calendar app), you're directed to the Google Play Store and not an Ubuntu-specific app store
- There are critically few apps actually available in the Ubuntu Store
- Scopes are really little more than glorified short cuts to mobile web pages
In fact, as I used the device, I desperately tried to find something positive to say about the Ubuntu Touch interface. In the end, the only positive thing I can say is that Canonical did manage to find a company to ship its platform.
Yeah... it's that bad.
This is coming from someone who has adored the Ubuntu Linux distribution for years. It's been my go-to operating system, and I absolutely love what they've done with Unity. But Ubuntu Touch (the phone interface) is not Ubuntu Unity. In fact, Ubuntu Touch is about as far from the user-friendliness and efficiency of Ubuntu Unity as can be. Ubuntu Touch is:
Those are the only words I can come up with for the interface. It seems like Canonical took everything that works in Unity and everything about the general mobile platform that serves a specific purpose well and tossed it out the window.
Again, I must remind you... this is coming from a long-time fan of Canonical and Ubuntu.
Honestly, this is a mistake. It has to be. As-is, the only way to justify this device is by labeling it a mistake and assuming Canonical and the developers of Ubuntu Touch are scrambling to make up for it. However, I'm not so sure that's the case. What's even more frustrating about this is that Ubuntu Touch has been a huge distraction from the desktop, which is Ubuntu's "bread and butter."
I wanted to take a screenshot of the platform to show you how bad it is, but there's no way to do so (unless you want to take the time to drop into command interface). There's not even an app in the Ubuntu Store for screenshots. In fact, within the Ubuntu Store, the only recognizable apps I've found are actually Scopes (so they are, effectively, shortcuts to websites). Even the Facebook app (which is listed as an app in the Ubuntu Store) is nothing but a shortcut that points to m.facebook.com (which is the mobile Facebook page).
Given the amount of time, energy, and effort that's been put into developing the Ubuntu Touch platform, how is it that such a complete failure is the end result? This is coming from a company (and host of developers) that have managed to create one of the single most user-friendly Linux desktop distributions on the planet!
There's a big part of me that wants to root for Canonical and Ubuntu Touch. I've always been a big fan of the underdog (especially those that are open source). But given the state of Ubuntu Touch, I'm not 100% certain that I could stand behind something that bad. Even Android 1.0 showed promise. Even the Windows Phone (though the interface is more "toy" than serious device) is usable, and it makes sense. Ubuntu Touch takes "sense" and crushes it under its foot.
I can't begin to tell you how saddened I am that I've had to write this. I wanted the Ubuntu Phone to completely blow me away and pull me from the Android platform with ease and grace. Instead, it solidified my opinion that jumping into the ring with Android and Apple is a fight that most aren't really ready to take up.
Please, Canonical, go back to the drawing board and return with a UI that makes sense... or simply return all of your focus on what you do best and leave the mobile platform to Google and Apple.
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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.