If you've been following me for awhile here, you've probably noticed I've started giving Ubuntu Touch a bit more coverage. There's a reason for that. Once you get your hands on such a device, you discover just how powerful a tablet can be. Since most people haven't picked up the BQ Aquaris M10 tablet, I thought I would shed some light on the issue, so that you can decide for yourself if it's a device you should own.
Before I get into this, know that you can purchase one of the Ubuntu Touch-powered BQ tablets now. The price is, relatively speaking, low (€279.90, or roughly $320.00 USD). But for some, shelling out even that much cash for unproven tech is steep. And for the average consumer (and even the IT pro) Ubuntu Touch is just that: unproven.
However, the platform has grown, amazingly so, over the last year. Has it grown enough? Let's find out.
1: It's not ready for prime time
I thought I'd lead off with the biggest negative, simply because if you believe you're purchasing a polished product, you'll be disappointed. Ubuntu Touch should be considered just slightly beyond beta. It's really solid for a beta platform, but there are still issues that the developers are working out. Even the main feature, scopes, is in flux. With that said, the Ubuntu Touch platform is still a solid offering, especially for IT pros who like the ability to tinker and tweak. But if you're looking for a finished, polished product, you might want to stick to your iPads and your Android tablets.
2: Convergence works
One of the best things about the M10 tablet (and Ubuntu Touch) is that you can run the device in either Tablet mode or Desktop mode. To start up Desktop mode, simply connect a Bluetooth mouse and the UI will transform into a more desktop-like form. Once in Desktop mode, you can resize and minimize windows and have more than one window open (and in view) at a time. Essentially, the Ubuntu tablet transforms into a Ubuntu desktop. It's not perfect (yet). You will experience a bit of lag when in Desktop mode. But it does work and works remarkably well.
3: Yes, you can run GIMP and LibreOffice
You read that correctly: The M10 tablet includes GIMP and LibreOffice, both of which can run in either Tablet or Desktop mode. The apps run exactly as you would expect them to, regardless of mode, and do a great job of helping you get your work done. I would, however, recommend using GIMP in Desktop mode with a mouse (or other Bluetooth pointing device). Working with GIMP on the M10 with your finger is a great way to draw stick figures; beyond that, you won't get very far.
4: It's (mostly) flexible
Unlike most tablets, the M10 is flexible. First off, without having to bother with rooting the device, you can easily gain access to shell commands, like ssh, awk, crontab, diff, du, find, ping, tar, and top. You'll even find vi and nano at the ready. There are also apps and scopes to install, from the Ubuntu Store. Although you won't find many full-blown desktop apps in the Ubuntu Store, my guess is that they will eventually start populating with more of your favorite tools. Most long-time Linux fans might be put off by the fact that you can't install a different desktop interface. Ubuntu Touch is the only option here. But once you start using it, you'll understand why it makes perfect sense.
5: There's Google integration
No platform integrates with Google like Android, and Ubuntu Touch isn't going to give that a run for its money any time soon. Even so, Ubuntu Touch does an admirable job working with Google. Once you've added your Google account, you can sync the Dekko email client and the Calendar with Google. There are a couple of caveats to this. The first is that the Calendar app will currently only work with your main Calendar. Also, there is no real app for Google Drive. Although there is a Google Drive app, it doesn't allow syncing or uploading to your Drive account. Your best bet with Drive is to access it with the built-in browser. (See my next point.)
6: The browser is limited
The browser is, to be honest, the big Achilles heel for Ubuntu Touch. Out of the box you have two options: The built-in browser and Firefox. Firefox will work with the sites you need, but the interface wasn't reworked for the tablet form, so it's challenging to use (fonts and toolbars are almost too small to manipulate and pinch-to-zoom doesn't work). You can zoom in on pages (from the Firefox menu), but it does nothing for the browser interface.
As for the default browser, I found it terribly lacking. For example, if you open Google Drive in the default browser, there is no way to do anything but view and download files. You can't open a new file or upload a file to your account. This isn't acceptable. If Ubuntu Touch is going to be taken seriously, it must have a fully functioning web browser. Period.
7: Scopes are the thing
The developers of Ubuntu Touch have hung their hat on a unique feature called scopes. Instead of having to open various and sundry apps to get your data, Ubuntu Touch offers up a single app that includes numerous scopes (which you can add to and remove). There are scopes for news, for data, for social networking, and more. You'll find scopes that serve a purpose (such as a terminal scope for running commands) and scopes that entertain. Consider scopes like widgets and the Scopes app the place where you access your widgets. If the collection of built-in scopes isn't enough, you'll find plenty more in the Ubuntu Store. Do note, regardless of mode (Desktop or Tablet), you can't close the Scopes app. You can minimize it, but it will always be there.
8: Battery life varies depending on mode
How long your battery will last depends on the mode in which you use the tablet. When in Tablet mode, the battery lasts quite some time—you'll get a full day from it. When in Desktop mode, however, things go a bit south... to the tune of about half the battery life. That is actually okay (and expected). Chances are you won't be using the M10 in desktop mode all day.
9: Dekko has a ways to go
Out of the box, you really have only one choice for an email client: Dekko. Dekko is in heavy beta at the moment, so expect issues. When I first set up Dekko, for whatever reason, it constantly crashed at startup. Thankfully, I was able to install the terminal application and delete all the Dekko files and folders (namely ~/.cache/dekko.dekkoproject and ~/.config/dekko.dekkoproject) and start afresh, as simply uninstalling the app didn't solve the problem. Besides that little introductory snafu, the client does an outstanding job of working with Google Mail, Outlook.com, and IMAP.
10: LibreOffice just works
I've already mentioned that LibreOffice is installed by default, but it should also be noted that LibreOffice works really well. The M10 tablet ships with LibreOffice 184.108.40.206 (so it is a bit out of date), but it sure beats a lot of the other mobile office suite competition. This isn't a stripped-down version of LO either. This is the full monty that includes everything from track changes to Calc Detective to Goal Seek. If you've been looking for a tablet that includes a full-blown office suite, you can't go wrong with LibreOffice on the M10. I only hope the app will be updated to 5.0 soon. It would also be nice if they could design in a tablet-friendly UI (the same holds true for Firefox). Should they do that, this will be the deal maker for many users.
Is it for you?
So now you should know enough to make an informed decision about the BQ Aquarius M10 tablet. From my perspective, it's an outstanding first entry that has been long overdue. This is a piece of hardware the Linux community should be proud of and should fully embrace.
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.