The first Ubuntu phone is finally here. The Aquaris E4.5, previously only an Android 4.4 phone, now also has a "Ubuntu Edition." The phone is available only in the European Union from BQ's website right now for 170 euro ($180).
Because it started so late in the mobile market, Ubuntu for mobile devices has seen slow adoption among OEMs to use it. Even Firefox OS seems to have had more success than Ubuntu so far, having appeared on several handsets already.
Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, also tried to launch its own phone through an IndieGoGo campaign. Unfortunately, the company may have overstretched with its $32 million goal, managing to pull only $12 million (which was sent back to the funders once the campaign failed).
Right now, few manufacturers would risk using a little-known operating system on high-end devices, which is why Ubuntu, Firefox OS, and even Microsoft's Windows Phone seem to arrive mainly on lower-end devices. The risk is just lower this way. It's also easier to convince lesser-known OEMs to experiment with a new OS because they may have less to lose trying it out, but could potentially have more to win.
The Aquaris E4.5 comes with a 4.5" IPS screen, as the name implies, with Dragontail protective glass, which is a competitor to Gorilla Glass. The display has a qHD 960 x 540 resolution, which means it has a 240 PPI density -- not quite "Retina" quality, but adequate for a mobile device of this size and price.
The phone has a quad-core Mediatek SoC inside with its Cortex-A7 CPU cores clocked at 1.3 GHz, as well as a Mali-400 GPU (which is starting to show its age as it's based on ARM's older architecture with non-unified shaders and no support for OpenGL ES 3.0).
The device also features 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of internal storage with microSD expansion support, dual micro-SIM, a micro-USB OTG slot, Bluetooth 4.0 and a 2150 mAh battery. On the back of the phone there's an 8MP camera with dual-flash that's capable of 1080p video recording, while the front has a 5MP camera.
One of the main features of Ubuntu for phones is that it has a different "scope" for each category of content. Owners of Ubuntu devices such as the Aquaris E4.5 can access the default scopes that include Music, Video, Photos, "Nearby" and Apps. They can also create new scopes from scratch with the apps or the type of content they want.
Just like Windows Phone initially, or Tizen, Firefox OS, and other mobile operating systems that aren't Android or iOS, the focus of Ubuntu for phones can't be apps. The ecosystem just isn't there. However, Ubuntu for phones allows developers to create both native (QML) and HTML5 apps that can be installed on the platform, which should make it easier to port some apps.
The Aquaris E4.5 doesn't have the most cutting edge specs on the market, but it comes with a relatively low price, offering those who have been waiting to try out an Ubuntu phone the opportunity to finally purchase one.
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Seriously though, it will be interesting to see how this does. I loved the concept videos that they put out 2-3 years ago where you could dock your phone to take over tablet and desktop devices... super neat, and certainly the future of phone tech... but without that single feature is really just seems like 'just another black rectangle'