Canonical has gone to great lengths to build Ubuntu as a unified platform, from mobile phones to tablets to desktops, to the enterprise and beyond. We had a chance to look at the latest version of Ubuntu running on some hot fresh hardware -- the bq Aquaris E4.5, which we were told is now shipping in Europe. (As in, the phones are literally in the mail.)
There is not yet a U.S. phone with Ubuntu, but Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth told us that one is coming. He would not, however, name a manufacturer nor a date (not even a vague timeline), no matter how many different ways we asked.
The bq Aquaris E4.5 is a relatively compact handset with crisp lines and edges, and it offers mid-range specs, including a quad-core MediaTek Cortex A7 (1.3 GHz) SoC, Mali 400 (500 MHz) graphics, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and a 960 x 540 IPS display. But as far as we're concerned, the bq phone is irrelevant, as it's only available in Europe; we're more interested to see what the latest Ubuntu looks like on a mobile device.
You can tap the display to see if you have any notifications without unlocking the phone. You swipe to unlock the device, and then you're greeted by "scopes," which are sort of widgets, such as "NearBy," which shows you things that are, um, nearby that you might want to see or do. Another swipe brings up your apps.
In the demo, there were several standard apps, including Phone, Messaging, Contacts, Camera, Browser and Clock; you can also see that an Amazon app, Calculator, Calendar, and at least one game are installed.
Further swipes bring up more scopes, including a News page and Music (which included "branded" experience, such as SoundCloud" that are part of a scope). Swiping in from the left brings up a bank of apps vertically aligned along the left of the display, including a software home button.
Swiping up from the bottom brings up controls for the scope, and a swipe down from the top brings down settings, notifications, and more, which you can scroll through by tapping and holding your finger and then swiping right or left.
One of the finest features of Ubuntu on mobile is the multitasking carousel, which you've seen before on Macs and PCs. You can see multiple panes and breeze through them, tapping on whichever one you want.
Ubuntu on phones is essentially the same as Ubuntu on tablets, with the sole difference being that the tablet version offers a feature that lets you keep two windows open at the same time, sharing a split screen, not unlike how Windows 8.1 on tablets looks when you want to have two applications running side-by-side.
The code for both is identical; when using a larger display, the code kicks in the ability to have multiple panes on the same page.
Essentially, this version of Ubuntu is fully integrated into the desktop as well as the enterprise. Ubuntu's unity is intriguing, particularly in light of Microsoft's earnest attempt to build that same sort of experience across all screens with Windows 10.
Ubuntu will never have the same market share as Windows 10, but Canonical has built a unified platform that looks pretty and runs smoothly, and it will certainly appeal to anyone considering the Ubuntu platform.
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You're right that the Meizu phone has Ubuntu. Canonical had that model in the booth, as well. But it is not coming to the U.S.
You're also correct that you can flash a Nexus device with an Ubuntu ROM. But to me, that is not the same as seeing an actual Ubuntu phone ship to the U.S.
To your last point: Interesting idea...
Ubuntu can be flashed to a Nexus phone, but you have to install Ubuntu on your computer to do it. That's the only thing stopping me from flashing my N4 with Ubuntu Touch.