After failing to raise an eye-popping US$32 million on crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2013 for its Ubuntu Edge smartphone, Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu operating system has finally announced the launch of its first Ubuntu phone. Called BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, the phone will be sold in a series of limited-run flash sales. Why the hype over this phone? We look at some points that will help shed some light on the new smartphone entrant.
What is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is quite well-known in the open-source community. But for non-developers like us, Ubuntu is simply another operating system like the Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Other makers like Samsung and Mozilla have had limited success with an alternative OS. It remains to be seen whether Canonical’s Linux-based OS will catch on.
Why the weird name?
Curious about the word ‘ubuntu’? It is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Canonical wants to bring the spirit of Ubuntu to the world of mobile, tablets and computers.
Scopes versus apps
Instead of the grids of apps that most smartphone users are used to, Ubuntu organises content on the phone using ‘scopes’. Scopes are like individual home screens for different kinds of content, giving you quicker access to your news, movies and music to social media and other services, without having to launch multiple apps. There is also a ‘Today’ scope that you can personalise for an instant reference to information important to you. Unfortunately, being late to the party also means that Canoncial will struggle with creating an attractive app ecosystem. There are only a handful of apps available at launch.
See Scopes in action here:
“Ubuntu presents users with an entirely different way to engage with their devices – Scopes guide you to content you want – in the same way you think about it – to deliver a smooth, engaging experience,” says Cristian Parrino, VP Mobile at Canonical. “For developers, Scopes are a much simpler and more valuable way to build mobile experiences than apps – significantly changing ecosystem dynamics.”
Ubuntu also introduces some new gestures. Swiping from the phone’s top, left, right and bottom bring up different screens and allows you to quickly access your favourite apps.
So is Aquarius E4.5 worth waiting for?
The 8GB BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition smartphone (yes, it’s a mouthful) is available only in black and runs on a 1.3 GHz MediaTek Quad Core Cortex A7 processor. It features a 5-megapixel front camera and 8-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and dual flash and full HD (1080p) video recording capabilities. The rear camera is equipped with high-quality BSI sensors and a Largan lens. Specifications wise, it is definitely not at all impressive. Going for Euros 169, you probably can get better phones for that price specs-wise (think Xiaomi). But for curious developers, they will probably see it in another light. So we say hang on to your money and wait for future models of smartphones running Ubuntu OS.
Also, the Aquaris E4.5 is only available in Europe for now. Plans for the phones to be made available to Asia is still uncertain. But if you are still interested, you can check out Ubuntu’s Twitter, Google+ and Facebook and BQ’s Twitter account, bqreaders, for announcement of the flash sales.