mcol.xyz

ubuntu-touch on the pinephone: first impressions

My Braveheart edition PinePhone arrived a couple of days after a long journey and I've finally got some time to play with it. The first thing I wanted to do was test drive ubuntu-touch, the mobile version of Ubuntu maintained by the UBports community, and I figured I'd write about my experiences.

interface and responsiveness

My expectations were sensibly quite low given that it's still early days for the pinephone, but I've got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how responsive and un-frustrating the UI is at this stage.

The keyboard, which sometimes was an issue for me when I tested postmarketOS, works 99% perfectly. There does appear to be a minor bug where keyboard sounds, when enabled in the settings, are only triggered on the first key press after the keyboard is opened. A low priority bug to be sure.

The app draw - displayed when swiping in from the left of the screen - feels intuitive and looks great. Much more convenient access to apps than android has. Swiping in the from the right of the screen gives a view of all running apps, allow you to swipe them up to close them. These two very gesture-based features are smooth and responsive and don't feel clunky at all.

ubuntu-touch on pinephone: view of running apps

Dragging the bar at the top of the screen down (although not swiping down from off the top of the screen) dispays a number of informational tabs much like in android and iOS. There has been a little icon on the bar since it first booted suggesting a notifications pending, but the notifications tab is pretty convinced that that is not the case.

hardware

Much of the hardware is perfectly under control:

  • The volume buttons do indeed change the volume.
  • The lock/power button locks the screen, and turns it back on again.
  • Screen brightness control works.

But some is not:

  • Wifi appears to connect and work beautifully initially, but then fails. There is a working fix for when it does, however (discussion on ubports and pine64).
  • The Rotation Lock setting appears to do nothing; perhaps the gyro doesn't quite work yet.
  • Currently pinephone ubuntu-touch is stuck in headphone mode, and has other issues with the speakers (pine64 discussion).
  • There also appears to be a an issue with the battery usage, that others have also experienced, though this does appear to be an issue that can be fixed by software changes (fortunately!).

software

It does seem pretty strange, SSH-ing into and exploring a phone from my computer. Using apt to install tor or vim or whatever the hell I want. On my phone. That novelty is yet to wear off.

A dozen or so apps came pre-installed with ubuntu-touch, and more can be downloaded from the OpenStore. Many of these are simple web-apps, which has enabled a huge range of 'apps' to be created already. Though some are buggy (unsurprising, considering the webpages they display probably weren't designed with this in mind), they do serve as stepping stones between having no apps and eventually having native apps .

We are in the midst of an incredibly exciting time for linux smart phones, and I can't wait to see what the next few months bring us. I'm sure very soon we will have all the necessary components of the pinephone working smoothly, and once people make that transition to using it as a(n imperfect, yet functional) daily driver, the new apps and functionality will hopefully boom.