Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ubuntu Phone OS: Initial Impressions & Comments

The Ubuntu Phone OS made a noticeable splash as its initial developer preview was released for public download February 21st – and rightly so, as the Unity and screen-edge-based interface set this smart phone experience apart. Though this developer preview lacked a lot of functionality – an ‘alpha’ designation would be appropriate – the preview demonstrated a lot of interesting features that show a lot of promise.

Initial Impressions:

The design of the unlock/welcome screen is well thought out, in that the reticule in the centre warmly greets the user back to their phone. Once up and running, an animated version of the unlock screen should be a visual treat. Definite strength here.
Once inside the phone, I really liked the unique layout of the separate screens: one for Music, one for Apps, and others for other content. It uses the page idea common to android and iPhone, but makes it so that one is specific to a type of content. I can see power users loving the ability to switch quickly between functionality, but this being a problem for organization of long app lists or long lists of music albums/artists/songs. Points for speed, but at this point (since it is not-functional), I can be unsure how large arrays of icons will be organized in this format.
The sidebar from unity’s dash is very well implemented here. It is well optimized, even in its alpha stages, for either one or two handed use – which I believed could be a problem. Holding it with one finger allows a slow scroll through the apps, and releasing the finger opens that app. This works well when only one hand is available. For two hands, quickly holding and releasing on the left edge of the screen opens the tray and keeps it there, until an option is selected.
The gestures supported by Ubuntu phone allow really speedy transitions between apps, with the unity launcher quickly opening new ones. Right-to-left swiping takes the user to their previous application. There is no ‘open applications’ tray in the style of Android – instead, a swipe back to the home screen lists open apps, just above the app list. I think this may make transitions between more than two applications a little slower. Again, until more applications become available, this is a toss up.

Comments

  • Swipe/gesture-intensive interface: Will be welcomed by power users, but the learning curve may mean many accidentally close apps and program switches before a user gets the hang of things. As Canonical states though, this OS is intended for professionals and power users, so perhaps this is well thought out.
  • Colouring: Unike Android’s white-text-on-black-background approach to much of their OS, Ubuntu phone makes no such effort. Much of the interface is vibrant, and their drop-down menus or keyboard is off-white coloured. While visually attractive, this poses some issues. In a dark environment, this light colouring may strain eyes, and it cuts down on visibility somewhat because of lower contrast. Another additional problem comes from OLED-screen devices (like the Galaxy Nexus), which actually use much more energy displaying white or vibrant images. Battery life could become an issue.
  • Keyboard: I did not enjoy the keyboard’s design. The roundedness of the keys meant that there was even less real estate for me to press the proper key with my fingers. An alternative to this keyboard, while still in keeping with the general ’rounded edges’ aesthetic of the design, would be to make the bottoms of the keys rounded, with flatter tops. This could make the keyboard appear a little less… small for users. Without some sort of remedy, I believe typing speed could compromised somewhat, as users feel less confident of their virtual keystrokes.
Other than these few minor gripes, I feel that the Ubuntu phone OS will be a very welcome entrant to the market, with many useful features being brought to the smartphone table. The OS will continue development over the next year, hopefully with a polish coming as it rolls out releases, just as Google has done with their Android 4.1 and 4.2 releases.

Ubuntu Phone OS Install for Users w/Flashing Errors

*Edit: Somebody has posted the .zip files for the Galaxy Nexus, for those who wish to download them directly. Link.

Ubuntu phone OS has *just* come out, and for those frustrated because using the flashing commands provided don’t appear to be working with their phone, there is another way to accomplish the goal.

I encountered this problem myself when I attempted to flash Ubuntu phone onto my Galaxy Nexus running Cyanogenmod 10.1 — the flasher refused to properly wipe /sdcard and overwrite the previous OS. Instead, I performed a successful install by using ClockworkMod recovery environment, doing a factory reset, and then installing the two Ubuntu zip files manually.

What to do:

  1. Make sure your Android phone/tablet is rooted — this tutorial relies upon this.
  2. In your Android phone/tablet, download and install ROM Manager.
  3. Within ROM Manager, navigate to the “Install ClockworkMod Recovery” option, and press it. Follow the instructions to install ClockworkMod. Make sure you have root privileges!
  4. Turn on your PC and boot into your Linux distro. I did this on Ubuntu 12.04, but it should work with any Debian-based disribution that has Aptitude. Windows users will have to find a way to download the install .zip files (find a friend!) and then skip to step 9.
  5. Run these commands in your terminal (skip to step 8 if you have already tried flashing):sudo

    add-apt-repository ppa:phablet-team/tools

    sudo apt-get update

    sudo apt-get install phablet-tools android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

  6. Connect your tablet/phone to your PC, making sure ‘ADB’ is enabled – the Android Debug USB connection.
  7. In terminal, run

    phablet-flash
    which will download the installation .zip files.

  8. Navigate to ~/Downloads/phablet-flash/ and enter the folder there. 
  9. Copy and paste BOTH zip files found here into your tablet/phone, in an easily accessible folder directory.
  10. Disconnect your tablet/phone, and shut it down. 
  11. Reboot into the bootloader. On the Galaxy Nexus, this is done by holding down the volume rocker and power button simultaneously. Select the ‘Recovery’ option using the volume rocker and power button once in the bootloader. This should start ClockworkMod.
  12. In ClockworkMod, select ‘wipe data/factory reset’, to wipe the Android OS completely.
  13. Return to the main menu and select ‘install zip from sdcard’, and then ‘choose zip from sdcard’. Navigate to the folder where you copied the .zip files.
  14. Select the .zip file ending with armel+phonecodename.zip and install this BEFORE the other .zip file.
  15. Now, select the other .zip file. This should end with phablet-armhf.zip or similar.
  16. Once done installing, navigate to the main menu and restart the phone/tablet. You should now boot into Ubuntu phone OS!

On Android: Ubuntu OS Review Coming Feb. 22nd!

The new Ubuntu Phone operating system is set to arrive February 21st — a little less than 4 days away. For those who aren’t familiar with Ubuntu, it is an extremely popular Linux operating system, who is now aiming to expand their territory into the mobile market. Android itself is Linux-based, and so the move from desktop to mobile isn’t unprecedented. The OS will likely hold its own against custom Android ROMs — such as Cyanogenmod and Android Open-Kang Project (AOKP). 
The Ubuntu Phone OS promises a number of interesting new features. Image Credit: Canonical

Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth has stated in a video published on the ubuntu website (click the “Watch Video” button) that the operating system will be:

  • Buttonless — all the edges have functions which replace the standard 3-button tray in Android
  • Run Ubuntu applications — what features and programs will be available at launch in the mobile version are still up for debate
  • Have Ubuntu One integration
  • Designed for quick interaction — it will have the Unity-style dash and a neat swipe-to-get-back application switcher
  • Mobile screen optimized — removing buttons and making the dashes all touch-sensitive will supposedly make screen real estate appear larger 

In any case, as soon as it comes out, I expect to be flashing the new operating system onto my own Galaxy Nexus phone, to replace the current Android Jelly Bean with some Ubuntu linux goodness. Stay tuned for February 22nd, when I expect to post my initial reactions to the operating system.

Day 8: Montalcino

The two day stay in Siena was just enough time to tour the local sites and take a bit of a break to recharge for our next cycling ride to Montalcino. 

Looking over our off-line digital map and planning the cycling route with its elevation profile in advance of the trip made us a little nervous; we would be setting new personal records with our climbs.  Again being mentally prepared for the trip helped.  The ride turned out to be not as difficult as we had anticipated –  even though we ultimately climbed to an altitude of 610 meters by the time we arrived in the town of Montalcino itself, we managed to avoid steep inclines for the most part.

We had a very steady climb on the way out of Siena for about an hour and a half.  We then took a break at the crest of the climb to nourish ourselves with a nice lunch that we had purchased and packed from an alimenteria before leaving Siena – fresh pane ronde con sale, local Italian pomodoros, soft formaggio and some proscuitto.  For desert we had lots of fruit – pechi novi and apricots.

After lunch and a couple more hours of riding, we arrived at the base of Montalcino.  When we saw the road that we had originally selected for our ride up into town, we quickly decided to remap our route.  The road was gravel with an incline of between 15 and 20%; too difficult and treacherous to try to climb with loaded bikes. We weren’t really up to walking our loaded bikes a kilometre up a steep hill, especially not after having had a taste of doing that up a similar grade for 200 meters at Monteriggioni.  We decided instead to ride the extra 5 kilometres up the main road which gradually wound its way around the hill up and into town.  Slow and steady gets the job done.

We were still hot, sweaty and dirty by the time we arrived in the town proper, and so we followed our ritual of quickly checking-in to our hotel, rejuvenating ourselves with hot showers and changing into some clean clothes before doing a quick tour of the town and seeking out a place to enjoy dinner. 

The hotel room


Since it wasn’t quite dinner and the restaurants weren’t serving yet, we enjoyed some aperativi in a patio on town square. The “Tuscan Rewind” car race was under-way as we enjoyed our drinks, and the cars were revving and preparing to start their race in the square. An hour later, we began walking the town in search of a restaurant, and got to see a little more of the beautiful town and the race cars as we searched.After passing down a few side streets, we settled upon the relatively innocuous-looking Albergo Il Giglio restaurant for dinner. 

Tuscan Rewind racer, rolling into the town square
Another Racer


What a treat that was! By all measures the Albergo was a fantastic dining experience, with a really nice atmosphere and run by a wonderful family. We had veal served with vegetables in brunello wine sauce, with a decanter of brunello on the side – the bread plate that came with the meal was so fresh that it almost outshone then entrée itself. The best meal of the trip — if you ever visit Montalcino, we wholly recommend you have a meal at Albergo Il Giglio.

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The following day, we woke up early and prepared to finish sight-seeing, and do some wine-tasting; this *was* the location of the famous Brunello di Montalcino, after all. 


A very large number of wines ready to taste, in Montalcino!
The town’s fort/castle of Montalcino stands out prominently on the edge of the town, overlooking the fields below the hilltop. We visited the fort, and deciding that we couldn’t pass up the tower-top view, paid the 5 euro fee and walked up the keep’s staircase to the top of the walls, where we were able to see the entire valley and a few distant towns.

Inside the fort

On the fort walls

Valley View
Road into town, view from fort walls
Part of the town, from fort walls
Located inside the keep was a wine shop, which we visited on the way back down. Steve and I (Ryan) had a few samples of the varieties of Nobile and Brunello, and bargaining for a good price, ordered a few to be sent home. 

Not too tipsy to ride, we returned to the hotel and packed up for our ride out. Against our better judgement, we decided to try the gravel hill out of town, only to find it washed out near the bottom, and being so steep that Steve had a wipe-out – ouch (he was OK, though)! We begrudgingly walked the bikes back to the city gate, and began to follow the road out of town and onward to Montepulciano.


Just outside town gate, ready to roll down gravel road
Onwards!