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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.

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.

Italian Trip in the Planning

From early June this year, for two weeks, I’ll be in Europe. Mostly Tuscany, to be more specific – since my dad and I are planning to do little father-son bike trip in Italy this summer. Italy isn’t quite the most cycling friendly nation out there, I will admit (the Netherlands, Germany or France would be much better choices), but the Mediterranean climate, Roman ruins and picturesque scenes wherever one goes have swayed us.  That, and I kinda want to say “Hi!” to the pope.

Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I bet you a nickel this is
the image that appeared in your brain when you read “Italy.”
As a veteran map-reader (from my boy-scouting days), I have been assigned the somewhat-daunting task of planning the cycling route, and all of our destinations. With a guidebook or two, and tips from friends, I’ve got the basic event agenda structured. But, what is really difficult however is the route forming; Italian roads are notoriously narrow (no shoulders!) and the drivers frequenting them are just as notorious for their high speeds and impatience. 
Google Maps is a wonderful tool for this, and I have been using its full potential to see possible routes, right down to the elevation, and (thanks to street view) whether or not there are provisions for cyclists. Street view certainly also helps when trying to determine the road’s traffic volume. 
Check out the Route:
View Cycling Italy in a larger map
Itinerary (So Far):
Day 1: Arrive by plane in Florence. Tour the city for the day, then sleep off the jet-lag.
Day 2: Cycle from Florence to the historic San Gimigiano. 
3: San Gimigiano to Pisa
Days 4-10: Pisa, south along the Italian west cost, arriving in Rome. (The route has been mapped, but not the stops)
Day 11: Rome!!
Days 12-14ish: Train south to Naples, visiting Pompeii and the Amaplhi coast. 
If you have any suggestions/tips, feel free to leave some below in comments.