We fondled the very first Ubuntu smartphone at MWC 2015, the BQ Aquaris, and discovered that it’s quite a basic brick of a handset – but the Ubuntu mobile OS is a promising, intuitive alternative to Android and iOS.
The BQ is quite a basic handset, something that’s blatantly obvious when you handle it. It’s a block-shaped slab of plastic that can probably soak up a fair bit of punishment (helped by the scratch-resistant glass that coats the display), but won’t exactly win any beauty competitions. You can’t prise the thing open to access the battery and other innards, so your SIM card slots into one of two drawers on the side. There’s also a micro SD memory card slot to boost the storage.
The good news is the BQ is nice and light at just a shade over 120g and it’s also easy to use one-handed thanks to its compact build, despite that slab construction.
A basic dual core processor seems to handle Ubuntu’s mobile OS well, and Ubuntu is undeniably the star of the BQ show. Without knowing much at all about the OS, I picked up the BQ and started flicking around. In about two minutes I’d already figured out how to zip through all of the main features, showing how beautifully intuitive the software is.
Ubuntu’s mobile OS is completely swipe-based, so you’ll find no buttons on the BQ. Swipe from each edge of the 4.5-inch screen and you’ll bring up a different menu. The left edge holds the apps tray, giving you fast access to your camera, browser, etc, while the right edge brings up your recent apps if you need to quickly flick between different things.
The settings menu is well laid out too, accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen, and then navigated by moving your finger side to side in the same motion. Finally, the bottom edge holds your contacts.
It’s a slick and user-friendly interface which ditches desktops in a glorious fashion. That may mean less personalisation, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with Ubuntu and checking out the apps store, which should get a lot of love from bedroom developers.
That display sports a 540×960 resolution and while you don’t get HD visuals, it does the job nicely for everyday tasks. To be fair, you have to squint to notice the individual pixels, so it’s hardly a cheap and cheerful panel.
On the back you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus – just tap to lock onto your subject and then poke the virtual button to shoot. The Ubuntu camera interface is as user-friendly as the rest of the OS, with just a few settings hidden in a menu for turning on the likes of HDR. And of course there’s a 5-megapixel camera for snapping a sharp selfie.
We’re impressed by Ubuntu’s translation to mobile, but the BQ isn’t the best showcase for the OS. Check out our hands-on review of the MX4, which sports a nicer design and super-sharp Full HD screen.