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So what’s the Ubuntu phone and is it any good?

We check out the new Ubuntu phone, catchily named the BQ Aquaris E4.5, to discover why Ubuntu could be a decent alternative to Android and other mobile operating systems.

Linux is the operating system of choice amongst geeks, tech hounds and anyone who loves the freedom to tinker, offering an open-source platform that is fully customisable and adaptable. Many have tried and failed to deliver a clean, easy-to-use version of Linux for the general masses, but Canonical finally succeeded with Ubuntu, a secure OS that is still fully customisable while also helping to prevent any accidentally catastrophic tinkering.

Now Canonical is looking to spread its OS around the smartphone market. The first device to make use of its fledgling mobile OS, the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, goes on sale today – but why should you consider Ubuntu, what are the Ubuntu phone’s specs and how do you actually buy one?

What is Ubuntu OS and why is it supposedly so good?

The device’s operating system, Ubuntu Phone, is what takes centre stage here.

With the help of a new, intuitive design, Ubuntu Phone aims to change the way people interact with their device. The software uses gesture-based ‘edge interactions’ which appear to be a hybrid of Android and BlackBerry 10, with you swiping from each edge of your phone to conjur up notifications, apps and the rest.

Rather than offering a hodge-podge of icons and shortcuts, Ubuntu uses something called Scopes, which collate information into simple channels, to give you access to everything you might want without making you dig through endless apps and menus. They’re essentially just wrappers around web content and media, e.g. News is like an RSS aggregator and Video brings in media from the likes of YouTube.

Of course, Ubuntu Phone is open source too, so those who are inclined can dig through the source code to make sure nothing nefarious is going on and also improve things as they see fit.

What about the Ubuntu phone’s hardware?

The phone itself sports a 4.5in qHD display, making this a more compact, portable handset than most of the big flagship phones these days. Smarts are provided by a MediaTek A7 quad-core chip which is clocked to 1.3GHz and backed up by 1GB RAM – not a lot of power, but hopefully Ubuntu OS should run well on more basic chipsets than those found on high-end Android handsets.

As for optics, the BQ Aquaris E4.5 offers up a 5-megapixel secondary and 8-megapixel primary camera, rounding off the distinctly average specs. Sadly it’s a world away from what Canonical originally planned to offer users with the Ubuntu Edge.

Okay, so how do I buy one, and how much?

The specs might be basic, but the BQ Aquaris E4.5 will cost around £130, making it refreshingly affordable. However, buying one isn’t going to be a cakewalk.

Canonical is using its Twitter feed to share links to “flash sales”, which will be selling limited amounts of stock, in order to keep tabs on demand. So if you desperately want to try out the world’s first Ubuntu Phone, you’re going to have to work for it.

There are bound to be plenty of people after the Aquaris, from the Linux die-hards to the unashamed early-adopters, but the real growth area for Ubuntu Phone hardware is sure to be developing countries, where residents will be able to take full advantage of the hardware’s entry-level price point and the software’s open source status, much as they have with the company’s desktop iteration of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Phone isn’t ever going to unseat Android or iOS at the top of the smartphone software tree, but it’s good to have another open source alternative around, providing a completely different option that also has a high emphasis on security.

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