July 4, 2016 · linux review

Aquaris M10 FHD Ubuntu Edition thoughts

I've been interested in looking into Ubuntu Touch since the Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo
campaign in 2014. The idea of a full Linux computer running on a tablet or
phone, optimised for small touch devices sounds pretty cool. 2 years later,
Ubuntu Touch devices are actually a real thing, and I ended up getting the
Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition (FHD).

Anyway, this isn't really a full review (there's heaps of those), but rather more of a pile of thoughts and notes on my
short experience with the tablet. You may find it useful if you're considering purchasing one of these devices, or
interested in the system in general. Please direct any comments to me on Twitter
(@srwalladge), or [contact me]({{ site.baseurl }}/contact/) some other way.

First thoughts

On the outside, it's another 10 inch tablet with decent specs.

Starting it up for the first time was fairly straightforward:

  • choose language
  • connect to wifi
  • location services options
  • timezone
  • hostname
  • lockscreen password/passcode/nothing
  • welcome screen
  • quick tutorial showing gestures available

There's plenty of other tutorials and reviews around, so no point going into
detail. I'll just say that the idea of scopes, slide-out task switcher,
notifications dock, side stage, and desktop mode are all quite different to
anything on Android or iOS. I reckon they're great features, especially on
device with a larger screen (ie. this tablet). Everything still feels a little
rough around the edges, but otherwise works quite well.

Hacking

The system is mounted readonly by default, so if you want to edit system config
files, or use apt-get to install programs system-wide, you will need to make it
read/write. It's pretty simple to achieve, but be warned - the system is
certainly not designed for this, and it -could- will cause problems. See the
official r/w instructions
from BQ for more information.

Once, read/write is enabled, you can use the system just like a full ubuntu
system. While I was testing it, I managed to install vim, tmux, python, ruby,
ruby gems, etc., pull in my dotfiles, and do some webdev in a terminal.

webdev in terminal - browser window next to terminal with tmux and vim

Note to serve as warning: I rendered my install unbootable, and had to
re-install using the Flash Tools,
because of messing with system configuration... it didn't like me trying to
change the display manager.

Flashing

If you want to 'factory reset' your tablet, there's a couple of options.

First, try the ubuntu-device-flash command line tool as described on the Ubuntu developer site.

If that doesn't work (if you've changed partitions, or really done some damage),
try the Flash Tools mentioned previously. I found it difficult to get it to
connect to the device properly, had to use the following procedure in the end:

  1. switch off the device
  2. run flash_tool as root (it might work without root - always better not to run
    gui tools as root)
  3. load the scatter file
  4. click the Download button
  5. plug the device into a usb port
  6. hopefully it will detect it being plugged in and start the format and/or
    install

Pluses

Access to full Linux terminal (with the terminal app for free from the store).
From there you can, out of the box, run python3, ssh into remote systems,
enable ssh access to the device, and basically do anything you normally would do
in a Linux terminal (barring tasks that require write access to the system
files).

The whole layout is pretty cool. It feels quite new and different. The home
screen is the scopes view, where there's a page for 'Today', with heaps of
useful information, a page for your apps (like the Android app drawer), then
extra scopes for everything: popular Youtube videos, Soundcloud tracks, things
nearby (based on location), news, and a tonne of other things. Then there's the
quick app launcher which shows currently running and pinned apps - makes it
really quick to switch apps.

app-launcher along the left side of the screen

Many of the current apps are just wrappers for websites, but the few 'real'
apps, like the terminal, Dekko (email app), weather app, photos gallery,
browser, and file manager, are smooth and neat, all following the Ubuntu Touch design
look.

The desktop mode and convergence is really cool. So far I've tried out the
desktop mode on the tablet with a bluetooth keyboard, and it's pretty much just
like using any other standard desktop (looks similar to the normal Ubuntu unity
desktop). Looking forward to trying it out on a fullsize monitor!

Gestures! There's heaps of quick shortcuts triggered by swiping. For example,
you can switch between the latest two apps with a short swipe in from the right
edge.

These are just some of the pros I can think of right now - there's loads of
fancy, innovative features, along with all the expected features for a mobile
OS.

Minuses

The big issue I have with it, is that while it's a full Linux operating system,
it feels more like a locked box containing Android spliced with Ubuntu, with a
bunch of locked down containers sitting on top. There's
Libertine for installing traditional
X11-based software, but that still feels experimental. Personally I'd like to
see a Linux system on a tablet/phone that is still a full Linux system, where
you can do whatever you want, apps can pipe/communicate with other apps, and
terminal software can be easily installed. (Compared to something like iOS
though, it's way more 'hackable'!)

There's a distinct lack of configurability - for example, there's not many
keyboard layout options (and dvorak isn't on of them). Maybe this will change
once core features and bugs are fixed; I don't know what is planned. I hope so
though: this is Linux, and users are more likely to want a keyboard app with
ability to configure the action of every key.

No support for encryption. I consider encryption to be a pretty essential
feature, and hopefully this is high on the todo list.

Nothing is allowed to run in the background, unless in 'Desktop Mode'. For
example, if you start downloading something in the terminal app and switch to
another app, you have only a couple of seconds before the system cuts wifi
access to the terminal app and the download fails.

What surprised me was that there is support for syncing calendar with google
account, notes with evernote, and so on, but no support for open source or self
hosted syncing services. For example, I'd like to see support for syncing
contacts with a carddav server, calendar with a caldav server, notes with some
selfhosted notes server, etc..

Looks like a lot of complaining, but remember this system is still in relatively
early development stages, so it's likely that most of the missing/buggy features
will be fixed or implemented soon anyway. Hopefully the system design will be
sorted out fully so that desktop and terminal apps will be easily
installable/runnable in the future.

Support/Resources

There's a lot of places where you can find help, support, and information:

  • #ubuntu-touch channel on freenode
  • BQ official support via email
  • Touch on the Ubuntu Wiki
  • Mybq
  • askubuntu

Future

The Ubuntu Touch system has great potential. It's already usable as a basic
phone/tablet device, and will only get better as more apps become available and
bugs are fixed.

With a few more apps, system encryption, and ability to sync contacts and such
with custom servers, I could easily use it as a complete replacement for my
current Android tablet.

I'm still keen to try out its support for external monitors and the whole
convergence thing. As soon as I get myself an HDMI cable...