Second impressions of Ubuntu touch on the BQ M10

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With OTA 12 and many app updates, Ubuntu touch is gradually improving. Last time I travelled, I did not take my laptop, and I could do everything that I needed with the tablet. All the basic needs like email, web browsing, chatting, podcasts, watching TV series, listening to music… The BQ M10 is good enough for it now.

The most important fix in OTA 12 for me was that alt gr now works on external keyboards. This means that with an external keyboard, I can write just like on the desktop in LibreOffice and Firefox. However, there is still a bug with accented characters in native apps (but not the traditional X apps) and this is a bummer, especially for people using languages like French, Spanish, Portugese, etc that use accented characters a lot. Special glyphs that you get to with alt gr work fine, but accented characters do not in the native apps. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon.

As I have used the tablet more recently, I have noticed some more bugs and missing features. In the music player app, I found some minor annoyances such as albums with more than one artist showing up as more than one album in the album view, that there is too little space for album and artist names in album view and artist view and that I would like to have a list view for easier navigation with a lot of music.

Ubuntu touch app scope

After OTA 12 shipped, I also noticed that traditional X apps disappear from the launcher after a restart. This is a bit annoying, as it is easier to get to the launcher than to go to the Xapps scope to launch a traditional app like Firefox.

There are probably a number of small changes in OTA 12 that I have not noticed or tried yet. For instance, I know that it is now possible to use Aethercast to connect to an external screen from my M10, but since I don’t have an Aethercast-compliant Miracast dongle, I haven’t tried it. I haven’t used the tablet much with external screens this far (I have a desktop computer at home), but I have tried it and it worked fine. For presentations, lectures or just watching films at a hotel room, the Aethercast support is cool, but if you really want to be certain that you will be able to connect, an HDMI cable seems a safer bet, since not all Miracast devices support Aethercast.

Another missing feature in Ubuntu touch at the moment is the ability to choose default browser. I would like to be able to set Firefox as my default browser on Ubuntu touch, since I use some add ons and syncing in Firefox that I would rather not be without. With no such setting, any links from any app will open in the Ubuntu touch browser.

Another small annoyance is that it is presently impossible to copy and paste between traditional X apps and the native Ubuntu touch apps. Especially since Firefox is not the default browser and clicking a link opens it in the Ubuntu touch browser, I would like to be able to copy it from there and paste it into Firefox, but there seems to be no way of doing this presently. A bug is open, and it seems to be fixed for the libertine sandbox X apps run inside, but not in all the other projects needed for it to work. So, this will probably be fixed soon.

Some of the other important bugs for everyday use, such as calendar syncing and contacts syncing have not been fixed yet. This is disappointing, but given time, I am certain someone will fix it. Syncing through Google works, but standards compliant ways of syncing or importing/exporting to other services do not. Since Google is not exactly the FOSS enthusiasts’ most obvious choice of syncing service, as their business model is to use all your private data for advertising purposes, it seems strange that the Ubuntu touch developers found time to implement Google syncing, but not syncing to other more privacy respecting services through standards like iCal and CalDAV, since most Ubuntu touch users at this point is Linux enthusiasts.

All in all, Ubuntu touch is really impressive when bearing in mind that it is only a few years old and that it is developed by quite few people compared to Android or iOS. It is already a viable alternative for tablets and phones (unless you speak a language reliant on accented characters and want to use an external keyboard, but this will be solved soon) and in not too long, the Unity 8 interface used on the tablets and phones when in desktop mode will also come to the regular Ubuntu distro on laptops and desktops. This means that all the work going into the tablets and phones will also benefit the desktop in the long run.

I really like the M10, and even if the software is still a bit rougher around the edges than an iPad or Android tablet of the same size would be, I find it exciting to take part in the Ubuntu touch journey as it is maturing. The hardware itself is very good with its high DPI 1920 x 1200 screen, quad core 1.5 GHz processor and I particularly like the well sounding speakers. LibreOffice and Firefox are quite heavy programs, but they run decently on the M10 FHD with a bit of time to start up. They might not be as usable on the slightly slower white M10 HD tablet (1280 x 800 screen and 1.3 GHz processor with slightly slower GPU as well), so I am glad I bought the more expensive and slightly faster and higher DPI black FHD version. The Ubuntu touch experience on the M10 FHD is nice, and gradually improving to become even better. With OTA 12 it is a bit closer to being ready for everyman, but there are still quite important bugs that need fixing and some features missing.

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