Deepin 15.4 review - All that glitters is not gold


Updated: June 7, 2017

If you follow Dedoimedo, then you know I've had problems with Deepin. It just would not boot on my Lenovo G50 machine, which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to the test. I was forced to resort to using one of my older, non-UEFI laptops, a near seven-year-old HP Pavilion, recently used for a in-depth Fedora test.

So today, I will attempt to run this Chinese Debian-based distro, and see what it can offer. In the past, it has shown some really nice results, the most notable being a very colorful and unique desktop setup, markedly different from most so-called Western systems, and with a touch of appeal and aesthetic one notch above the rest. Shall we?

Teaser

Boot problems ... again!

Well, Deepin sure wasn't cooperating. Not only did it not like UEFI, it wouldn't really do much on this Nvidia-powered laptop, either. The default option is to install, so you skip any live testing session, but I had the same black screen like on G50. I then tried the failsafe option, and this gets you into a live session, without any graphics drivers.

The resolution was all bungled, set to 4:3 ratio rather than the laptop's expected 1366x768px (which comes down to 16:9), and a portion of the desktop was actually not visible. The last time I've seen this was with CentOS 6 testing on the LG machine. This was not a promising start.

Live desktop

You cannot see it here, but imagine the top 20% of the desktop not being visible; or the bottom.

Making things worse was the desktop responsiveness and performance. In this non-accelerated mode, it was horribly sluggish. Barely usable, to be frank, but I decided to endure, because the presentation layer was astonishing. You may say a pretty face kept me hanging around for a few more minutes, because the hardware stack sure did not warrant it.

Look & feel

Indeed, what separates Deepin from the rest of the Open Bunch is that it uses its own desktop. Perhaps it's a heavily modified Gnome stack, but it comes with a highly consistent layout that is distinctly its own. This is quite refreshing.

Menu

I spent a bit of time exploring, testing, and I was liking what I saw. The bottom panel, the full screen menu, the settings menu that pops on the right side, they all have their own special charm. Seeing something new always makes for a more pleasing testing session.

Of course, the ergonomics isn't always the best, as is the case with the system settings menu, which, by default, ought to be hierarchical rather than an endless vertical scroll tablet of options, but you cannot dispute the original approach to the desktop idea. We will talk some more about this once we install the distro.

File manager

Lovely copy animation

Lovely copy animation; shame about the 1px border background intrusion.

The screenshot tool is awesome and powerful but not intuitive to use. Once you launch it, it will try to auto-detect what you want to capture - the screen or active windows, and then there's the delay function, too. Different to what you're used to. After you take the shot, you have a whole range of quick-editing and cropping options. Very cool, but it can be a little bit confusing.

Screenshots

Network connectivity

Dubious, I must say. Wireless worked fine, but there was no Bluetooth available in the live session, Samba sharing was spotty, but at least the printing worked as it should, both Samba and Wireless. We will talk about this again once we install the system.

Printers

Smartphone support

Both Ubuntu Phone and Windows Phone worked fine. You can also play music off of them, and Deepin Music has no trouble adding remote devices to the play queue. Very neat, but then, we're discussing smartphones not music yet. He he. Again, this is a topic for after the installation, because the live session wasn't fun enough to endure for long. However, you have what you need, so you can relax.

Ubuntu Phone

Windows Phone

Why is the top border multi-colored?

Installation

This one was a bit awkward. Once I launched the installer, it changed the entire desktop. All of a sudden, it was scrunched, fitting into the screen space, but everything had the wrong aspect ratio. The objects were compressed vertically. Then, there's no back button. I actually forgot to take the first couple of screenshots, and recreated them in a virtual machine on another box, just for the sake of completeness for this review. For those confused or skimming, this is NOT a VM test. This is done on physical hardware.

Language

Username

It auto-guesses your location - wrongly; it also auto-detect the VM environment, which is nice.

The wizard is simple, maybe too simple. It asks for the username, password and such, and then you can configure partitions. For some odd reason, it labeled an NTFS data partition as Fedora 24. What. Very, very dangerous.

Partitions

If I'd gone and formatted sda7, I'd be a very sad man.

The slideshow is fabulous. This is the one thing that Deepin has always done well, and continues doing well. Wowing visually, no sweat. In this regard, it's probably the most professionally done Linux. But. But. That's just one element of the whole story. BTW, Spotify and Android are mentioned in the slides, not sure why, but it will be worth testing after the installation. The language is odd here and there, but this is understandable, as Deepin is a Chinese distro, and primarily suited for the local market.

Slide 1

Slide 2

The installation was slow, and it took about 1.5 hours to finish. The laptop was burning hot. Seriously. The hottest I've ever seen yet for this HP box. Now, once you're done, it reboots immediately, so if you have any screenshots or such, you'd better make sure you copy them in time. I've learned that lesson with Fedora 19 a long time ago. At the very least, the dual boot setup with Windows 7 was done fine.

Diving deeper

The boot sequence comes with a nice splash screen - the distro logo (name) fills with a water effect, and there's soothing ambient music on logic. The desktop did not preserve anything from the live session. The time was wrong, and so was the weather location, which makes me wonder how Deepin tries to detect your whereabouts.

Desktop

The desktop workflow is splendid. Colorful, shiny, happy, elegant, with smart prompts and notifications. Sometimes, though, the overload of senses can be annoying, and you do not really need a chirp every time you take a screenshot, but it's still a quite pleasing experience.

Notifications

You want to change the wallpaper? No sweat. Here's the nicest way about it:

Wallpapers 1

Wallpapers 2

System settings

Another visual gem. I don't like the whole Microsoft approach here, but it's still realized with finesse and utmost style. Clear, practical, but can be a little bit tedious scrolling up and down. Luckily, you can switch to a more easily read grid mode.

Grid

You can also tweak the visual side of things, but I felt no need. 'Tis very pretty. Everything is designed with elegance and forethought. Now, the execution is not perfect, but the attempt is there at least. You can't say as much about 99% of distros out there.

Settings overview

Settings, example

Customization

Nice

Deepin Store, package management

Visually splendid. A superb realization of the same idea, done with flair and style. It is inviting, easy to use, and maybe even over-achieving in what it attempts to deliver, because Linux is not really as ready to offer the expected level of desktop usage, when you compare to how the store looks and behaves.

Store, nice

Browsing and searching for new stuff is a joy, you can install - or even individually update software, you get the reviews and pretty screenshots. It works quite well. Still, it's not all about shiny things.

Vlc in Store

Store, LibreOffice

Web app also

Installing new app

Store, updates

There's a disconnect between the GUI and the CLI. The latter gives more entries, so you're not quite sure which one you ought to use if you want to have maximum coverage. Perhaps the Store uses its own separate, non-APT channels, but I doubt it. Then, it can also be a little slow, because retrieving data from China may not be as fast as you're used to.

No Bluetooth in the Store

Lastly, I hate that you need to restart to install updates (via GUI). This is a pointless gimmick and a waste of time. And if you just reboot, it won't actually do that, you need to schedule a proper update-worthy restart through the update utility. This is definitely something Deepin does not need. The updates were slow - remote repos with insufficient bandwidth again, but at least the process completed fine and without errors.

Updates

Update, restart required

Applications

Deepin 15.4 comes with a balanced, practical set, again with its own unique twist that is more suited to the Chinese marker than anywhere else, but still perfectly suitable for wider use. WPS Office, Chrome, Steam, Foxit Reader, the varied Deepin app stack, and then some. You also get things like Remote Assistance.

Apps

Remote assistance

Why is there a top border, but not anywhere else?

Some of the stuff is a bit confusing. Not sure what Deepin Cloud Scan actually does. Is it just adding a normal scanner, or do you actually keep something in the cloud somewhere? And of course, Spotify crashed when trying to play local files, which does not surprise me. Why bundle an app that has less than 100% stability record in Linux?

Cloud scan

Multimedia playback

You're covered when it comes to essentials - and then some. Deepin Music is a cute player, stylish, sleek, and it has both dark (deep) and light themes. It played songs from the local drive and smartphones without any problems. It also offers lyrics, but this is a hit and miss thing. For the songs, it could identify, I had everything. For those it could not, I had just random lyrics from completely unrelated works. Still, very cool. Oh, the playback stops when you close the player.

MP3 playback

Music, deep mode

Lyrics

Music, from Ubuntu Phone, lyrics

Playing from the smartphone - metadata correctly imported and all, and we even have lyrics; what's with the weird border and semi-transparency?

Wrong lyrics selected

Wrong lyrics - or rather, none.

HD video was just fine. No issues.

HD video

Hardware support, suspend & resume

Very weak, I have to say. Going back to the network stack, no Bluetooth, at all. Even after I installed a bunch of applets, nothing. So this one is a dud, and together with Samba problems, it doesn't make for a fun experience.

No Bluetooth

Worse, the distro did not prompt for driver installs - the laptop has a whole bunch of proprietary stuff, and while Deepin was using the Broadcom driver for the network, it wasn't using Nvidia nor Intel's microcode. I did install these manually, and the system came up fine, but I'd expect some more help or hints from the distro. Moreover, once you install the Nvidia drivers, you will lose the nice boot splash. No Nvidia driver load splash either.

Drivers, no prompt

Suspend & resume worked fine, both with Nouveau and Nvidia, but it does take a while for the system to complete the action, whether it's sleep or wake. We're talking about 10-15 seconds, and that's a lot.

Nvidia stuff

Well, in the end I had the driver, and this does help with the performance, memory usage and responsiveness to some small extent. But I wasn't expecting any miracles, nor were there any. After all, this is an old device. My biggest gripe is that Deepin did not prompt me to install the proprietary stuff.

Nvidia

Performance, responsiveness, resource utilization

This is a big one. Deepin 15.4 is a very demanding distribution. With the Nouveau driver, it was tolling easily above 1.1 GB at idle, and even doing a few basic things had the utilization soaring above 2 GB. I've never seen this with any typical, modern distro. Sure, you can do anything you want, and memory usage is just a matter of time and effort, but given my normal testing patterns and times, this does not normally happen.

Resources, Nouveau

Resources, Nvidia

Top one, Nouveau after some very mild usage, bottom, Nvidia, on idle; I'm wondering why is the applet of a different
color than most others, and why the window decoration are yet again different from most other Deepin software?

CPU numbers are also relatively high - this is expected for a somewhat older system, but still higher than most. Not surprisingly, performance suffers. You do feel the desktop is sluggish, struggling, lagging behind, trying to keep up and cope and failing. It's not a disaster, and you can still enjoy Deepin, but the responsiveness is way behind most other systems, be they Gnome or anything else. Couple that with slow network performance from Chinese repos, and you're not in for a happy experience in this regard. Shame, because the presentation layer is just magnificent.

Battery life

You might be wondering, given what we've discussed above, alas, no results here, because the battery is very old and half-dead. The laptop shuts itself off at about the 47% mark, so we can't have any reliable or meaningful findings here.

Deepin file manager

This is a lovely thing, but not without its flaws. You cannot change the width of the columns or the sidebar, and this annoyed me. The bookmarks functionality is not straightforward, and then, the file manager struggled accessing saved Samba shares for all sorts of reasons, and the whole Samba stack was flaky. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it did not, WINS and IP address approach alike, and when it did, it was rather slow, mostly 1 MB/sec with an odd lucky moment of full speed, whereas most distros give fairly consistent 2-4 MB/sec under the same conditions.

File manager

It also randomly prompted for password, even though I've had it provided before and had it saved. On other occasions, it just ignored the password thing altogether, even though I've gone for the registered user option. The anonymous access did not work at all, which is again, in conflict with the findings above. Last but not the least, it did not preserve timestamps, which seems to be a KDE thing, but we have it here, too.

Add bookmark, not very intuitive

You can also set share passwords - not sure what this does:

Share password

Bad borders, transparency, again.

Usability

It all looks nice, but ... font clarity and contrast are bad. Your eyes start to hurt quickly, and when I booted into Windows 7, it was like someone sprayed rainbow over my desktop. Such a start contrast. The reason I did this was to be able to copy the testing screenshots over to my primary network, because Deepin had not been able to accomplish that, speaking of Samba and whatnot.

Terminal

I thought the font and clarity were just a temporary problem in the live session, but this persists in the installed machine, both with the Nouveau and Nvidia drivers. The terminal has the l33t profile by default, which doesn't help when you work on a problem.

Consistency

I did mentioned earlier that I think Deepin 15.4 comes with one of the most polished desktops around. However, it's not perfect. Some of the programs have their own decorations, or they respect them ever so slightly differently from others. For instance, the Deepin file manager does have a thin border, but the Cloud Scan tool does not. Above, I actually added it so it's visible against the page background, but there isn't that fine border you'd expect. And the driver utility comes with yet a third permutation of this problem. Tiny glitches and papercuts, plus some more serious issues with programs and how they behave, most notably the file manager.

Volume icon Icon glitch

The blue-yellow icon suddenly showed up when I clicked, and it refused to go away. No idea what it is and why
I'm seeing it, and I'm wondering where the original art has gone. Weird cache problems?

Conclusion

Deepin 15.4 is supreme on the outside, fragile on the inside. This is one beautiful distro. There's no question about it. When it comes to the traditional Linux desktop, Deepin blows all others out of the water. It comes with its own app stack, it tries to be unique, but not for the sheer sake of it, because it understands the crucial commercial need inherent in such an effort, it's accessible, pleasant and fun. You get most of the goodies out of the box, and most of the time, it behaves fine.

Unfortunately, it is let down by mediocre hardware support. I barely got it to run. Then, it didn't like my Bluetooth stack, the live session was horribly sluggish, and even in the installed system, performance and speed are a big problem. There are also some problems with the visual consistency across applications, and the file managers needs more polish.

Overall, the right ingredients are there, but it's the last 1% of work that takes 99% of effort. First and foremost, Deepin needs a spotless hardware stack. Even though it did support my laptop, I want to use it without thinking about UEFI, safe graphics mode, Nvidia, or anything like that. Second, it needs, provided the owners want to see a global reach, more international presence, including faster regional mirrors. Lastly, much like Plasma, the Deepin desktop suffers from some bugs and niggles, and these will take time sorting out to perfection.

But I think the effort shouldn't be too difficult. After all, the Deepin team has pulled a remarkable job, and the distro is a fresh breath of originality in a sea of apathy. It works fairly well and it's fun to use. So we go back to hardware and speed. All in all, you should definitely test, and if your newer, more powerful machines allow it, go for it. I do not recommend it on weaker systems. 7/10, but I'm probably a bit generous. Whatever the grade, you will either love it or it won't work for you. No middle ground. Thus endeth the review.

P.S. Once again, like the last time, I understand that this article may be of interest to Chinese readers, and that the language barrier could be a problem. So if you want to translate, please do, just credit the original piece.

Cheers.

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