Updated: February 23, 2018
Oops, I did it again. I decided to convert (in a nice peaceful way) my one remaining Ubuntu touch device to Android, as it sat there, doing little, collecting memories and dust. Thus beginneth the sad saga of how I stopped hoping for an Ubuntu Phone and learned to love Android.
Anyway, just to bring you up to speed, if you think I be tripping, long time ago, I was really hoping Ubuntu would make it big in the mobile space. First, we had the Edge and then we had Aquaris E4.5, and I ran a couple of contests, trying to promote the idea far and wide. When the Aquaris M10 tablet came out, I bought that one without hesitation, and several months ago, I installed Android there on. Dust versus nostalgia, right. Anyway, it proved to be the right choice, because the tablet has proven its worth since. Can the phone do the same?
Burning, burning, burning
Much like with the M10 tablet, I downloaded the latest officially released firmware and flashed the Aquaris phone using the SP Flash Tool in (the now upgraded) Kubuntu Zesty. Unlike the tablet, though, you only get Android 5.X rather than the more recent and relevant 6.X and 7.X family. This could potentially prove to be tricky, but we will see.
And the dinner's ready
After the flash procedure completed, I powered on the phone. It took almost 15 minutes for the setup to complete, and by this time, I thought that maybe the whole thing had gone wrong, but then, the system reached the first-boot config menu, the one where you choose your language, setup your user and tweak the privacy options. Soon thereafter, the home screen was on, looking colorful and somewhat outdated.
Say what you will about Android, but it has really improved recently, in terms of the visual clutter, general look & feel, and performance, offering a sleeker overall experience. And then, you get the old thing on the E4.5 phone, and it feels wrong. Mind, this isn't the newest device in the universe, but if you compare to what it was like with Ubuntu, the Canonical system had more flair, if far, far less functionality. Also, compare this to another old beast, my Nokia Lumia 520 phone with WP8.1, which still looks very fresh and modern.
The BQ image comes without too much bloat, but still more than the tablet edition. Not sure why some of the apps are there, but they are. Then, the phone complained about not being able to configure Google Services, but then it did. The Play Store was not available, complaining about connectivity, even though the phone had both mobile and Wireless signal, and then after a few minutes, it sorted itself out. Still, clunky.
Compared to the tablet, you can actually buy BQ phone protection, where the tablet merely let you know that you've invalidated your warranty by flashing a custom image on the device. Weird, say I must.
Apps and updates
This one turned out to be a little frustrating, too. I was able to install new programs, including the super awesome Here We Go offline navigation software, but it was a slow thing. Also, the system didn't want to offer automatic updates, and I had to manually go through a long, long list of software and hit the update button for each. It was quite tedious, and I don't know why that happened. On subsequent boots, 'twas fine.
I didn't add too many programs - and didn't really need to. The defaults work relatively well, apart from some annoying notifications from ES File Explorer (which I uninstalled later). Music played just fine, within the limits of the hardware audio quality, that is.
You can also encrypt the phone, which I did, and it seems to do its job. However, when it comes to using the little E4.5, a lot is left to be desired. It's slow. The boot sequence takes about four minutes, and I'm not sure if this is because of the aforementioned encryption or not.
Responsiveness is also average, and stuff takes time. Apps open slowly, app updates take ages, and it just does not feel like a device you can enjoy. Sure, for the humble price tag that it came with, the results are adequate, then again, my Lumia 520 cost about the same, and it is an order of magnitude faster despite being older by two full years. For that matter, the Ubuntu Phone version was also faster, but it offered little functionality.
This is an interesting set of results. While I thought the M10 tablet definitely benefited from the move to Android, compared to the Ubuntu Edition, the reverse is true here. It's been a while and all that, but still, on a low-end device like this one, Android does not have enough juice to work smoothly and elegantly. I wonder what the experience would be with a newer version of the operating system, but it is possible that it just does not have the spec for the upgrade. Much like Lumia 520 cannot run Windows Phone 10. In a way, you need additional hardware to improve the performance (duh), but the relative boost is bigger than the actual change in the hardware. So it ain't linear.
I ever so slightly regret the "upgrade" to Android. With a version less than the tablet, the UI changes are extremely noticeable, and the transition isn't as smooth. The device lags, and it just doesn't have enough processing power to give the necessary feel of goodness and elegance. On the other hand, you get tons of native applications that you can actually use, as opposed to the Ubuntu Touch idea. Shame really. For 'tis a compromise.If you ask me, I wholeheartedly embrace the M10 tablet upgrade, but on the phone, you might as well keep Ubuntu unless you need the device for serious use. If it's just an opportunistic call/SMS thing for when abroad and such, or to loan to friends, the original combo is adequate. If you need apps, then Android is the way to go, but do not except any miracles. It won't be speedy, and it won't be too pretty. All in all, an okay player.
It is silly attaching sentiments to software or hardware, but I do guess I will fondly remember the Ubuntu phone attempt as a noble idea to make something great and fun. I could have kept the device in its original state, perhaps, but in the end, it would have ended in a pile of ancient stuff you keep around for a decade until you decide you need to throw it away to leave room for fresh memories and less ancient stuff. Having a flawless Android experience would have helped soften the edge, but as it is, it remains the bittersweet attempt at what could have been a revolution. The end.