Updated: October 8, 2016
Recently, I gave you a fresh review of my BQ Aquaris E4.5 phone with the Ubuntu OTA-12 update. It was a decent experience. More speed, better overall performance, a bit more capability, but also the big question around the small and still not powerful enough app ecosystem.
Now, let's take a look at the M10 tablet. My initial impression was lukewarm, but then it got better when I tested the Convergence Mode with a real keyboard. So what's new with the recent update? Let us explore. And remember, children, there's the Dedoimedo Ubuntu tablet contest running till roughly the end of this year, so don't you miss on that one!
I fired up the tablet, let it charge - boy, was it slow, even when plugged into the wall socket, it still took almost six hours to fully charge - and I had about 900 MB worth of updates waiting. Fifteen minutes later, the new and improved GUI was running, facing my whim and scrutiny.
Yes, OTA-12 is better than whatever has gone before - cue in Star Trek TNG Music, oh I love Daleks, they were amazing in Star Wars. Anyhow, the login page is ever so slightly different visually, but more importantly, faster.
Indeed, the whole operating system has benefited from about 10-20% improvement in speed and responsiveness. The keyboard clicks are more real-time, things open and close with a shorter delay. The scopes are still tricky, and there's a perceptible sluggishness when swiping left and right.
Stability wise, we have another notch on our belt and no mistake. During my testing, the touch functionality did not cease even once. This is a big one, and it sure means the Ubuntu tablet is readier for the masses than it was in the past. Fewer bugs means a higher threshold of tolerance toward other issues and inconsistencies that may arise.
However, the perfect stability record was marred toward the end of my testing session, when for some odd reason, the system decided to restart the desktop environment. This happen almost randomly. I was trying to open an application, can't remember which, I tried to take a screenshot pressing on both volume button ends at the same time, I managed to reduce the volume instead, thick fingers I apologize, and then the GUI just restarted.
This brings me to another problem. The Launcher does not seem to retain icons - it's a medical term, like when doctors talk about patients not retaining urine and stool, as if they are precious minerals that should be retained. But in this case, they should. You can't pin anything other than the default set of five icons already there. This works on the phone but not here. I had a lovely set, but then come the sudden GUI restart, they were all gone. I don't find this too inspiring, and this has to be resolved quickly and ruthlessly.
The file manager also crashes trying to access network shares. This is the same issue that we saw on the phone. This really needs to be fixed fast. Seriously guys, why would it not work if the desktop version supports the same set of features? C'mon!
Still the Achilles' Heel - or rather an entire foot - of the ecosystem. Ubuntu will never succeed until it becomes compelling enough for the masses, both in the desktop and touch space. The former seems to be almost okay, but with the tablet optimized for both work modes, app changes might be needed.
Regardless, the touch side of things is quite meager - you only get slow Web apps, and they are not as good or as fully featured as their Android counterparts. Take my Google Maps example as an, eh, example. Not only did it not use the GPS properly, which is a shame, it also could not do turn-by-turn navigation. This is really bad.
Some other programs have improved, but they are still incomplete. Or not compelling enough. And the masses require a lot of little tools and programs that are just not there. Messengers, social media of all sorts, those kind of things. Alas, that's the brutal reality. You need to have those if you want any kind of meaningful market share and/or income.
But it comes down to even more trivial things, like music and video codecs. I tried to play the Big Bucks Bunny clip, and the system told me it wasn't supposed. The same goes for the WebM clip of me driving and whatnot, home made. Why not! This works on the classic desktop version, why not provide the extended set of codecs? Why not make them available in the Store? At this point, there's no incentive to play media on the tablet.
The SD card management utility didn't do anything meaningful, and the Scopes took a while loading. It might actually have been one of these two actions that prompted the spontaneous GUI hiccup which had me go back to the login screen and lose all my current work as well as the new yet unpinnable icons in the Launcher.
My October adventure is one of mixed emotions, again. One step forward, one step back, two to the side, a quick hopscotch through a minefield, and then you land your foot in dung but also find Cinderella's ever-so-smelly shoe amidst all that dross. That's the best way to describe the latest update and what it offers to the user.
Frankly, people would be far more inclined to ignore the stability bugs and the early release problems if they had proper apps to play with. They did it with Android. But when you have nothing meaningful to do, you start picking scabs and your nose, and one thing leads to another. In the desktop mode, there's more to do, yes. But the Store is just crippled at this point. Horrible. It causes serious damage to the Ubuntu Touch reputation. There has to be more there. More! Otherwise, it's just a sad graveyard of enthusiasm and dashed hopes. The touch side needs to shine, hook users in, make them feel that Ubuntu is all about fun and joy but also serious work.Anyhow, nothing to be too excited about. There's more progress on the phone than the tablet, but that's understandable, the phone has been around for much longer. Still, I do hope Canonical will soon unleash dozens if not hundreds of modern and relevant apps to compensate for its other failings, and give the tablet the needed breathing space until the functional bugs can be ironed out. If not, all that users will have to play with will be issues, boredom and resentment. C'mon. Just do it!
If you'd still like a chance to win a tablet for your own games and entertainment, then take a look at my contest, link in the second paragraph of this article. There's still enough time, and plenty of opportunity. Worst case, just load it with Android. But let's hope we must never do that. Off you go reading, gents and ladies.