Hands-On With Ubuntu Phone: A Refreshing Change For Mobile, With A Few Early Quirks

Ubuntu’s mobile OS was one of the most interesting recent announcements in mobile tech, and at CES 2013 we finally got a chance to go hands-on and receive a thorough demo of the OS in its admittedly early current stage. Despite the fact that even a developer launch of Canonical’s Ubuntu Mobile is still likely a few months off, it’s already looking like a strong contender, and potentially one that could shake up a market that has had relatively few big earth-quaking changes over the past couple of years.

There’s a lot that is familiar about Ubuntu Mobile for users of the desktop version of this Linux-based OS. The dock is relatively intact, for instance. But maybe the most notable feature is a complete absence of buttons, since Ubuntu Mobile is meant to be pretty much entirely gesture-controlled. It reminds a little of webOS in that regard, and even bears some similarity to the upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS, based on what we’ve seen from developer builds of RIM’s new smartphone OS.

My time with the device wasn’t without hiccups – apps were sometimes slow to open, for instance, and in general there’s sluggishness to the UX. But then again this is still early version software, and it was shoehorned onto a Galaxy Nexus. Canonical says that they’re in talks with hardware OEM partners to get it on shipping devices, but those talks are at too early a stage to discuss anything specific.

My favorite part of Ubuntu Mobile might be the way it handles changing and accessing settings, all of which is managed by swiping down from the top of the screen, and then you can slide left and right to instantly access different settings submenus, without even having to lift your finger or do any additional taps. When this ships in an early developer beta form for users who want to test it on the bleeding edge, I’ll definitely be among those to try it out.

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