At lunch today I was able to load up a version of Ubuntu’s touch based OS on my Asus EeePad Transformer, because I had come across on the infamous XDA forums from a hacker who has actually gotten this to work. Well … it works in that it boots! So I decided to try it, just to get an idea of how good or bad it might be.
I am actually a little surprised at how much of Ubuntu Touch works, but I’m even more surprised by how much of it doesn’t. Keep in mind that it’s a developer preview, and it’s really early in the cycle. So if you come across this at a later date, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t match up with my experience.
What Works and What Doesn’t
When it first boots up, you are greeted by that Ubuntu lock screen that is everywhere on all the screenshots. I don’t know if it’s just my tablet or that I just don’t know how to manipulate it, but I had a hard time trying to just get it unlocked so I could poke around. The lock screen just did not seem obvious to me.
Once I was in, I was able to try a few of the apps that did work. I was able to bring up Gear Diary on the browser, and it rendered pretty well compared to Chrome, which is what I normally run when this tablet is on Android. I was also able to get the photo browser to work, and it seemed like it might be a pretty cool way to view pictures. Unfortunately, the cameras did not work at all on my TF101, so I couldn’t really take any of my own pictures. All other apps didn’t work well; most apps were just smoke and mirrors if they worked at all.
One app threw up an error which looks like it had an iTunes App Store URL in it; I found that more than a little bit strange, considering that this is Ubuntu.
What Surprised me That it Didn’t Work
The one thing I thought Ubuntu Touch might actually let you do (or that at least might have been working) was the ability to install any ARM ports of standard Ubuntu apps; that wasn’t the case. There were lots of icons, but when I tapped them to do an install, nothing happened. The same thing with music. Icons just seemed to be placeholders, so I really couldn’t get the feel of how this would work. They didn’t even include a terminal app! Granted, that doesn’t seem to be what Ubuntu is going for here. If you are a Linux hacker who wants a tablet that is essentially a full Linux desktop, I don’t think that is the direction they are going. I think they want this to be a locked down and curated experience through their own app store. That means apps like the Gimp — and just about any other desktop app — will not show up unless there’s a specific port to this version of the OS. I was surprised because most of the work on this is already done. Ubuntu already uses APT and DEB packages but none of those are here. All modern touch based interfaces have a store, but there isn’t one on here yet.
I am really leery of Ubuntu’s plans for tablets and phones. The experience so far just doesn’t feel like I think it should feel. How should it feel? It should feel more like Ubuntu!
Instead, it kind of looks like Ubuntu with a lot of Ubuntu design queues, but it’s so locked down to what you can do that unless something changes in the next few iterations, I would actually stick with Android! Don’t get me wrong, it really looks nice and the launcher actually seemed pretty responsive; those pieces worked well. However, I thought Ubuntu might have been a bit further along than they are now by this point, and I also thought that they might have been a bit more open about what you can do.
This experience feels a lot like the Xoom did when it showed up at CES, and that’s not good. For now, if you have a device that can use it, I would just stick with the Android that it came with. It’s simply too early to rely on this for any type of use. I see a lot of promise, and it is interesting, but for now I am putting good old Android back on my tablet.
Keep going Canonical; I hope Ubuntu Touch gets better!