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The Jolla Sailfish brings in the new UI experience which many of us would be looking forward to

INTRODUCTION

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it’
– Albert Einstein

The demise of Nokia led to the abandoning of one of the most innovative ideas ever born in mobile space. We’re talking of the Meego OS that Nokia envisioned with their N9. But with the Microsoft merger, the idea was deprived of all aid, and of any hope for a future, essentially condemning it to a slow death. But as with all great ideas, it crept up again, courtesy Jolla and their employees, many of whom are the men behind Nokia’s revolutionary concept. The rise back might have been slow, but it did succeed in uplifting the spirits of all those who saw a new horizon with Meego. And it now has a new name, Sailfish they call it.

With a well-qualified team of 125 professionals, Jolla develops; envisions and markets their products as rebels. With Meego spirits thumping aloud in their hearts, they propose the Sailfish OS not only as an alternative to Android and iOS, but as a gateway to a new mobile experience altogether. ‘Doing it together’ is at the essence of this experience, which basically empowers the user and voices their concerns and ideas.

After two long years, Jolla has come out with their first smartphone, and they couldn’t have used a more subtle approach for the naming, for it’s named after the company itself, Jolla. With the naming, Jolla sends a profound message to the tech world. That it’s not here to waste time with secondary things. And the OS they bring forth couldn’t have been more unique or more stark a contrast to the existing systems today. But since unique doesn’t always translate to better, we’re undertaking a detailed review of the same. What needs to be understood by all, is that the OS is still an infant with work yet in progress.

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The UI makes it easy for us to use the phone with just single hand

HORSEPOWER: ‘For the want to excel comes from within’

Although specs are at the least of priorities with a concept that’s as unique as the Jolla, the importance of a great hardware can never be undermined for a great software experience. The Jolla packs in the following

A quick look at the specs makes it clear that the Jolla is essentially a mid-ranged trooper. With a chipset that was the standard 2 years back, Jolla isn’t by any means using the illusion of a mighty hardware to mask out the software, as is the business strategy of many a big OEM’s today. But nevertheless, a solid hardware never hurts and they could have bumped up the screen resolution at least.

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Finnish manufacturers are known for their great design choices and the Jolla doesn’t miss out on the trend

DESIGN AESTHETICS

Finnish manufacturers are known for their great design choices and the Jolla doesn’t miss out on the trend. Built out of a unique combination of premium plastic and aluminium, it’s a looker by all means.

An all glass front with the screen edges wrapping around the aluminium beneath, lends the phone its stunning looks. Being pleasant to touch, the seamless display even helps with the gesture based UI.

Jolla haven’t slapped the front of the smartphone with a huge logo, unlike many giants of our age. Instead they undertook a much more subtle approach of branding their phones on the top and the back panel. This lends the smartphone a sophisticated stance, and we must congratulate Jolla for deciding to do so.

At the bottom of the phone, there rest two sets of machine drilled holes, the left one for the speaker and the right one for the microphone. These are pretty fancy looking, and their placement is well thought out. The speakers don’t fall victims to muffling and the mic rests exactly where we speak during calls.

A quick glance at the side, and one can easily mistake the Jolla for two phones stacked on top of each other. The lower portion that happens to act as a battery panel, is made of a high quality plastic, and is user replaceable, with different covers resulting in different ambience changes for the smartphone. Thus the wit behind its naming, ‘the other half’ is quite preeminent.

At a 145 grams, it’s by no means one of the lightest devices and the overall dimensions do pose problems for one hand functioning. But the comfortable grip that the other half lends the smartphone coupled with meticulous attention paid to details are commendable. It’s a head turner by all sorts.

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The Sailfish OS offers an experience that’s poles apart from any other available in the market today.

SOFTWARE: ‘For you’re only as good as you perform’

This is where the real magic happens. This is probably the only reason why this company even exists and the only reason one would ever consider this smartphone for. The Sailfish OS offers an experience that’s poles apart from any other available in the market today. It’s new, it’s exciting and, it’s filled with bugs as well. But the bugs won’t deter enthusiasts away from it though, because it’s still a beta product and it’s a really promising affair altogether.

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Tour de OS

Since the user navigation on the Sailfish OS is devoid of any hardware or capacitive buttons, it relies entirely on gestures for the same. Consequently there are many combinations of gestures to familiariSe with.

NAVIGATION: Double tapping the screen wakes up the display. Notifications show up, though in a condensed form. A swipe up from the center provides an option to silence sounds, and a swipe down brings up the true-multitasking screen. A further swipe down brings us to the app tray. While in an application, there might be a pulley down menu where we have to drag from the center of the screen to down below in order to access a few tweaking’s within the app. But if we drag down below from the very top, it’ll minimize the app instead of providing us with the options. An upward directed drag from the bottom brings forth the notification panel, which very unintuitively doesn’t minimize as all other apps do i.e. a flick from the top. Instead we have to flick back towards the top. While an app is running, a swipe to the left or the right, minimizes the app to the multi-tasking screen which depicts activity in real time. These thumbnails may further have a few options that can be exercised by flicking towards the left or towards the right as required.

Screenshots from the UI

 

 

Further while some gestures are useful, some are not and some are implemented in an unintuitive manner. The most productive of them all is the peek for notifications which works within all the applications, without having to minimize or close the same.

While using the OS, an important distinction that needs to be remembered is the difference between a pull, a peek (dragging and holding) and a swipe (a quick flick), for they all initiate absolutely different end results. Even after one might be well acquainted with the working of the OS, one may not always reach where he intends do, because of the margin of error present in the correct timing or placement of the peek or pull.

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The Other Half: It’s a smart cover that uses NFC technology to instantly detect whatever’s on the back of the phone, and as soon as ‘The Other Half’ is on, the smartphone adapts to the look and feel of the back cover in a jiffy.

THE OTHER HALF

The back of the smartphone is swappable with extra covers known as the other half.

The concept is very unique and adds a lot of oomph to the functionality. It’s a smart cover that uses NFC technology to instantly detect whatever’s on the back of the phone, and as soon as ‘The Other Half’ is on, the smartphone adapts to the look and feel of the back cover in a jiffy. Each other half can be customized to sport separate visuals, accents and themes, which makes change of profiles much easier and stylish.

Further, the other half is also being developed as a productivity platform for developers. The NFC chip coupled with the pin receptors protruding above the battery make possible a potential for back covers with 3D printing technology, solar panels and backside displays. This not only opens up areas for various developers to work upon, but also encourages greater community support. Also most of this is somewhat nonfunctional as of now, it holds a lot of potential for future pioneering.

ANDROID SUPPORT

With more than a billion apps already available on Android and iOS, it becomes increasingly difficult for new operating systems to gain any traction whatsoever. Even a giant like Microsoft continues to struggle with poor developer support, with their windows phones still failing to capture, even a decent chunk of the market.

As such, Jolla was smart and incorporated support not only for android apps, but even for Meego and Linux apps as well. All of these are available from the Yandex store or the Amazon app store for Sailfish. This means that many of the most important and frequently used apps from these popular platforms are already available for Jolla users at launch itself, giving it a great head start as compared to BB10 and Windows phone.

Jolla officials informed us that, by using the developer’s kit which they provide for free, most of the android apps can be converted for use on sailfish OS in less than 4 hours of time. Otherwise, the Linux code used for the Sailfish OS natively supports android files as well, which can be side loaded as Apks to the smartphone.

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THOUGHTS: No doubt that there exists a sharp learning curve here and fans of the Apple OS are going to freak out with the complexity of the interface, but with regular use it becomes more of a reflex.

Think of the software experience as being somewhat similar to driving a car. Initially, there are tons of stuff to master and everything seems extremely complicated, but once we get the hang of it all, then with time it all seems a natural process. Enjoyable and spontaneous. Plus the thrills of an absolutely new OS is sure to intrigue the geek community, just the way a new automatic car entices a manual car driver.

But the beta tag still held by the software is felt as a justified one, that too many a times during regular use, pertaining to a number of bugs yet plaguing the software. They might not be fatal to the overall functioning, but they do pose about certain inconveniences at times.

  • The notification feature for sailfish is rather erratic. Sometimes it’ll display your notifications, and at times it won’t. During our testing, we found ourselves opening applications and manually checking for updates, which can be a cause for discomfort
  • Instead of quickening navigation times which forms the essence behind a gesture only interface, we found ourselves spending more time than we generally do with even simple tasks. Some toggles are buried deep in the OS, which can be corrected with future updates in the form of easily accessible shortcuts
  • The other halves have not yet gained mass appeal from developers and consequently their potential still needs to be exploited
  • Android support is somewhat buggy more often than not, with applications hampering the smooth gesture based interactions of the OS. Even with the application that do work, we were left demanding greater stability and at times, memory as well, for it seems that the 1 GB of RAM is just not sufficient for certain android apps, which are usually poor ports of iOS counterparts

Undoubtedly the Sailfish OS is a refreshing experience and one that many would want to venture in. But the project is still a work in progress and it still needs a lot of polishing up before it can truly achieve what it set out for. What it needs as of now is for the believers to hold on, keep faith in the vision and contribute to the community. We feel that the Jolla smartphone is extremely important to the world of technology, for its development and marketing could solve and change a whole lot of perceptions that are ‘disrupting’ innovation today.

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While this is a new smartphone sporting an absolutely new platform altogether, there makes no sense in speaking critically about the essential features for a smartphone. But since the product is highly promising and aimed at a new mobile experience altogether, we’d like to comment on a few notable aspects. And as usual, no technical mumbo jumbo in these categories!

WEB BROWSING: ‘The most used feature on a smartphone’

Although the stock browser isn’t very attractive or loaded with features, it surprisingly is very fluid and stable for a beta product. The basic options are all there coupled with a great RAM management.

Since the Sailfish OS makes great use of the gesture based system, it can house opportunities for new levels in mobile browsing convenience. There could be a lot of tweaks and additional features introduced here and this browser then, possibly might cater towards one of the best mobile browsing experiences ever. It holds the potential to, and we are very hopeful for the same.

GAMING: ‘Work hard, play harder’

The basic games such as cards, Sudoku and the like, are all available at the Jolla store as native apps. But for well-known titles, you have to side load Apks. There is a custom hack for the google play store, but it’s not the authorized one and as such is prone to substandard functioning. Further, the Yandex and the Amazon app stores provide android titles that have been converted for use with the Sailfish.

Nonetheless, gaming is not what Jolla made the sailfish for, at least not in the beta stage where it currently lurks in. If you’re a gamer, you will find no luck here for there are limited games with unreliable performance. Jolla was built to initiate a new way of thinking, and it certainly doesn’t incorporate gaming in its early stages. The future might hold unlimited potential even for gaming on the platform, thanks to the concept of the other half.

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ENTERTAINMENT: ‘Where the differentiation kicks in’

The stock music player although sports a clean UI, sorely lacks functionality. There is no support for album art view nor do we have the choices to repeat a song. Equalizer support is again absent, but it didn’t surprise us much though. It’s just as basic a player you can ever have. But still, it gets the job done pretty neatly. There is no exclusive video player as of now for Sailfish. The gallery handles the videos, and it handles very few of them. The video supports only the MP4, MOV and MK4 formats all the way up to a full HD resolution. There is no support whatsoever for XviD, DivX, AC3 and DTS, and either the video or the audio won’t show up when trying to play these formats. Also subtitle support is not yet here.
The best part about the gallery is that it can automatically compress videos while sharing these with others. The single down firing speaker unit is an average performer. It’s loud enough but lacks bass and clarity. It’s positioned in a manner where it’s free from the risks of any muffling while watching videos.

And that’s all in the entertainment section. A product in its beta phases can never stage itself as an entertainment package. Similar is the case with Jolla. But the price at which this smartphone retails cannot possibly justify the lack of a decent entertainment suite. Yet, great possibilities lie with the OS and the spirit of its developers and as such we are confident about great strides ahead in this scenario as well.

COMMUNICATION: ‘For it’s about how you improve the core experience’

For communication purposes, Jolla provides its ‘People’ app. The app sports a unique looking UI and performs without any hiccups. Upon the selection of a contact, one is choiced with sending a text message or with calling the contact. Any selection will direct the user input towards the dedicated dialer or texting application. The People app can be rewarded with greater independency by eliminating the need for separate apps,

for the suite looks great and performs equally well. It definitely has to be among the best first party applications bundled with the smartphone. The stock keyboard for Jolla looks superb with great color accents and automatic changes in themes as per the ambience. It offers solid next word prediction capabilities and a unique key placement that’s unlike any other in the market. A few days of use and we developed a liking for the colorful keyboard.

Then there is the usual sleuth of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 NFC and 4G LTE capability on board. Thus on the connectivity front, the Jolla is no slouch even when compared to most of its mid ranged peers, and this is commendable for an OS that’s still in the beta phase of development.

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The camera interface is clean and tidy, with additional tweakings hidden behind the camera icon.

CAMERA: ‘A better pair of eyes initiate a better experience’

The rear camera unit on the Jolla packs in an 8MP sensor. With employees straight off Nokia, you’d expect the imaging quality to be comparable to the Lumia lineup. But unfortunately, it isn’t so. Pictures usually turn washed out with irregular ISO sensitivity changes. Although the shots are detailed, they lack color and tend to either underexpose or overexpose at will. Then there is a reddish tinge that is more prominent with close up shots.

The low light performance is underwhelming to the say the least. But in the absence of OIS or a night mode, the smaller pixels packed in the camera can’t be subjected to blame. The camera interface is clean and tidy, with additional tweakings hidden behind the camera icon. The available options are unsurprisingly kept very minimal, and there is no way to an HDR or panoramic view. A flick to the left brings up the last shot, and one needs to resort to third apps for any sort of custom editing whatsoever.

The front facing 2MP camera is average at best, but it does get the work done. If you’re looking forward to video calls on skype, it has to be a no go by all means! Video recording on the Jolla is again a disappointment, with the 1080p video dropping framerates. Audio is crisp and clear though, thanks to the additional mic up top. While recording video, there is no option to turn on flash, and as such video recording in low light is deprived of all worth.

TEST NOTES: ‘For knowledge is based on experience’ 

Since this is a beta product, test notes are more productive than ever, essentially for pointing out areas where improvements are needed to be made, and areas where new innovations can slip in. Jolla themselves promote a ‘do it together’ approach. And as such we have a few notings of our own during our time with Sailfish.

  • Good Battery life: During our time with Jolla, we found the 2100 mAh battery to be performing well. There is no native power saving options on board here, but it seems that Sailfish has been able to fare well without one. With a moderate to heavy usage, we were able to squeeze in an entire day with no worries whatsoever. Though the device could improve upon its live multitasking. The 1 Gigabyte of RAM often proves to be a tad too low for all the functions the device is expected to perform. The UI could do wonders provided that Jolla tweaks certain aspects of their software as well as hardware in due time
  • Display could have been improved: Simply put, the display is a disappointment. The viewing angles, brightness adjustments and color reproduction, all are in dire need for a massive overhaul. Plus Jolla could have managed way better than 245 DPI for its screen. Individual pixels are easy to spot, and we disliked the dotted interface that Jolla slaps their entire UI with. It’s not necessarily a bad display. It’s just that we expect much more out of the Finnish OEM and are hopeful for an unprecedented success
  • Fairly stable performance: The best part about the product is that we never experienced any random reboots, nor did we experience inexplicable battery drains. Even with deliberate tries to make the device falter, it never failed us. And this is really surprising from a beta release. The developers need to be congratulated for the impeccable source codes they came up with for the OS. The future seems bright for all the believers!
  • Ambience changes are a joy: All the changes in the font style, color accents and the wallpapers, with a single swap in the ambience is brilliant. All the available ambiences are a joy and the availability to add custom ambiences adds on to the user experience. A great kick start to this concept!

Thumbs up for

  • The most unique software experience available today
  • Amazing concept in the form of the Other half
  • Aesthetically pleasing and well-built exterior
  • Truly open source, based on Linux
  • Android, Meego and Linux support out of the box
  • A brilliant ambience concept
  • Swappable battery and the presence of a Micro SD card slot
  • Future potential

Thumbs down for

  • The price
  • The low resolution display
  • Modest hardware
  • Average cameras
  • Some settings way too difficult to locate
  • Sharp learning curve for the gestures
  • First party apps need added functionality
  • The presence of bugs, owning to the beta phase in development