I’ve been trying to find the perfect Linux laptop. I need something small, light, powerful, and with an ergonomic keyboard.
Hmmm… Perhaps I don’t need a laptop. I could use a tablet and my new Bluetooth keyboard…
It promises the Ubuntu experience in a convenient tablet package.
I wanted to love this tablet. But it is so unbelievably bad that I’m returning it for a refund.
It all starts pretty well.
OK, a few usability issues. These could easily have been caught in new-user testing. But, it appears, no such testing has been undertaken.
This review is based on the latest OTA update (10.1).
Why it is crap
Let’s get one thing clear – this is not Ubuntu! It is some form of bastardised, cut down, limited access version called “Ubuntu Touch.”
I completely understand why a tablet needs a different, finger-optimised UI. But that’s not what Canonical have done here. Ubuntu Touch doesn’t run Ubuntu programs!
Like an iPhone, you can only install blessed apps from the app store. And there’s pretty slim pickings in there. No Chrome, Audacity, Python… Basically nothing useful.
Oh, about that finger-optimised UI. Yeah, not so much. Several of the apps are unoptimsed for touch. The device comes with LibreOffice built in – but it doesn’t support the onscreen keyboard! There’s nothing on screen to tell you that – you just have to keep hitting the screen impotently until you give up.
If you do manage to open a dialogue box, you’ll find it nearly impossible to use with your fingers.
It works well enough with a USB mouse – but that’s not the point. I want to be able to use this tablet as a tablet occasionally.
There’s a “desktop mode” which lets you move windows around (no wobbly windows, boo!) and a rudimentary split screen mode, but nothing which is useful for actual work.
Task switching is another area where the tablet falls down. Take a look at this screenshot – notice anything funny?
Yup – some of the screenshots are rotated. If you use the tablet in portrait and then switch to landscape, expect a mish-mash of confusion. Basic mistakes which could have easily been avoided.
But, suppose you’re OK with that. Take a look at this screenshot. I’ve started Alt-Tabbing – can you tell which window is now ready to open?
I thought it would be the one on the extreme right. Perhaps the one in the centre?
It appears to always be the 2nd one from the left!
Except when I’ve tabbed to the end – then it is the last one. Until I tab round everything – then it’s the 1st from the left.
I’m confused – and this makes me feel stupid. In every other version of Ubuntu I’ve used, the centre/foremost window is the one which will be opened. On this tablet, I feel like I’ll never know which will open.
I guess that’s the crux of why I hate this tablet. I love Ubuntu – but this tablet makes me feel like an idiot. I can’t even run
sudo apt-get install ... to get it to do what I want.
Incidentally, Firefox comes with the tablet. It’s not touch compatible – you have to use a keyboard and mouse. But if you alt-tab out of Firefox and then back, you can’t use the keyboard to type any more. Not without rebooting.
To give you a general idea of some of the slap-dash attitude to the rest of the software – take a look at the icons on gEdit, the text editor in the Ubuntu store.
Oh, that’s right – there are no icons. They’re broken.
Finally, I tried checking the spelling of a document I’d typed in LibreOffice. I couldn’t. There’s no language packs installed. I don’t mean there’s no en_GB and I have to use American spelling – I mean there’s no spell-chequer available. It’s also impossible to install one.
It paired easily with my Bluetooth keyboard.
(Even that’s a bit of a lie. Some apps, like Firefox, didn’t respect my keyboards language settings – meaning that @ and ” were swapped.)
It charged quickly and managed about 6 hours of fairly hefty use before it needed plugging in again.
The screen was clear and bright – although the graphics juddered a lot in scrolling.
One of the default apps given pride of place on the default launcher was XChat. Yes, that’s right, you can log in to IRC like it’s the early 1990s. Well, you could if the app worked with the on screen keyboard.
There are two map apps! One of which doesn’t support pinch-to-zoom…
The built in Twitter app launches the mobile web version of Twitter – so you get a tiny column in the middle of the screen. It does, however, do push notifications! You can’t click on the notifications though – they just wobble maddeningly when you do so.
I comes with a phone dialler app. There’s no SIM card slot in the device – it’s just a vestigial leftover.
A whole host of snags which should have been caught before the device shipped – let alone received its first update.
In fairness, the top-tier apps look great and respond well to the touch interface. There are some clever touches – like swiping from the sides to bring up options, change apps, etc.
For €300 I expected a lot more. I could have got a decent Android tablet for less money – it would have been more functional, better supported, and have higher performance. I wasn’t expecting to be able to run full-stack development on this, but I did expect to be able to run basic Python, Ruby, PHP, etc.
Instead, I got a flakey tablet with a dumbed-down UI which hasn’t been properly localised.
The bugs I’ve reported have gone unanswered. I dropped a note to some people at Canonical, and while they were helpful, they didn’t have any public roadmap for fixes.
Honestly, the tablet feels like it hasn’t been given to a normal user for five minutes. There’s a host of issues which should have been picked up in early user testing. Some of these are easily fixable but others are more are fundamental to the hardware and software choices they’ve made.
I don’t normally mind being a beta tester – but not at this price.
The quest for the perfect Linux laptop continues! If anyone knows of a large screen tablet which can run full Ubuntu – please let me know!
What I Want In My Perfect Ubuntu Tablet
- Larger than 10 inch screen. Ideally 13-15 inches. I need that size to be able to work effectively without eye-strain.
- Ubuntu. Not “Ubuntu Lite” or “Ubuntu Touch” or “Ubuntu 2K” – I want a full Linux machine which can run everything I throw at it. Sure, have a simplified interface for touch-mode, but once I plug in a keyboard I want a desktop OS.
- More ports. I bought a £3 USB OTG hub which lets me charge and use USB simultaneously – but it’s a bit of a faff.
- Charging via micro-USB (or, I guess USB-C) is a must. I don’t want yet another proprietary charger.
- User testing. I don’t want to buy something with basic snags and flaws. Concentrate on fixing things before adding more decorations.
- Smooth 2D graphics. I’m not planning on playing hyper-realistic VR games – I just expect web pages to scroll smoothly.
- Supported hardware. I don’t want to upgrade my distro only to find out that the hardware manufacturer has stopped supplying drivers.
- I’m not particularly price sensitive – although I guess under £500 would be nice.