The Ubuntu Tablet - A Review of the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition


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...

Enter BQ's Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition.

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.

Unboxing

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?
Task Switching Rotated-
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?

Task Switching Which One-

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.
Ubuntu tablet gedit missing icons-
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.

The Good

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.

Conclusion

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.

Onwards!

13 thoughts on “The Ubuntu Tablet - A Review of the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition

  1. Hello, it has been said and written by more 'parts that ubuntu tablet was not for everyone but a product to the community. Your notes are almost all correct except maybe you're wrong purchase; it was better to invest your money on an ipad. The problems you listed are well known, just research the community that there are scattered on the net. For example apt is disabled by default for security reasons, you just download a tools empowering 'and disables' the write permissions of the file system, all this in order to receive the ota.Firefox office and do not work without a keyboard because honestly in fhd it is very difficult to use the dito.Gimp the contrary is fine without keyboard and mouse and you can 'use the dito.Tutto questionable but it was common knowledge. Points of view.

    1. Hi Lugi,

      I know you and I are both big fans of Ubuntu. Let me answer your points quickly.

      but a product to the community.

      It wasn't sold "to the community" - it was put on sale to the general public. It didn't have a "beta" or "developer preview" label - if it did, I wouldn't have bought it.

      the problems you listed are well known, just research the community that there are scattered on the net.

      They can't be both "well known" and "scattered" - and that's kind of the problem. If they're well known, they should be fixed. I shouldn't have to look up several sites, some with outdated information, just to see whether this device works.

      For example apt is disabled by default for security reasons, you just download a tools empowering 'and disables' the write permissions of the file system, all this in order to receive the ota

      Great! I now understand that. It would have been super helpful if that's what the error message in the terminal said. If it popped up with "This is disabled for security reasons - here's how to enable it" - that would have been fine. Instead I just got an error message which didn't help me.

      Firefox office and do not work without a keyboard

      Firefox works on my Android tablet without a keyboard. Same as LibreOffice. If they genuinely can't work on Ubuntu Touch - then tell the user that! I spent ages trying to work out why the keyboard wasn't popping up.

      but it was common knowledge

      Perhaps this is the main reason I was disappointed. I don't spend all my time on the forums, reading blogs, playing with previews. I spent €300 and I expected something which worked.

      I still use Ubuntu on my laptop, desktop, and server - and I'm excited about using it on a tablet in the future.

      Terence

      1. I whole heartly agree Terence, you are correct, I Would love to get a refund also, the only reason the ubuntu tablet was bought was for the power of libre office on the tablet........it is totally useless.

        1. They refunded me very quickly - and provided a courier to collect the tablet. So I suggest that you return it if it isn't suitable for your needs.

    1. No, not really. I already have a very good ergonomic keyboard and mouse. I want a Linux tablet to pair with them.

  2. I came across your blog article "Finding the Perfect Linux Laptop" when I did google search "portable linux laptop", and I found it extremely helpful, we are looking for the same thing! And I was wondering whether Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition is the perfect 'official' solution, the video "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h384z7Ph0gU" (Ubuntu for tablets - Full video) sounds so good, but it appears long way to go...

  3. The ubuntu tablet by MJ Technology might suits your needs (I'm not sure you can already buy it though)

  4. I've been there too, where I wanted to do more with a tablet than what Android or other "mobile" OS:s could offer on a tablet. I ended up paying a lot extra for a Surface running windows (and I had only ran Linux for ages). Surface Pro 3 in fact. Even with windows 8 on it I could develop in any language from my couch, on a tablet. That isn't something Android lets you do with convenience. The touch experience was almost perfect, even if it was a full-fledged Desktop OS. Very powerful hardware as well. First time ever I enjoyed windows.... without feeling ashamed even 😀

    Then I tried Ubuntu-Desktop on it, as people had made drivers for Surface Pro 3. I learned then that linux is nowhere close (and probably never will be) to support touch-friendly devices (even with all touch-laptops out there since forever now). There simply has been 0 thought on making the linux desktop touchfriendly, at all. Ever. And ubuntu-touch isn't a standard desktop, as you noticed. There isn't even any usable touch-keyboard that can split in 2 half's on the screen like in ios, android, windows. So its useless for larger screens where you cannot reach middle-keys holding the tablet as a tablet, with 2 hands, and scrolling with touch in apps is horrible/non-working.

    My solution now is the next version, surface pro 4 with win10 (which I insanely enough loved at day 1, being an old die-hard linux user) with even better touch support than win8. Now with ubuntu + bash out of the box in win10 since last week, I really do not feel I ever need a linux laptop or tablet again. I can now run any linux application, shell or desktop, and still have the best (only working) desktop-touch interface + run anything win-native that worked half-bad or not at all in wine. For me, my days of running a linux-desktop on my personal development devices seem over now as it is out-dated design on those desktop environments, even when it is linux I develop for. I only install linux on my servers (of course, never would I host my server-programs on any MS OS ....). Sad but that was where I ended up, had to pay a bit extra but it was well worth it when there are great solutions out there to what I look for in a device. I am still shocked that what I was looking for came out of THAT company though... I admit 🙂

    Good luck finding a device that fits YOU.

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