Ubuntu Touch: Making the plunge.

I recently took the plunge, and jumped in on a used Oneplus One phone, converting it to UBPorts community maintained Ubuntu Touch distro. Yes, I now have a true Linux phone. Arguably, Android is Linux, since Linux is really just a kernel, but in most people’s minds, when they say Linux, they mean GNU Linux. Feel free to debate it in the comments. Either way, my phone is now Linux and a flavor of GNU/Linux.

With the plunge came many advancements, and several drawbacks. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss what those are for potential end users and enthusiasts. I gave it a pretty intensive test by switching to UT cold turkey, and using that as my daily driver for over a week, part of which was while at work. It’s still on my phone, and I think it will be for quite some time.

First and foremost, it did everything a cellular phone should do. I made and received phone calls, I sent text messages, I sent MMS messages, I received the same in return. For a cellular phone, it quite literally was perfect. It took a while to get used to the interface, as it is different from Android or iOS. Once used to it, though, the interface itself was fairly pleasant. To be honest, I now am struggling when trying to use an Android interface on one of my other old phones!

There really were only two major problems with using it. Apps and programs. Due to these issues, I actually was going to give up on it, but decided to stick with it, and now I’m glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really great apps on this thing, but there are many apps missing for my daily routine. I use my phone to Jabber (XMPP), but there wasn’t an app for that. I often grab a quick game of Chess on FICS, but there wasn’t a chess app that allowed me to do that. My email from some contacts is sometimes encrypted, but there wasn’t an app that could handle that. So, while it works great as a cellular phone, it didn’t meet my day to day app needs. I was fortunate enough to find several work-arounds for these issues, the details of which I’ll plan on sharing in another article.

Just to give you an idea though, I got really creative. I added onto my ejabber2 server with nginx, and hosted my own webmail client, although I’m still ironing out all the pgp encryption details, it is getting the job done for now. I also hosted a page with convers.js built in, it is a web based xmpp client. Eventually I converted it to it’s own HTML app for the phone as well. As for FICS and online chess, well, there is already an UT app for Chess.com, so I went that route. Don’t worry, if you are looking for details, I’ll be sure to dive into those in future posts.

The only other issue was the desktop app function. Since it is Ubuntu, you can run desktop apps inside a scope’s compatibility function. This is a great idea, and I made numerous apps work, and work fairly well. However, I had some great difficulty with several of the “regular” desktop apps.

For instance, I tried to load three different desktop email clients to work around the email encryption issue (I really was trying to make this my daily driver). However, on all three email programs, I would get to a point where I needed to enter a password, and for some reason, when I clicked in the password fields, the automatic hiding keyboard would not show up so I could type. If you are trying this out yourself, Claws-mail was working for me.

In several programs the keyboard would refuse to auto hide, making half of the screen the keyboard. However, it was only my inexperience that led to this, as I found I could “swipe” down to hide the keyboard. It’s a little clunky, but then again, using a desktop application on your phone, regardless of the OS, is a bit clunky in and of itself.

In an attempt to work around the missing jabber (XMPP) client, I loaded Gajim, an excellent desktop program for this purpose, and it did work! Unfortunately, one of my main contacts required me to install a pidgin plug-in, which, after loading, caused Gajim to crash the phone every time I opened it.

Gimp, however, worked flawlessly, and I was able to utilize it very well. One of the shortcomings I found though, was that the desktop apps and the phone apps are separate, and so are the file systems. So, if you download a picture in an email on the phone side, you can’t see it in the gimp desktop app, since the files are in different containers.

But overall it works really great as a modern day smart phone. The testament to this fact is that I’m still using it. They also have a really great OpenStore with the typical app updating features, manual or automatic, which is really nice, as well as the usual fare of apps, Telegram, Instagram, etc.

The UT team also did a great job with Google integration, if you are into that. If you wanted to sync your calendar and contacts from Google, which can make the switch from Android to UT very easy. The Web Browser app was really intuitive and functioned well. I never once had an issue with it playing or functioning. The camera app was really straight-forward and was flawless in function, which was great!

Later I’ll be talking specifically about the Oneplus One’s function, which I feel is separate from the Ubuntu Touch interface.

Linux – keep it simple.

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