Ubuntu phone experience

Much has been already said about the Ubuntu phones. Here's my personal experience with.

As many other Ubuntu fans, I was dreaming about a smartphone integrating Ubuntu desktop experience. Well, the first Ubuntu phone wasn’t exactly the powerhouse I was hoping for and doesn't integrate (yet) as seamlessly with Ubuntu desktop. Never the less, Canonical is still committed to ship a device which will be a phone and which will give you a desktop experience.
So I was happy to be able to order it quietly, after the first rush with flash sale sessions ended.

The platform. The platform is a BQ Aquaris E4.5 with decent performances, (240ppi screen, 1.3GHz MediaTek SoC, 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, 802.11b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, HSPA+), allowing to connect 2 micro sim cards (which was for me a main driver; as a frequent traveler, using local sim cards spared me roaming costs), but lacking LTE support as a future proof device.

Basic features are similar to other smartphones. Yet there is one truly innovative feature: the scopes. They allow aggregating individual applications or resources by a specific theme into a single screen with quick access to details. For instant the Today scope shows the weather, the date and time, events planned for that day, next holiday, your most frequent or important contacts, main headlines from major news agencies, trends on Twitter and so on. Each scope is configurable so you can choose items to display. There is an extensive framework for developers, such that the coding involved in developing a Scope is quicker and easier than current mobile app development.

The launcher. Well the launcher is the Ubuntu Unity launcher just to remind you that it is an Ubuntu device after all. Applications or Scopes can be pinned or unpinned to the vertical auto hiding launcher.

Performance. As I said performances are decent, with a boot time of about 20 seconds, and a scope updating quick enough. Scope updating depends on scope components and wi-fi speed. For the Today scope with wi-fi internet connection to gather information, refresh took me about 20 seconds.

Power. Under heavy usage, even with a fully charged battery, power drops sharply and it barely lasts one day without recharging, but in standby, autonomy is consistent with the specs. Use the hints provided by the device to save battery, such as auto dimming according to ambient light and so one. What is the most annoying is that there is no reliable warning sound when power drops under a specific level, or a couple of minutes before shutdown due to power loss.

Stability. Only few crashes noticed, manly in standby. Sometimes in long standby, the phone doesn't wake up anymore. Forced shutdown or restart is the only cure. With the release version Ubuntu 15.04 r 23 I expect this issue to be fixed and this brings me to updates. Updates are seamless and can be programmed to run automatically or manually, on any data connection or only on specific data connection, (only wi-fi for instance).

Applications. There is an application store available for Ubuntu touch which eventually would merge with the Software center for desktops. Although not (yet) as rich as an Apple or Android appstore, the main applications are there: email client for Gmail or Yahoo mail, PDF viewer, Document viewer, Multimedia, Maps for GPS navigation, Torch, News reader, cloud support for dropbox, utilities and so one.

There are two main application types: native applications and HTML5 (web) applications. HTML5 applications user experiences are not as rich as those for the native applications, yet they allow an already rich choice. Check the Ubuntu touch application store to see if you find your favorite applications or games for the Ubuntu phone.

Security. CESG, the security arm of the UK government that assesses operating systems and software, has published its findings for all ‘End User Device’ operating systems (OSs). Based at GCHQ, they included OSs for laptops and mobile devices in their assessment, and for uses designated at “OFFICIAL” level in accordance with UK Government Security Classification Policy. This is roughly equivalent to a standard set of best practice security features. Any enterprise would be interested in implementing these to make sure that information is not leaked from their organisation. All in all Ubuntu stacks up as the most secure of the current desktop and mobile operating systems.
But don’t forget, security of your phone comes mainly from the applications you install and what they would eventually disclose about your resources. So make a thorough check before you install an application or a game.

For people looking for security and privacy, this is the phone you need.

Connect to the phone remotely. There is a Terminal native application available on the application store but with its on screen keyboard, it is not as handy as a desktop one, so you may eventually want to connect to your phone with a true ssh session or similar from a desktop computer.

Here are the steps to connect to your Ubuntu phone remotely from another Ubuntu desktop.

1. On the Ubuntu desktop, open a terminal session and install android-tools-adb

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb

2. Connect your Ubuntu phone to the Ubuntu desktop using the USB cable

3. Get the Ubuntu phone vendor ID reference with

lsusb

You will see that the vendor ID of the bq E4.5 device is 0x2a47

4. Check this reference in the ~/.android/adb_usb.ini file. If the file doesn't exist, create it and add a line with the 0x2a47 code. If the file exists but it doesn't contain the device vendor ID, add a line with the 0x2a47 code.

5 Restart adb server

sudo adb kill-server; sudo adb start-server

6. Put the phone in developer mode. On the Ubuntu phone go to 'System Settings', 'About this Phone' and set the 'Developer Mode'

7. Make sure the phone screen is unlocked and connect to the Ubuntu phone with

adb shell

You are now connected to your Ubuntu phone with a terminal. The user is phablet and the sudo password is your unlock screen code. If you get a connection error running the command above, the phone screen might be locked. Unlock the screen and try again.

Now you can use this connection mode whenever you want, but if you want to connect in ssh mode, just go one with the next steps to set up a key based ssh login.

8. Check/enable the ssh on the Ubuntu phone. To do that, in the shell session opened on the phone just type

sudo service ssh status
sudo service ssh start

If you want a persistent ssh service to run on the phone then do

sudo setprop persist.service.ssh true

and restart the device

sudo reboot

The ssh daemon should start automatically. Check the status with

sudo service ssh status

To disable SSH auto-start, change the flag:

sudo setprop persist.service.ssh false

If you want for manually start/stop, ssh service for increased security then forget about the setprop and start/stop the service manually with

sudo service ssh start
sudo service ssh stop

9. Leve the shell session opened on the phone with

exit

10. On the Ubuntu desktop, in a terminal session create a RSA key pair. You may leve the default name and location for the key pair, but you may want to set a password. If you set one, you will be asked for it later.

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096

11. Copy the public key to the phone (unlock the screen first, if necessary)

adb shell mkdir /home/phablet/.ssh
adb push ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub /home/phablet/.ssh/authorized_keys
adb shell chown -R phablet.phablet /home/phablet/.ssh
adb shell chmod 700 /home/phablet/.ssh
adb shell chmod 600 /home/phablet/.ssh/authorized_keys

12. Now you can look up your IP on the phone and use ssh to connect:

adb shell ip addr show wlan0|grep inet
ssh phablet@'IP from above command'

To connect with Remina, create a new connection, chose 'SSH' mode, enter the server ip 'IP from above command', user name phablet and authentication mode 'Public key (automatic)'

Bottom line, I love the phone and I am too Ubuntu fan, not to overlook some weaknesses.