Finally, after months of waiting, the second Ubuntu Phone is upon us. The original – the BQ Aquaris 4.5 – was a serviceable phone but the poor specs and extremely early version of Ubuntu that accompanied it made it seem a lot more like an early development phone than something you’d use on a day-to-day basis. The low specs and shaky interface made it undesirable enough that our review for it was somewhat less than positive. Put simply, the hardware needed to be better, and the operating system itself needed much more love from the community and social media companies.
Now we have the Meizu MX4 as your second choice for an Ubuntu Phone. A popular brand in the Chinese market, Meizu usually makes Android devices so it’s also familiar with smartphone design and manufacturing. In fact, much like the Aquaris, the MX4 Ubuntu Edition is a repurposed Android phone, which was released at the end of the last year into the Chinese market but never saw a Western release. It’s had a bit of a swap-around, though, with the CPU going from a quad-core chip to an octa-core as the software also gets a change to Ubuntu 15.04.
The rest of the device has stayed the same: a decent amount of RAM and internal storage along with a beefy battery to keep it going for a significant period of time. The design of the actual phone itself is very nice: a shiny, white plastic that doesn’t feel cheap at all with a nice edge and bezel, so that you don’t accidentally hit the all-important screen edges. It’s reminiscent of the iPhone and Galaxy S series in its design, which is probably deliberate to capitalise on each phone’s popularity with the masses. Uniquely for modern Android phones, instead of relying on the standard soft keys for home, back and other apps, it also has a capacitive home button where an iPhone’s main button would be. Although the button isn’t normally part of the Ubuntu Phone’s UX, it actually works really well with the operating system.
The screen is absolutely lovely as well – a far cry from the aged qHD screen of the Aquaris. With a 5.4” IPS LCD at around 420 ppi, it’s bright and clear and good quality. Some of the apps aren’t quite optimised for it, though, with thumbnail pictures on some scopes coming up a little pixelated on the much higher resolution screen.
While the actual hardware itself is a marked improvement – and stands up against other current smartphones – the Ubuntu Phone OS has not had the same leap in quality as the hardware. That’s not to say it’s the same as when the E4.5 came out; it’s definitely improved since then, with more apps and a less quirky interface. The UX still feels quite nice, although the responsiveness of the OS is a touch sluggish, even with extra months of optimisation and a lot more power under the bonnet of the MX4.
The selection of apps has not entirely improved either. There are a lot more scopes than there were at launch, making the unique aspect of the Ubuntu Phone experience better, but there’s still a reliance on web apps for some of the more useful, day-to-day functions like checking various social media sites or accessing your Gmail account. While the community has stepped up a lot to fill in the gaps, the companies behind these big important apps really need to get some official apps out for Ubuntu Touch, especially as the lack of push notifications, along with other notifications that don’t always show up, really makes it drag behind Android and iOS.
So, yes, overall the MX4 is a big improvement over the Aquaris in every way, although some parts are better than others. It still has the early teething issues of Android and iOS, only unfortunately they’ve had a good few years to fix these issues while Ubuntu may never properly catch up to them in the same way. Still, if you do fancy a change – a new, unique and quite fun user experience and workflow – you could do worse than an Ubuntu Phone.
You could get a Windows Phone.
The MX4 feels like a proper, modern smartphone in your hands, and it’s got a great design (even if it’s not wholly an original one) with decent materials
and components used in manufacturing. While it’s unfair to say that the MX4 is hampered by the Ubuntu that’s installed on it, it still doesn’t make up for the limitations of the young Ubuntu Touch OS.