Friday, November 29, 2013

First Experiences with the Jolla Phone

So, I found myself standing in the "World's Merriest Queue" yesterday. It was dark, cold (4°C), and damp after a rain. There were 450 other people shivering in the long, dark, cold queue. With the Finnish melancholic mentality, that's actually merry, so there's no problem with that.


After waiting for an hour me and my penguin friend got in. The non-alcoholic drinks were excellent and some snacks good. There was Marc Dillon and others. Oh I just hate those professional presenters. The Jolla workers showed the phones around and gave some tips for using it.


How merry it can get in a queue of 450 nerds? Some said that the music was bad, I don't really care, me and the penguin got our phone, that's all that mattered.

Build and Hardware

The phone has a nowadays standard Gorilla glass display and otherwise a plastic shell. I was quite OK with the plastic build of my first smartphone, Galaxy S2, so this is not much different, except that the Jolla phone is bigger and the corners are more square, a bit like in many of the recent Nokia phones. The Jolla design is a thin "sandwich", with the replaceable "Other Half" making the other half of the body. Well, the "Other Half" is just a back-cover with a NFC chip that contains some data, such as themes or something. A black "Other Half" would be nice to have.


The MicroUSB connector is a bit oddly in the top side of the phone. It's a bit odd considering car use, but I think it was common in many of the latest Nokia phones, and it's maybe better for hand use.

The volume button in my phone is a bit loose. That's essentially something that would normally qualify for replacement.

Inside, are the slots for the micro-SIM and an SD card.


The requirement for micro-SIM caused me some trouble, as my SIM cards are regular SIM. I got a micro-SIM cutting template from the shop that sold me the phone at the event, and used my Victorinox to cut and file my SIM card to the correct size. After almost an hour of working, I finally got it working. I hope that it doesn't cause problems, as my backup phones use regular SIM, and I really need to use them sometimes.


The specs say that it's supposed to have a compass, but at least the one Android compass app that I found didn't work, and the Jolla maps app doesn't use compass for anything either. So, the compass, or the accelerometer or the gyro, are not much use right now.

The User Interface

One of the most important features in the Sailfish Operating System is it's user interface, which has no buttons, only swipe gestures. There is only the power button and a volume button on the side. The Home button in Android and iOS devices is replaced with a swipe-from-the-side gesture.

Compared to Android or iOS, the visual simplicity of many user interface views is extreme, no buttons or decorations almost anywhere. When you open the phone app, you just see a very plain call log. In the email app, you just get a list of emails, and when you open an email, there's just a title followed by text. On the downside, the views are often maybe over-simplified, so that things are hidden too well, and workflows to get to what you want are often a bit complex and unintuitive. I'm too often left guessing whether to swipe left or right, open the pull-down menu, tap, or long-tap something.

I'm having hard time deciding whether the simplicity is really beautifully elegant or just confusing. Maybe it's both.

Following the extreme simplicity, there is no status row, so finding out anything about the status requires going to the start screen, and there's not much info there either. Some status is shown between the start and task screens. There's also a message screen, which you can access by swiping from the bottom of the screen, but it only has a plain list of events, which is a bit poor. There's occasionally some status messages, such as for lost connection, but it's not indicated anywhere on the screen after flashing briefly.

The screen layout is vertical with three screens on top of each other:
  1. The start screen on the top
  2. The task screen with the running apps
  3. The app list

Start Screen

The start screen shows just the current time  and network connection status. Additionally, it shows icons for various notifications, such as new mail, or finished download.

You can't actually click the notification icons to get information about the notifications, you need to go to the notification screen. You get there theoretically by swiping from the bottom of the screen. However, this works me only every second time totally randomly, on other times the swipe simply scrolls to the tasks view below the start screen. So, it doesn't always properly detect that the swipe is done from the edge. Update: this apparently applies to all swipes-from-the-side. If you swipe too quick, it sometimes doesn't notice that it's from the side. So it's a bug, I just hope it's not a hardware-limited bug.

System Settings

The system settings can be accessed by pulling the start screen down (but not swiping from the top which turns off the screen!).

Compare this with with Android, where you can access the basic settings like screen brightness anywhere in any app, by pulling from the top of the screen. So to change screen brigness on Sailfish, you need to swipe-left to get from an app to the task screen, then swipe one down to get to the start screen, then pull-down the menu, select "Settings" to get to the screen with the settings app, and then get back to the app after changing the setting. Well, if the settings app is running, it can be accessed from the task screen. Anyhow, quite complex for making routine changes to basic settings. Same applies to many basic tasks like switching Internet connection on/off, etc.


Accessing the settings by pulling the menu down by swiping down anywhere on the screen is the Sailfish way of doing it. The availability of settings is indicated by a bright horizontal bar at the top of the screen. It often gets confusing, when you're already making some settings, and then there's even more settings available from the pull-down menu.

Tasks

The task screen is one of the special features in Sailfish, a descendant of the multitasking screen in Nokia N9. It shows either minimized versions of the actual screens of the running apps or specially optimized mini-screens if the apps support it.


Some native apps have special mini-controls that you can use by swiping left or right on the mini-screen. If you push long, you get to close tasks. You can also close an app when maximized by swiping down from the top.

The mini-screens are sometimes a bit unclear, so that it's not easy to see which is which. And when there's a lot of them, they get even mini-er.

So, the UI seems a bit strange now, but I remember that Android was also quite confusing in the beginning. I'm not sure if this is better or worse, but it feels promising.

Some issues:
  • No apparent way to take screen shots (hence none in this review)
  • There's no way to order apps in the apps screen. I wonder how it gets with 200 apps. Update: found it, just long-tap an app icon again to move it. Not very obvious, as after the first long top, the app icons have a delete mark, and I thought they could only be deleted there.
  • I haven't yet figured out how to move the cursor to the beginning of an input box, especially if the box is near the left side of the screen. 
  • In the virtual keyboard, pressing a letter on the first row long doesn't allow inputting numbers, you always have to switch to the numbers layout.
The list would be rather long if I listed all the small things I've noticed, so I'll just let it be for now.

Phone

Yes, it's also a phone. I haven't used it as a phone much yet, so I'll just cover this quickly.

I had to spend a few seconds trying to think which phone icon indicates answering a call and which rejects it. Both icons have phone icons, maybe the other one is green and the other one red, but the colors are so faint that me as a slightly red-green color blind can't see any difference. How about having a big X over the reject icon or something?

I find that answering requires a bit too delicate interaction, selecting the "Answer Call" option from the upper pull-down menu (or "Reject" from the pull-up menu). Also Android requires a bit too delicate swipe, as you have to actually hit the buttons and then swipe, while here you can swipe anywhere, but then swipe delicately to select "Answer Call". Hard to say which is worse.

The contact for the last call can't be created very easily. Just clicking on the phone number in the log makes a call...uh-cancel-cancel-cancel! Long-pushing the item allows selecting "Create Card" (or something like that), which creates a card, but not further contact info like who the person is. It's not saved in the contacts, which is a separate app. You apparently need to "link" it with an existing contact, which is rather unintuitive when you want to create the contact. While trying to create a contact, I accidentally managed to link the phone number with an existing contact, and was unable to unlink it. So, the workflow for creating a contact from the phone log was rather unintuitive to me on the first try.

Opening the phone from the phone icon just shows the log. To call to a contact, you need to pull-down the menu and select "Call a Person". While this is again more minimalistic, the Android way of showing the log, address book, and dial view as tabs doesn't leave you guessing how to make the call.

Sending and receiving SMS messages worked just OK, much like in Android, so I have nothing bad to say about it yet. But, it's minimalistic as everything in the phone.

Networking

The phone currently supports 2g and 3g, apparently the 4g/LTE support is still in the works and should arrive with OS update.

For my coworker who put a micro-SIM in right when starting the phone first time, the 3g mobile internet was installed in the startup. I didn't find any automation, but had to copy the connection settings from my old phone manually.

The WiFi settings are a bit confusing and unintuitive, but I have managed to get myself connected several times, so it works. To connect to a new network, you need to navigate rather deep in the settings, selecting an item, using the pull-down menu, then long-pressing an item to modify it. Not all is quite intuitive there. The settings UI quite often looks rather messed up, with texts here and there with no apparent layout.

I get "connection lost" for both WiFi and 3g internet occasionally, apparently for no reason.

There's apparently no way to share 3g internet connection by having the phone act as an access point, at least I haven't found such feature anywhere. This is a mission-critical feature to me, as none of my three laptops has an internal 3g card, and even if one had, I'd anyhow need it. It's been a pretty standard feature in smartphones for the last few years, so it's hard to understand that it's missing. For this missing feature alone, the phone is useless to me as a smartphone.

Web Browser

The built-in web browser works mostly OK with most pages. I first had some trouble connecting to Twitter, as it didn't handle the SSL certificate properly for some reason, and I simply couldn't connect to it. After doing something, it has worked just fine.

After a day, I still haven't quite figured out how the over-simplified browser UI works. There apparently is no location bar, but you get to open a new page by URL only by opening a sub-screen. It's of course a good thing that the location bar is not visible all the time, but on the other hand, the control bar is often maybe too visible, and the logic when it's visible or hidden is not quite obvious to me.

The navigation sub-screen is a bit messed up, containing a location bar, list of browser tabs, and the bookmarks. The bookmarking functionality is very basic, and it's not even possible to have bookmark folders, making life really confusing later when you have dozens or hundreds of bookmarks.

However, Firefox can be installed from the Android store and works much better. It's just not a native app, so it has some issues and it lacks some integration. It appears reasonably fast, although maybe not as fast as the built-in browser, which is also gekko-based. The built-in browser rendered some pages better, some pages worse.

One problem could be that some websites may have trouble recognizing the browser type. For example, Vaadin applications do not work properly because of the odd User-Agent info. That's probably fixed soon in Vaadin though...

The workflow for downloading and playing an MP3 file was really confusing. Clicking an MP3 starts download, but no progress is shown in any obvious place. The progress can be seen if you go to the start screen, select Settings, select System Settings, scroll down and select Downloads. In the downloads screen, you can't actually launch viewers for any downloaded files, just see the list. You can't delete any downloads in any way, you can only clear the list. This is an obvious bug. When a download finishes, a message flashes on the screen and clicking it takes you to the download list (where you can't play it). To play the file, you need to yourself open the Media Player, and the MP3 is there waiting for you. Oh, you can't delete it there either.

Apps and App Shops

The phone had almost no applications at all factory-installed, only the phone app, web browser, camera, the application shop, and the tutorial application. Everything else, such as a clock, calculator, and a calendar, you need to install from the Jolla Shop. There's not much there yet, mostly just some Jolla apps, like the clock, calculator, media player, notes, map app, email client, documents, etc. I suppose there's some logic to not have the basic apps preinstalled, so that you really go through them and know what's in your phone with no extra clutter.

The map app uses Nokia's maps. It's very minimal. The maps are OK, but there's no satellite maps, no extra info about the locations, the navigation is fairly limited, the interaction gestures are a bit unintuitive, etc. But, there's maps.

I have no idea what the Documents app does. I think it's supposed store text documents, but on the start screen it suggests swiping down, but nothing happens. There's no pull-down menu visible. So, apparently, it doesn't do anything.

Well, I could do a detailed review of all the apps, but it would take another article, or two.

Problems:
  • There's no progress indicator whatsoever in the web shop, so you have no idea how long downloading an app might take or if the download has frozen because of some networking trouble.
  • You can't also cancel downloads.
  • There's application "Categories" screen, but it's really just quite a horrible list of categories.
Well, there's only 25 or so apps in all, of which 5 or so are the basic Jolla apps such as the clock, etc, so the awfulness of the web shop isn't that relevant yet.

Android Apps from Yandex

Installing Android applications requires first installing the Yandex shop and then registering it. For some reason, I was unable to install the shop app with a WiFi connection at all, so it only worked after installing the micro-SIM and 3g networking. However, registering in the shop didn't work, as when I got to the "captcha" screen, it complained about network connection, even though I'm sure the network was up, as I was able to browse with the browser. Luckily, I got a tip to register in the Yandex email service with a computer. After doing that, I was able to log in into the Yandex shop.

So far I have tried to use only one app from the Android shop, Skype. It starts, but when I try to join a chat, it always crashes. So, no Skype. Update: Skype works just perfectly now. I have no idea why it didn't work earlier. Most other apps also seem to work, such as Angry Birds, etc.

Oh, also the Yandex app shop sometimes crashes right when I start it. When this happens, I need to reboot the phone to get it working again. Update: For some reason, I have not experienced the problem any longer.

The Yandex shop has very few apps that I would need. No Navionics, no astronomy apps that I like to use, and especially no Google apps. Google has even some quite critical apps that I need, like the Authenticator, which I need for work. So, the Android compatibility is a bit limited value to me, because of the limited app shop.

Conclusions

I can't really make conclusions for anyone else. For myself, the lack of WiFi access point makes the Jolla phone currently unusable to me as my primary phone. There's also a couple of apps that I just need, such as a call recorder, no explanations accepted, I simply can't use it as a phone without them. So, I hope to get the critical features soon.

If my review sounds negative, please note that I've mostly just listed all the things that bug me, that's how it goes. Mostly, Sailfish appears to have most of the essential features that you need in a phone. The simplicity of many user interfaces is both highly elegant and often frustrating. It's an OK phone with a browser (especially after you install Firefox), but not as a full-featured smartphone, rather a minimally-featured. But I'm not really expecting much more than that yet.

This is still about the Day 2, with developers just starting to take a look at the phone, and I'm sure Jolla will be doing its best to make it perfect.

I might be one of those developers, if I just had time, but I doubt I will have. Sailfish is based on Linux on the low-level and Qt for the UI development, which together make up probably the best development platform out there currently. The main problem with Android is that its applications run in a virtual machine, while Jolla apps run as native code, and therefore are much more efficient, as iOS apps are. That is why Sailfish and Jolla matter, I hope so at least. The big challenge they have is building up the ecosystem. Elop didn't even dare to try it with Nokia, we'll see how the tiny Jolla will do.

But, for now, I have a very expensive alarm clock. I know Jolla is working on updates, I hope they get them done soon.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Long tap "create card", pull down "save", jonka jälkeen voi lisätä etunimi sukunimen.

Applikaatioiden järjestelu, long tap, josta aukeaa uninstall/järjestely tila, ja sitten vaan drag&drop appis halutulle paikalle...

Anonymous said...

What is so critical about wifi hotspot to you?

You know you can with some tweaking already use the Jolla as an internet gateway?

http://talk.maemo.org/showthread.php?p=1391586#post1391586

Anonymous said...

Hi Marko, I too have recently received my Jolla phone. Though I haven't opened it yet. Because it's clear that from many reviews the basic requirements for ME are not met.

I too require a hotspot-functionality. I NEED a manual but preferably automatic call recorder. Unfortunately I also need outlook syncing. Because under Windows outlook is the only PIM available to and usable by mortals like me. Due to client-confidentiality I can't use clouds to sync my agenda and contacts (which is essentially my clients-database).

It's clear. No outlook Syncing or call-recording then it's of no use to me. These are the 2 basic things that i definitely need.

I suppose Android call-recording apps won't work just as Android syncing options like MyPhone
Explorer? Has anyone tried?

Joachim Schulz said...

Hi Marko,
I received my Jolla mobile some days ago and was quite disappointed about the half-finished OS and the mediocre quality of the phone. For half the price I would accept that, but for EUR 400,- I can buy a used Blackberry Z30 and with the last leaked OS10-Beta it is the phone, that Jolla was promising, but in a real working condition. With the BB10-OS I can now download Android apps direct from the Amazon-Appstore and the the user interface is just like Jolla, but complete and fully functional.

So I will send my phone back to Jolla. I am sorry about that, but now Blackberry is the new Nokia for me.

Shubhi Jain said...

Can we use android application in Jolla phone, I mean is there any converter which can help to record a call from app in Jolla phone.

johnlinn said...

Just looking if any Phone call recorder work on it, also want to know is that support apks file ?

cheer !