The Jolla Handset & Sailfish OS, A Linux Smartphone With Promise

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A few weeks after receiving Jolla’s first handset (called, er, the Jolla), I’ve posted an in-depth review of the Linux powered smartphone over on Forbes.

All of that said, the Jolla handset has me excited. I’ve been following the project for some time, I ordered my device in May 2013 as part of the first wave of orders, and I knew that when it was delivered to me in December I was not getting a finished product… just a Finnish product. The Sailfish OS at the core of Jolla’s vision is delivering a stable environment and handles the mid-range specs of the Jolla handset relatively well.  With another six months or so to iron out the bugs, improve battery life, and polish the user interface the core experience will be ready for the consumer market, as long as the first party apps are updated with the same attention to detail.

An unboxed Jolla updates the OS over the air

Jolla is not finished, but what is on offer now is going to be very appealing to the hackers of the smartphone world. It’s a phone that is more for geeks than mainstream travelers, but there are many a’ geek among the traveling nomads I know.

Jolla was formed in late 2011 from a number of former Nokia Engineers who had been working on a number of Linux-based operating systems and handsets (including the Nokia N9). Just over two years later, their first handset (the self-titled Jolla) shipped with their Sailfish OS. I’ve been using the Jolla handset since mid-December, and it’s time to look at the handset in some more detail.

The Jolla’s  OS (Sailfish OS) is the key reason to buy this handset, and it still requires a lot of work to bring it up to modern UI standards in terms of flow, connectedness, and ease of use. But it is a handset that Finland should be proud of. It has shipped, it broadly works, and there is a feeling that Jolla the company is constantly at work to improve their handset every day.

Over the air updates are very easy to install, and I’ve seen three of them now – one of them simply to update a few store certificates. There’s no feeling of being left alone with this handset to get on with it, there is a strong focus on interaction with the company, and with the growing Jolla community.

At 960×540, the qHD screen, much like the camera, is acceptable but not stunning, the IPS LCD display has quite a tight viewing angle and the colours can wash out a touch. Those with sharp eyes may spot the pixels, especially with Jolla’s chosen font being rather thin.

The camera in the handset is a passable 8 megapixel shooter at the rear, and a 2 megapixel forward facing camera for video calls. If you are in daylight, or somewhere with strong light, then you’ll get a decent reproduction but low light performance is not a strength of the Jolla handset.

While the handset does have the hardware to run 4G LTE, this is an area where the OS is not yet ready to make use of it. The current build of the SailfishOS is limited to 2G and 3G connectivity while out of Wi-fi, but 4G LTE support is on the roadmap. Here’s the positive and negative of the handset in one breath. It’s not ready yet, but it will be, and when it is you’ll have it delivered to your handset over the air.

If that sound fun, cutting-edge, and something you want to be involved in, then the Jolla is the handset for you.

The Jolla handset (picture: Jolla.com)

The Jolla handset (picture: Jolla.com)

Design-wise I’m enjoying the split nature of the Jolla. Holding the device it looks as if there are two thin sections of plastic together (the screen itself is the now expected Corning Gorilla Glass). The front of the handset is black plastic, with a flat short edge and rounded longer edge. The plastic to the rear has the flat and rounded edges switched around, and in the case of this first retail variant, it came in plain white.

An unboxed Jolla updates the OS over the air (picture: Ewan Spence).

Ewan Spence
Ewan Spence is a blogger, author and writer based out of Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition to his own blog, he has contributed and contributes to BBC News, BBC Magazine (online), The Stage (UK Arts and Entertainment Newspaper), Computing (VNU), iProng Magazine, IT Pro, O’Reilly’s Make Magazine, Palmtop Magazine, Podcast User Magazine, UK Tech and UK Mobile Blognation, PDA Essentials, Mobile Messaging 2.0 and All About Symbian.

He wrote the book Rapid Mobile Enterprise Development for Symbian OS and has audio program commissions for BBC Radio 5 Live – Through the Night and Pods and Blogs, Computer Outlook Talk Radio Show and Talk 107. He also regularly speaks at and moderates panels at high profile technology conferences around the world.
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