Nexus 7 with Ubuntu OS – First Look
Not long ago Ubuntu teased us with a video of Ubuntu running natively on an Asus Nexus 7. Part of the info we were given was that they would be demonstrating the install procedure at this years Ubuntu developers summit, and not much more. This weekend Canonical threw us all a bone by updating their wiki with not only the instructions, but also a full installation app and sources.
This is quick look at how far the Canonical Nexus team have progressed in what will no doubt become one of their main devices for Ubuntu Mobile.
Installation is easy, simply download the app from the wiki link and run (remember this is Ubuntu, so no windows or Mac installer), but be aware that this will wipe your device so I would suggest copying a nandroid backup and maybe your Titanium backup folder to an external source before beginning. Now you just inform the app what size N7 you have and it will download the latest image and perform the install for you. Likewise, restoring your device to stock Android is also a breeze, with a download provided on the wiki page which you un-tar, and run from a terminal.
First boot takes a little while as all the system files are un-packed, but before long we get our first glimpse of that very familiar Unity desktop in all its glory. Everything is exactly as it would be on a standard install, except for a couple of default apps being dropped to save space (Libre Office being the most notable). Wifi, Bluetooth, and sound are all working out the bag, but the first ‘glitch’ you will notice is the graphics. Moving the pointer, or starting apps gives a little bit of tear, and the graphics performance needs some additional work. At this point I installed some apps (not everything has been compiled for ARM yet so you don’t get the full Ubuntu repositories at your disposal) and tested out performance and stability. Everything I installed ran well, almost desktop like speeds in most instances, and I have yet to have an app or system crash.
The big problem with Ubuntu on a touch only device is that right now it’s not been designed for touch. While the Unity UI is fine for navigating through, and the On-Board on screen keyboard work well, other elements do not. Window controls, and navigating through Unity dash lenses are neigh on impossible to use. For this reason I switched to using an external mouse and keyboard, and the difference was palpable. Using a standard set of input devices had the OS running perfect (minus the graphic issue I spoke of). Typing documents and browsing the web was a doddle, but that’s not what we or Canonical want. What we want is full Ubuntu install that runs fast, and is useable with the devices main form of input, a touchscreen. I think this is where the Ubuntu team will have to put in the most work as the hardware is almost 100% anyway. I think they will keep the basic design the same for the universal look, but will tweak and add to make the whole thing useable. Touch gestures are a must (obtainable now with third party apps), and a uniform method of navigation.
All in all I was surprised how far along the build is. There is just under six months until Raring Ringtail is released, so there is plenty of time to get it right before a full release is due. Ubuntu is still far from being a keeper on anyones N7, but it is worth a look.