5 Months with my Jolla. I thought, this could be a good time to write a review, and since the Jolla Sailors are spread all over the world (okay… maybe mainly around Europe) I think, doing this in english is probably more reasonable than doing it in German. So… here is my kind of a review…
In the first part, I will not go technically but more about how it feels to be a Jolla user… the phone itself is very much in the background there, you will see. Later I will go to the more technical side.
Going for Jolla
Actually, I decided to get the Jolla just days after I first heard of it. I pre-ordered early 2013 and waited for months to hold my Jolla in hands. Words like…
…somehow triggered my „I wanna have that“ feeling, being a Linux enthusiast since years and also considering all those stories around the big players such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, I thought it was a good idea to place your bet on a european small size company who is open minded and enthusiastic about what they are doing.
Moreover, I realized quickly that it was quite easy to get in touch with the guys and girls from Jolla. Present in all kinds of social networks from Twitter over facebook (which I don’t use) up to even Diaspora* these guys didn’t only post (rare) news but also reacted on requests or simply chatted around all kinds of stuff… somehow the feeling is quite close. Even today I still find some of the sailors giving some feedback on my tweets or discussing whatever is up to date in the social networks in a very private kind of style.
On the other hand however, what made me wonder from the very beginning, the „Newsflow“ from Jolla comes quite slowly. I remember that between the pre-order and the delivery of the phone I found maybe some 7 press releases on the Jolla Homepage. Still today there are not more than 11 official press releases in the press section of the Jolla Homepage. Subsequently, the Jolla phone remained very much a community insider-tip and still today, after being in the market nearly half a year, everybody who recognized that my phone is somehow different, has no idea, what „Jolla“ is, what „Sailfish“ is.
As much as I like it to have something special in my hands, as much I am in deep sorrow as obviously Jolla just cannot manage to make the common public aware about their phone… maybe this is very much different in Finland, however, in Germany Jolla nearly nowhere really appears… except for some specialized magazines who of course write about it (and – by the way – very positively), but an article in a Linux-Mag will usually not reach „common public“.
On the other hand, also inside the Boat, I can only say, that as good as Jolla is in being present in the social networks, as poor it is in having a feeling about what to communicate how and when. Some samples:
- One first thing that did truly upset those, who preordered and received a cute „I am the first one“-T-Shirt was, that Jolla started the first Shop sales in Finland already weeks before all pre-orders have been even shipped. It felt somehow annoying. I had that Shirt with me for months, I told my friends about it, about being „the first one“. And then I found myself at first being the second one, as the first units had to be picked up personally in Helsinki, then I found myself being the third one, as pre-orders in Finland were served first, and in the end I found myself being even only the fourth one, as even people who didn’t pre-order could buy it in Helsinki DNA stores before all pre-orders were served. Emotionally that was quite a „hit in the face“ moment for me and I am sure also for many other „First ones“. (Not to talk about those guys from outside EU who pre-ordered and still wait for their phones as far as I know)
- From the first day, Jolla communicated to be „truly open“. Now I completely understand, that parts of the system remain closed during development, however, it seems that even after 5 months in the market, after leaving the beta stage of the software, parts are closed and also no roadmap is visible what to open up and how to open up. Being no developer, this is not a top priority for me. However, being an open source enthusiast, it is. Actually for me the openness of the Jolla was one of the main attractions and finding that somehow it is not visibly moving towards that direction, is disturbing a little bit. For developers of course this seems more crucial and so some people start complaining in the networks which also somehow damages the community feeling… In my understanding, this is not on the account of those, who complain now, but on the account of some poor communication.
- In general, it is hard to figure out the next steps. I mean… having in hand a phone which definitely, from software side, is still under development, I would expect, even as a normal user, to receive some frequent information, what is happening. Of course, I don’t want the sailors to spend most of their time with distributing information. However, a short weekly update or biweekly update for all Jolla users would be nice. Any kind of a newsletter or a frequently updated Website would be enough to keep the „it is moving“ feeling between the updates. How far is development for next update? What will be next major steps? You can find this information often, by accessing the developers mailing lists or at Jolla „together“, the community, where users and developers exchange ideas, informations and plans. Another could source is the Jolla IRC channel. Get in, ask your question and usually you’ll receive an answer quickly (by the way, there is a very nice native IRC client in the store!) However, one cannot expect that the average joe user permanently keeps track there. And so Jolla is leaving people behind who wait for their May update, not knowing, that it has been merged to come as a huge update together with the June update.
Well, at least one thing can be said about Jolla communication. They do not promise too much. Being „wounded“ as a WeTab-owner, that famous iPad-Killer-Tablet which was promoted in Germany several years ago and then came out in such early beta stage, that it was basically unusable, I am quite happy as to date, regarding usability and abilities, Jolla never promised considerably more than it could deliver.
On the other hand… it seems like in many places there was no information at all pushed actively into the market. It is always somehow a search and struggle, to find the information you want and even dedicated Jolla-Blogs in the Internet usually do not find enough material to have daily or even weekly news.
Summarizing I would say, that being really interested and searching the Info I want, I am truly happy with my phone, with the community and the general feeling I have, being part of this new way of mobile phone and mobile OS. Some things could be better, everything could be worse. Never forget, Jolla is a small company, and for sure a company mainly focused on technology and not on PR. Regarding PR, there is still a long way to go, but please, concentrate on the technology side first 🙂
I already did write a lot, so this one won’t go too deep into detail. However, some words are needed in any case.
The Jolla phone, basically, has the appearance of an average Smartphone. 4.5″ screen is a nice size, not too small, not too big. The quality of the screen is good I would say, nice and clear colors, good sharpness. However, outdoors with sunlight it seems a little too weak… you permanently find yourself turning around so that your shadow falls on the screen and makes it readable in sunlight. Fortunately, I did not face any problems with the hardware. Some people complained about contact problems with the battery and in the beginning the TOH recognition sucked the battery empty quite quickly. However, this was solved from software side quickly.
Usability of the OS is nice. Gesture based controls make a lot of sense, however, still some applications interpret things in different ways. Whilst one app uses the spot-indicator and multi-column layouts others take the swipe-down menu to go from one function to the other. Others mix it up or use both. So sometimes it is slightly confusing but you always find your way. Finding option menus which appear on long-press of some elements is nearly only possible by try and error as there is no indication for such.
What I am also missing is somehow a swipe-in-from-side action for the app drawer. Scrolling down 3 screens through the drawer it would be nice to get back quickly to the home screen. Instead: nothing. Intuitively you try to push away the app drawer, but nothing happens…
A cute thing for developers of information- or text-based apps is, that the layout of those apps fluently goes together with the OS layout itself. Going to Tweetian, Messenger or Email app, all more or less gives you the same integrated look & feel. Basically it doesn’t seem like switching from App to App but it seems like switching from function to function. It all seems like a part of „Jolla“. This of course gives a good usability. On the other hand it reduces possiblities for a distinctive branding, so probably this predefined design also makes it hard to port very distinctive Apps with some corporate branding…. just a thought..
The Jolla runs quite fluently. Overall performance is never somehow poor in my opinion, everything looks and feels very smooth usually. There have been problems when battery was running low, but these have been fixed with one of the recent updates. Generally it is a lot of fun to see Sailfish develop. Each few weeks an update approaches and brings new features or (in most cases) better functionality.
One very nice feature is the support of Android Apps. Basically, you can install all kinds of Android Apps on your Jolla. Personally I partially use the Twitter App (whilst I mainly write with native Jolla Tweetian), I have my TV program, Skype is running well, and WordPress to remotely maintain my blog when I am out. All those are running without any problems, very smooth. If you want to install Google Apps like Google+ for example, you need to more or less completely install the google environment as everything there depends on each other. Therefore I waived this option and use the Web-App to access Google+. However, generally, if you can live with Google all around your Android environment on Jolla, it is possible, even the Google Appstore can be installed with a little workaround.
BUT…. also native Apps are meanwhile getting more, whilst we have to admit, that after the first wave, it became slower these days. There are two main sources to get Apps for your Jolla. One is of course the Jolla Store, which offers native Jolla of course but also some Android Apps. The other one is Warehouse, which is connecting to OpenRepos and hence is often quicker than Jolla Store with new Apps, also offers some more Apps as it has no library restrictions – so you can find some tools there, which will probably never find their way to Jolla Store. However, there is a reason for this…. as they also have the potential to bust your device… well… who cares?! 😉
My personal highlights are Apps like Tweetian as native Twitter App, which however still misses some details, then we have friends for Facebook, MeeCast, a nice weather App and of course all standards like Notes, Task Lists and Calendar, several network and system tools, remote controls for media players, games… just too much to mention. From warehouse meanwhile you can even get a TOR feature for the native Jolla Browser which gets you browsing the web with TOR Network. What is definitely missing are „commercial“ free apps like TV Programs or company related Promo-Apps which can be very useful in some cases. However, this is perfectly covered by the Android support so finally you get a full package here.
Of course you need to get used to it, that your phone is following two different usability models. When you are in an Android App you will have the look & feel of Android, it is even possible, with some deficits, to install an Android launcher and use that for your android experience on Jolla.
The hardware is generally good. I have to admit, that „The Other Half“ feels a bit cheap, however, considering the functionality and exchangeability that should not be a problem. Also I can say that even after many many times changing TOH they are still all in shape and fitting like the first day. I would be happy about an aluminum TOH though, as the plastic really gives not that kind of qualitiy haptics I would like to find… Well, I solved the issue with Lastucase. A nice TOH with permanently glued on wooden back and a leather cover for the screen. Gives a very nice finnish finish (and touch). I wrote about it in German earlier.
Regarding TOH however I am still waiting for the „Wow“-Effect. There are certainly some prototypes out there, with qwerty keyboard or OLED screens… however, nothing seems to be marketed yet whilst this was one of the main features promised for the phone. I mean… frankly speaking, what Jolla has out so far are some different colors which enable to download some specific Ambience, but it even took until the latest update to make it possible for the user to modify those Ambiences and therewith make the change of TOH somehow useful…
Clearly: I consider the possibilities of the TOH one of the main Aces that Jolla can play to access the mainstream market with that „make it your own“ feeling. But maybe it is also part of the strategy to stay somehow a „Geek Phone“… who knows.
However, even for a Geek it will be frustrating to find the hardware outdated once the first cool TOH gadgets appear. Please Jolla, do something there!
In any case I can say one thing: Even though not everything is sparkling gold, I am happy and somehow proud to be part of the Jolla movement and even though I am sometimes desperately waiting for Infos or Updates, I remain patient, as I know, something is there to come. Jolla is my main mobile device since the first day and even though there are some hooks in there, there is nothing which can’t be solved with a quick reboot and a smile in your face.