Jolla Smartphone Review
Android and iOS – these are the two platforms dominating the mobile landscape, with Windows Phone standing at a distant third place. From the looks of it, that's the way things are going to be in the foreseeable future. Of course, this isn't stopping ambitious start-ups from trying to grab a chunk of the smartphone market with their lesser-known products and alternative operating systems. One of them is Jolla – a Finnish company run by former Nokia employees – which launched its first smartphone in late 2013.
What's unique about the Jolla smartphone is that it is powered by Sailfish OS – a new platform based on the now-forgotten MeeGo operating system. The software is capable of running Android apps and it its user interface relies heavily on gesture-based user interaction. On the hardware side of things, we're looking at a 4.5-inch screen, dual-core Snapdragon 400 SoC, and an 8MP main camera. Surely, anyone who knows their way around a smartphone can tell that a setup like this can't justify the smartphone's rather steep 400 euro (~$550) price tag. But who knows, the software experience might manage to win our hearts. Let's find out if that's the case!
Yin just met its Yang.
“Dude, what phone is that?” – be ready to be asked this question often if you intend on owning Jolla's smartphone. Why? Well, mostly because the handset is bound to be a magnet for attention thanks to its distinctive design. Sure, a beauty prize winner this is not, but it feels fresh, it feels different, it feels… unique. And we like this for it has been a long time since we last handled a smartphone with so much personality. All of these impressions are induced from a device that's built with minimalism in mind – a device lacking any superfluous design features. Even the Jolla logos etched on the phone's back and top sides are made to be as discrete and unobtrusive as possible – a touch that we're very fond of.
Fundamentally, the Jolla smartphone is built around the idea of it being comprised of two components. These are commonly referred to as its two halves – one being pretty much the phone itself, and the other being its removable, polycarbonate-made, scratch- and fingerprint-resistant back cover. Seems odd at first, we know, but there's more to it than meets the eye. You see, a unique trait about the Jolla phone is that it knows what kind of back cover it has been paired with. Once the cover has been recognized with a dose of NFC magic, the software of the device adapts itself – slap a back of a particular color and a matching UI theme will be applied. Alas, this otherwise outstanding feature isn't being used to its fullest potential, or at least not as of this writing. Perhaps one day we might see other, more advanced halves with built-in extras like wireless charging, an extra-large flash for the camera, and all sorts of goodies that add extra functionality and augment the overall user experience. Until then, however, we'll have to settle with just simple, colored polycarbonate covers costing almost $40 apiece.
The Jolla phone is of average size for a contemporary smartphone and we find it easy to handle. Its sharp corners, however, dig into our palm and don't feel very nice. On the bright side of things, our fingers have no troubles operating the well-exposed power and volume keys on the handset's right side. Speaking of buttons, there aren't any on the Jolla phone's front side, as you might have noticed from the pictures. That's because the UI of the OS is gesture-based, which eliminates the need for home, back, or any other dedicated navigation keys, but we'll get to this in a minute. The only thing found under the phone's screen is an RGB LED for notification purposes.
Nothing to hold your breath for.
The Jolla smartphone comes with a 4.5-inch IPS LCD display. As a whole, the screen isn't bad, but it is also far from impressive. Its resolution of just 540 by 960 pixels, despite being sufficient for most tasks, is underwhelming to see on a relatively pricey smartphone at this point in time. Color reproduction is fairly accurate, but blacks are pretty much non-existent. The touchscreen has no super-sensitive properties, which means that one can't use the phone with gloves on. Automatic brightness control is also absent, which is a shame, especially when the screen is unusable outdoors unless its brightness is set to the maximum level.