Jolla Smartphone Review
Colorful, minimalist, but navigation gestures take a long while to get used to.
Remember MeeGo? Don't feel bad if you don't. Announced jointly by Intel and Nokia in 2010, it was a Linux-based OS that never really achieved any commercial success. What does that have to do with Jolla's smartphone? Well, the handset happens to be the first to launch runing Sailfish OS, which is an emerging platform based on that same MeeGo operating system. In other words, we're dealing with an underdog mobile operating system built upon a product that flopped. But let's give it a chance anyway.
The user interface of Sailfish OS is colorful, minimalist, and pleasant to look at. It is also very different from iOS, Android, or Windows Phone for it is controlled mostly using gestures instead of physical or on-screen buttons. Thankfully, these are explained to the user when the phone is turned on for the first time, and one is free to launch the guide again at the later time since it is available as an app.
We've been using the Jolla smartphone for several days now, and as much as we're trying to force ourselves to like its gesture-based navigation, we're still finding it a tad frustrating. This might change given enough usage time, but currently, we can't say that we're feeling right at home. If you're coming from iOS, Android, or Windows Phone, prepare to face a steep learning curve.
Still, there are things about Sailfish that we like, including some of the implemented gestures. The phone can be woken up from stand-by with a double tap on the screen, and the notifications panel is at the bottom, which makes getting to it very convenient.
Widgets are absent from Sailfish OS. When you minimize an app, however, it goes to a separate screen where it can be interacted with using gestures or buttons placed on its tile – a very elegant solution. Speaking of minimizing apps, Sailfish is built to support live multitasking, which is definitely an advantage. In other words, minimized apps are still active, not frozen indefinitely.
Basics are covered, but there's a serious lack of apps.
The list of apps available on the Jolla store is very short. This shouldn't be a problem, however, since Sailfish can run Android software. Right? Well, it isn't that simple. You see, to get Android apps onto the Jolla smartphone, we had to download the Yandex app store, which currently has only about 85,000 apps. Many popular apps are missing from its catalog – there's Fruit Ninja and Twitter, but Angry Birds and the official Facebook client, for example, aren't available. Furthermore, Android support still seems to be rather shaky, so expect games to run at mediocre framerates. App crashes aren't out of the question.
As for the stock Sailfish OS apps, the dialer and the contacts list are both minimalist, without much going on in terms of advanced features. But they get their job done and we don't find them lacking anything of essence. Now would be a good time to mention that Sailfish OS plays along well with Google, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, so we had no troubles importing our existing contacts. As soon as we logged in, new emails and notifications from our FB feed started popping up in the notifications panel.
The messaging application is used to send plain old SMS messages, but it has Facebook messenger integration as well so it can be used to shoot free texts over to your FB buddies. One annoying thing about it is the lack of a button for attaching items to the message. To send a picture, we have to use the Gallery app instead.
The phone's on-screen keyboard is well laid out, with large enough keys and built-in word prediction. The absence of a landscape layout, however, is puzzling.
Processor and memory
The dual-core Snapdragon 400 gets the job done.
There's nothing in terms of processor specs that the Jolla smartphone can impress us with. Under its hood ticks a 1.4GHz Snapdragon 400 SoC with two Krait 200 CPU cores and Adreno 305 graphics. One gig of RAM can also be found there. The good news, however, is that Sailfish runs fine on this otherwise mid-range hardware configuration. The OS is responsive and doesn't stutter, although the UI's framerate is clearly far from reaching the 60fps mark. With a little effort, you should even be able to run some not very demanding games on the device.
Storage space on board the Jolla phone is limited to 16GB, out of which 13.8GB are available. Those who need extra space are free to pop in a microSD card in there.
Web Browser and connectivity
Core web browser functionality, no bells and whistles.
Sailfish comes with a pre-loaded web browser built on top of Mozilla's open source Gecko browser engine. All in all, the app gets the job done, but it is frustrating to use with its unintuitive interface and it can be slow with heavier pages. Navigation on our home page, for example, is hindered by the slow page rendering while scrolling or zooming. The browser's list of features is somewhat short. You can bookmark pages, Google stuff from the address bar, open multiple tabs (once you figure out how, that is), share pages, and that's pretty much it. Text doesn't inflate so get used to doing lots of pinch-ins and pinch-outs while surfing the web. Text reflow is also out of the question. Thankfully, Opera Mini is available for download from the Yandex store – some users might find it easier to use than the stock browser app.
The Jolla smartphone is a 4G-enabled handset with LTE support for a limited number of carriers “on 6 continents”. Naturally, 3G HSPA connectivity is also supported, although we aren't sure what's the peak downlink rate of the phone's radio. You also get all the mandatory stuff, such as Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with GLONASS compatibility, and Bluetooth 4.0. Technically, NFC is also present, but it is used for pairing the handset with its case and we couldn't get it to do anything beyond that. Full-blown NFC support, however, could come one day through the use of an other half built for the purpose.