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Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

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By Jonathan Corbet
November 27, 2012
Your editor recently related that, thanks to the generosity of the folks at Google, he had come into possession of a second Nexus 7 tablet. There are many advantages to that state of affairs, not the least of which being that one can install questionable software on one tablet without breaking the other; it's possible to have your tablet and hack it too. Never one to turn down such an opportunity, your editor decided to give the recently announced Ubuntu Nexus 7 port a try.

Why play with Ubuntu on such a device? Even the most ardent Android supporters have sometimes been heard to complain that it's not really very Linux-like above the kernel level. There has been a constant level of interest in more "pure" alternatives like webOS, MeeGo, Nemo, etc., but, so far, none of those alternatives have found any great success in the market. So the availability of Ubuntu 12.10 for a tablet device caught your editor's eye. Might this be a reasonable path to get "real" Linux in a mobile setting?

Like all "Nexus" devices, the Nexus 7 is open from the outset; there is no need to root it via some sort of exploitable vulnerability first. It's a simple matter of plugging the device into the computer and using "fastboot" to unlock it. The unlock operation wipes all the data on the tablet, so, obviously, any needed backups should be made first. The next step is to use fastboot again to flash the "ClockworkMod" recovery image. ClockworkMod allows all kinds of low-level manipulation of the device including backups, operating system installations, and more; it really should be a standard feature of all Nexus devices.

Installation of the Ubuntu port is a straightforward task — assuming one has an Ubuntu desktop system handy. It is just a matter of installing and running the ubuntu-nexus7-installer package. Some rough edges show through quickly enough; the installer cannot figure out the storage capacity of the device and must ask the user to supply that information. More frightening, perhaps, are the scary warnings about not having any other devices attached to the system during the installation; there is, it seems, no way to tell the installer which device to overwrite.

[Usage notice] There is another discouraging note during the installation process: the release as a whole is made available under a noncommercial-use license. The reason given in the license notice is proprietary drivers and codecs from Broadcom and NVIDIA. Such restrictions have the potential to raise all kinds of licensing issues. The problem is not created by Ubuntu, though: they are simply using a rebuilt Android kernel and the drivers that came with it. Be that as it may; your editor came to the conclusion that writing a review constituted fair use rather than commercial use.

The use of the Android kernel raises some other interesting questions, since Ubuntu's user space is designed for mainline kernels. Some quick looking around suggests that Ubuntu is not using the Android-specific interfaces; wakelocks have been configured out, for example. Battery life under Ubuntu is claimed to be comparable to what is obtained with Android, but it's being done with Linux-style power management instead of opportunistic suspend. The Nexus 7 thus provides an ideal platform for comparison of the two approaches to power management; this is an area that bears watching.

[Ubuntu Nexus7 desktop] Once the installation is complete, the tablet reboots and presents the classic Ubuntu screen with the Unity icon bar on the left; there is no login screen. It looks like an interface that was designed for tablets, until one tries to use the tiny icons in the upper right corner. Then, at least for the fat-fingered among us, life starts to get harder. And it doesn't stop there. The simple truth of the matter is that Ubuntu on the Nexus 7 is a painful system to use; it is really only of interest to developers and other masochists at this time.

In fairness, nobody ever claimed otherwise; it is described as an experimental release for those who want to help find and fix problems. So, sure enough, problems do exist. Many of them derive from the fact that the traditional Linux desktop (and Unity remains close enough to "traditional" for the purposes of this discussion) is just not designed around touch-oriented interfaces. Others are simply glitches in the tablet port.

So, for example, one cannot scroll windows with the standard drag gesture; instead, one ends up trying to hit scrollbars in just the right spot. Anything involving a middle or right mouse button requires a complicated dance with the "Onboard" on-screen keyboard. Autocompletion popups swallow keystrokes, so trying to type a URL into Firefox is an exercise in extended pain. The tablet often freezes or goes into a weird unresponsive mode, requiring a reboot — there is a reason that the first entry in the Ubuntu Nexus 7 FAQ is "How do you reset the device when it locks up?". The screen does not auto-rotate (but one can rotate it manually with the xrotate command). Neither Bluetooth nor the camera work. The device often runs out of memory; the known issues page describes the process for configuring zram (an in-memory compression system formerly known as Compcache), which helps a lot. And so on.

[Multiple windows] On the other hand, there's something refreshing about being able to run multiple windows on a tablet display; as these devices grow in both size and resolution, there really is no justification for forcing every application to run in full-screen mode. It is nice to have a true Linux user space with a complete package repository behind it.

The Unity "dash" is meant to be the way users find applications on the tablet. It remains rather painful to use in the touch environment, though; it is slow and the scrolling is difficult to use. Searching for applications in the main screen quickly turns up unwanted things — the opportunity to buy stuff from Amazon, for example. The interaction between the dash and the onscreen keyboard is problematic; it is often not possible to get both onto the screen at once, and, when that does work out, the keyboard tends to cover the part of the window one is trying to use.

Those difficulties notwithstanding, the onscreen keyboard is, it must be said, one of the best your editor has encountered — at least, for the task of typing at terminal emulators and related applications.

[Onscreen keyboard]

Ubuntu's keyboard lacks the word completion and correction features found on the Android keyboard, but it offers other amenities: easy access to special characters, "control" and "alt" keys, arrow keys, function keys, macros, configurable layouts, themes, and more. Your editor has not attempted to use it with Emacs, but the idea is only mildly irrational.

Some concluding thoughts

In the end, while Ubuntu on tablets is essentially unusable now, that could change in the future. Whether it will change in time to be relevant is not clear, though. Beyond the fundamental issues of making the distribution work on this hardware (and, in particular, within the tablet's memory constraints), there needs to be a set of applications that work well with touchscreens. So it is a little discouraging that Ubuntu has no plans to support Android applications; doing so would help to jump-start the distribution on mobile devices. There is also, according to Mark Shuttleworth (as quoted in this OMG! Ubuntu! article), no plan to improve the interface for the upcoming 13.04 release. So a version of Ubuntu that is actually usable on tablets is, at a bare minimum, a full year away; it may, in fact, take rather longer than that.

The situation isn't helped by Canonical's apparent determination to go it alone in this quest. Rather than pick up a system which has a lot of the basics working now (Nemo or Plasma Active, say), Canonical is trying to build up its own "Unity" shell, and it seems to lack a story altogether when it comes to the development of touch-friendly applications. So it's going to take a while, and that is unfortunate: a year or three in the future may well be too late. There are other tablet-oriented systems out there, mostly of the non-free variety, that are ready and grabbing market share now. By the time Ubuntu gets to be a serious contender, there may be no space for another offering, no matter how nice. Linux on the tablet may repeat the history of Linux on the desktop.

So Ubuntu on the tablet has the look of a cool toy that most of us may never play with. But, then, your editor is highly gifted when it comes to being wrong on the Internet. This distribution is certainly a cool hack, fun to play with, and it might just attract contributors and develop quickly into something people want to use. For now, though, your editor will be putting Android back onto this particular device.


(Log in to post comments)

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 17:49 UTC (Tue) by emunson (subscriber, #44357) [Link]

How hard would it be to install Plasma active on the device once Ubuntu is there already? Do the repos have the necessary bits or would it be an exercise in fun with cross-compilation?

Plasma Active

Posted Nov 27, 2012 18:28 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

There are packages in the repo, and, with enough patience, the tablet was able to install the plasma-active package and all it dragged in. I'm not having much luck making it actually work, though. Given the focus thus far, a working Plasma would be as much a matter of luck as anything.

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 13:16 UTC (Wed) by sebas (subscriber, #51660) [Link]

It seems the currently offered set of Plasma Active is a bit old, and not well integrated. So I would not expect much of it. Doing this integration bit will need someone to sit down and work on it. I understand that the Kubuntu team has plans for that in the coming cycle, so maybe, just maybe, there will soon be something more fresh, more complete to play with.

The actual exercise would probably be more of a packaging-and-integration effort than cross-compiling. Most packaging systems make cross-compiling rather easy nowadays (though I have to say that I didn't try this for Debian, it certainly is easy for Mer).

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 30, 2012 14:42 UTC (Fri) by juliank (subscriber, #45896) [Link]

I don't know how far Ubuntu got, but I think that cross compiling most likely is not in a useable state yet. For some stuff like kernels, cross compiling works, but I assume that a lot of packages will not be able to cross compile. There are various reasons for that:

* Running built tests during the package build process
* Not prepared for different host and build architectures
* Build-time dependencies not multi-arch ready

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 6, 2012 22:24 UTC (Thu) by JanC_ (guest, #34940) [Link]

You can use virtualized build systems, running on qemu, to build whatever packages you need (and I'm pretty sure the Kubuntu developers can also get access to the Launchpad armhf build farm for testing).

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 7, 2012 1:47 UTC (Fri) by shmerl (guest, #65921) [Link]

Mer developers are finalizing Mer / Plasma Active adaptation for Nexus 7. Hopefully images will come out sometimes soon.

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 10, 2012 19:25 UTC (Mon) by shadeslayer (subscriber, #68787) [Link]

There are a couple of ongoing things with respect to Plasma Active in the Kubuntu Team. I've taken over the task of packaging Plasma Active 3 from Rodrigo, concurrently we are trying to get maliit into raring. We also have plans to backport PA3 to Quantal. Since we also have KDE Beta's coming out and we have to work on those as well, it's just taking more time due to the limited man power.

Plasma Active on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 12, 2012 4:43 UTC (Wed) by shmerl (guest, #65921) [Link]

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 18:07 UTC (Tue) by xnox (subscriber, #63320) [Link]

It's "Ubuntu Core" not Ubuntu, as the target this cycle to work out the plumbing issues while the device is running a desktop-like workload.

"there is need to root it via some sort of exploitable vulnerability first." I believe "not" is missing in that sentence.

ClockworkMod is not required to be flashed on to the tablet at all. Not sure why that paragraph is included.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 18:15 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

"Ubuntu core" ... whatever ... Of course, the installation page reads "Installing Ubuntu on Nexus 7"...

Yes, there was a missing word with regard to rooting the tablet. Fixed, thanks.

ClockworkMod may not be necessary for Ubuntu, but it increases the power and flexibility of the tablet.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 18:43 UTC (Tue) by job (guest, #670) [Link]

Wouldn't the main use case of this be to dock it with a big screen and a proper (hardware) keyboard?

I can think of several times I could have used that. The price is unbeatable.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 19:09 UTC (Tue) by rvfh (subscriber, #31018) [Link]

Not exactly how tablets are usually used is it?

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 19:35 UTC (Tue) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

define 'usually used' :-)

I know lots of people who have laptops that would probably not notice for weeks if their screen quit working, because they always use them with docking stations or equivalent.

Current tablets are not used with full-size screens and keyboards, but most tablets couldn't run that way, and the common tablet OSs don't support it in any case.

I think that if the OS and hardware supported it, a lot of people would use tablets that way, not all the time, but a surprising amount of the time.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 20:35 UTC (Tue) by rvfh (subscriber, #31018) [Link]

> define 'usually used' :-)
The way 99.99% of their owners use them today ;-)

> I know lots of people who have laptops that would probably not notice for weeks if their screen quit working, because they always use them with docking stations or equivalent.
Agreed, but laptops are 'computers'. They do come with a real keyboard and a greedy powerful processor though... and MS Office as standard :-S

> Current tablets are not used with full-size screens and keyboards, but most tablets couldn't run that way, and the common tablet OSs don't support it in any case.
Defined 'current tablets' :-P
A few have HDMI out already some way or other (MHL, mini-HDMI, WiFi-display) but this is a tablet-to-TV connection mostly, which keeps the tablet in its usual use-case (see below.)

> I think that if the OS and hardware supported it, a lot of people would use tablets that way, not all the time, but a surprising amount of the time.
Tablets are used to play, read and show photos. These use-cases do not require a keyboard. Keyboards are more useful to type text (documents/code.)

I understand that developers may want to use a tablet to code (like you and I do, I presume), but we definitely are a minority. And from my experience, it's not easy. I tried to do that with my Galaxy Nexus (MHL to HDMI screen + bluetooth keyboard) but that just does not fly :-(

(typing this from my laptop using my Galaxy S2 as modem!)

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 29, 2012 9:29 UTC (Thu) by job (guest, #670) [Link]

Well, the support is shoddy and tablets are optimized for touch, so you wouldn't expect that use case to be very common for the moment. But I imagine a chunk of laptop users who don't really want to carry around a screen and keyboard would want to carry one of these instead, and Ubuntu could cater to these users quite easily just by offering the regular desktop GUI.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 29, 2012 11:21 UTC (Thu) by TRS-80 (subscriber, #1804) [Link]

What about using one's phone as a keyboard for one's tablet? Using AndroMouse/RemoteDroid etc.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 19:11 UTC (Tue) by bryce (guest, #16388) [Link]

That would be an interesting use case, however the device has no hdmi or other video connector.

Theoretically it could be done via a DisplayLink adapter, but we've not sorted out how to do that using the combination of a current X stack on the antiquated kernel we're using.

Android Keyboard

Posted Nov 27, 2012 18:52 UTC (Tue) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

take a look at the hacker keyboard https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.pocketw... it gives you a 'real' keyboard (although function keys are in a separate mode)

I've found it wonderful compared to the normal keyboards.

Android Keyboard

Posted Nov 28, 2012 11:06 UTC (Wed) by tialaramex (subscriber, #21167) [Link]

Yup, I use the Hacker Keyboard org.pocketworkstation.pckeyboard that dlang mentions and it's _so_ much better for ad hoc SSH usage from the touch screen than the default keyboard.

If I'm writing email it's a toss-up. 4.2's built-in continuous movement keyboard input works pretty well for writing normal English sentences, while the hacker keyboard is better when I want to get technical.

I'd like the system to be smart enough to always turn on the hacker keyboard when I'm in any sort of terminal type interface, but perhaps that is hard.

Android Keyboard

Posted Dec 1, 2012 0:36 UTC (Sat) by rahvin (subscriber, #16953) [Link]

Another vote. First time I tried to reset something on the server using SSH was an exercise in frustration until I found the hackerkeyboard. A terminal just isn't usuable without the keys that are missing in android and autocomplete just screws everything up. Thankfully hackerkeyboard fixes both and still has big enough keys that the fat fingered among us can usually type on them.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 22:35 UTC (Tue) by iamsrp (subscriber, #84011) [Link]

I bought a Nexus7 specifically to mess about with Ubuntu on. Agreed it's a fair ways off being really usable right now but you can make some headway. Adding an OTG cable and dangling a USB hub with keyboard and mouse off it helps a lot. The you can switch the WM to be, say, metacity, which is a lot more zippy than unity right now.

Once you've done that it's a vaguely reasonable little machine. Still, not something you'd give to your granny but fun for a hack about on.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 22:36 UTC (Tue) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

how does it work with a bluetooth keyboard/mouse?

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 27, 2012 22:47 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

Bluetooth is mostly nonfunctional, though the instructions did say that you can get it to pair with a mouse.

There was some mention of a battery life comparison.

Posted Nov 28, 2012 0:06 UTC (Wed) by liam (subscriber, #84133) [Link]

Did you have a chance to form an idea as to how they compare?

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Nov 28, 2012 0:58 UTC (Wed) by louie (subscriber, #3285) [Link]

Linux on the tablet may repeat the history of Linux on the desktop.

To clarify, "Linux on the tablet, as provided by traditional Linux desktop vendors, may repeat the history of Linux on the desktop." Linux on the tablet, as provided by Android/Google, appears to be doing just fine.

It would be worth unpacking "the history of Linux on the desktop" in this context. Does this mean market failure? Failure to address "regular" user needs? Duplication of effort? Failure to build healthy, self-sustaining hacker communities? Failure to advance some aspect of the Freedom agenda? Simply never having a "year of the Linux desktop"? Something else? I suppose it is a truism, but you have to understand the history before you can avoid repeating it.

(My suspicion is that once the problem is well understand, the solution in many cases might be "build a real development community around open Android code" rather than "try to shoehorn KDE/GNOME/Unity/$FLAVOR_OF_WEEK onto devices." But I could be wrong about that.)

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Nov 28, 2012 11:32 UTC (Wed) by lab (subscriber, #51153) [Link]

> (My suspicion is that once the problem is well understand, the solution in many cases might be "build a real development community around open Android code" rather than "try to shoehorn KDE/GNOME/Unity/$FLAVOR_OF_WEEK onto devices." But I could be wrong about that.)

And my suspicion is that you are right in your understanding.

I have another suspicion though, and that is that current Android devices are getting powerful enough, to satisfy the computing needs of a great deal of users. Which means that given the plugability to suitable input/output devices (screen, keyboard, mice,...), the Android device is all you'll need, a lot/most of the time. And this could be a full Linux desktop distro running on it. I think the Motorola Atrix showed the way in this respect, and I hope it will be furthered.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Nov 28, 2012 11:32 UTC (Wed) by simosx (subscriber, #24338) [Link]

There is a touch of Microsoft having a special relationship with manufacturers, so that no competing operating system could ever have a chance.

When the first netbook from Acer appeared with a Linux distribution, Microsoft came in and cut the deals.
I think the way it works is that if a manufacturer supports only Windows, then they get special discounts from Microsoft for their OEM Windows. Since most manufacturers still depend on their Windows sales, they cave in and exclude Linux.
These deals are obviously kept secret, and I wonder whether a competition authority should look into them.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Nov 30, 2012 12:27 UTC (Fri) by jwakely (subscriber, #60262) [Link]

> When the first netbook from Acer appeared with a Linux distribution, Microsoft came in and cut the deals.

s/Acer/Asus/ unless memory and STFW fail me.

I still use my Asus eeepc 701 daily (but its disk seems to be too small to upgrade beyond Fedora 15 so I'll have to replace it soon, with something ARMish I hope)

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 3, 2012 11:28 UTC (Mon) by njwhite (guest, #51848) [Link]

You can upgrade the disk, though it's not a particularly common form factor. I have a 128GB SSD in my EeePC 901, and hope to not have to retire it for a long time yet.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 3, 2012 14:47 UTC (Mon) by jwakely (subscriber, #60262) [Link]

I did look into doing that, but the instructions I found were a bit vague (I want quite detailed step-by-step instructions, I only reluctantly mod/circuit-bend my hardware!)

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 3, 2012 15:23 UTC (Mon) by jwakely (subscriber, #60262) [Link]

IIRC the instructions I looked at were for adding a second drive, so I wouldn't need to remove the existing one ... just swapping out the existing one is probably pretty easy, maybe I should just do that.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 3, 2012 15:31 UTC (Mon) by njwhite (guest, #51848) [Link]

Hardware wise it was no more complicated than upgrading the RAM on the machine; no major disassembly required. Then so long as you're comfortable enough with booting from USB, copying stuff over, and redoing grub, it will all just work. Note that there are 2 SSDs in the EEE, a 4GB one and a bigger one, its the bigger one that's easy to change - the 4GB one *is* a major operation to replace, by all accounts. Oh, and this all applies to the 901 EEE, I can't be sure that it's the same for the 701 (but probably is). Feel free to email me 527864@njw.me.uk if you have any questions; I'm happy to help.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 1, 2012 0:55 UTC (Sat) by rahvin (subscriber, #16953) [Link]

The deals are structured to avoid this. They are generally structured as marketing assistance instead of competition or discounts. So rather than charging less MS gives them a big pile of money back under the terms that they use it for marketing or they don't give the money back but by advertising for the company on their own dime.

Under most of the worlds laws the only way to prove this as anti-competative would be real documentation of what it's really for like explicit emails indicating it's only for not making Linux laptops. Knowing that, the companies explicitly avoid putting that in writing. The result is everyone knows it's intent, but there wouldn't be a way to prosecute it without someone messing up royally and putting it in writing.

The only situation I've ever seen it prosecuted is where AMD spent the time and money to pursue the civil case where preponderance of the evidence rules instead of beyond a reasonable doubt. The government then used the civil trial evidence to basically force Intel to tack another couple items onto the civil settlement and give the agreement legal force.

"history of Linux on the desktop"

Posted Dec 3, 2012 10:58 UTC (Mon) by Lennie (guest, #49641) [Link]

I don't know, this is partly about marketshare as well.

And Android is supposedly gonna have a larger marketshare in number of units sold in 2014 in comparison to all Windows devices combined: tablet, phone and desktop:

"...in early 2014, less than two years from now, Android installed base will exceed total Windows installed base, PCs and smartphones and tablets, all counted together."

http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2012/08/smar...

Obviously, this does not make the Windows market a small market.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 6:51 UTC (Wed) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

Regarding the hardware -- lack of HDMI and the problems with bluetooth certainly limit the utility of Linux on the tablet.

Are the bluetooth problems related to Google's throwing out bluez in favour of an inadequately tested Broadcom thing for Jelly Bean 4.2? If so, rolling back to bluez would seem the way to go.

What I would like from a tablet is the ability to run android AND a linux environment. So a chroot works nicely for me. It's a laptop when I want it to be one, and a tablet (including kindle app, Angry Birds, and whatnot) when I want it to be one.

Microsoft of all people seems to have figured out that many people would want a tablet that is usable as a laptop. I dearly hope that the Surface or Surface Pro (a) succeed and (b) can run linux eventually. Some new/upcoming models from Lenovo, Samsung and others also look promising.

I'm even seriously considering a Surface Pro with Windows 8, and putting cygwin on it! It may be good enough for my mobile needs. It depends on the price, however.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 8:34 UTC (Wed) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

Microsoft of all people seems to have figured out that many people would want a tablet that is usable as a laptop.

Not really. What Microsoft does... This is typical reaction of an incumbent to a disruptive technology: Microsoft (as well as many others) fully understand that some time in the future tablets with attached keyboards and/or docks will replace laptops. And thus Microsoft created and tries to push said hybrid. The problem? Tablets are not ready yet! Sure, in a few years when problems with said hybrids will be ironed out Microsoft solution will be as attractive as Android solution or iOS solution, but till that happens it'll be poor tablet and poor laptop replacement (look on Surface reviews!).

The exact same story already happened with Meego/Maemo/Sailfish/Whatever-it's-called-today and Blackberry. Nokia and RIM have understood that eventually mobile phones will be replaced with a smartphones, but they wanted the phone which is good as a phone (works few days without recharge, has physical buttons for easy use as a phone, etc) and good as a smartphone, too (have some apps, can run many of them simultaneously, etc). As a result they created the things which were problematic when used as a phone and also not great when used as a smartphone. We observe the result, isn't it?

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 9:04 UTC (Wed) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

OK, I have my own opinion about that. I have never used a Blackberry but they were clearly brilliant at what they did. I have a Nokia E63 with a qwerty keyboard, which I switched back to recently after a few months of android. For texting and e-mail, it's absolutely outstanding. For web browsing, too, it is adequate. Steve Jobs with his reality distortion field convinced the world they don't need physical keypads. He was wrong and they are wrong. Samsung has already successfully brought back the stylus (the Galaxy Note lineup is an astonishing hit and now other manufacturers are following suit, including Microsoft), and I am hoping there are more and better phones in the future that have Blackberry-quality or Nokia-quality qwerty keypads.

Back to tablet-laptop hybrids -- it depends what you use the laptop for. What we already have on the market (Android tablets or iPads with 3rd-party keyboard-cases) is already very useful to many people. Here in India I see many field workers carrying around cheap ($150) 7" android tablets in cheap ($10) USB keyboard cases, as an alternative to laptops. Much lighter, the battery lasts all day, there's internet everywhere via 3G or GPRS, and what comparable product can you get for $160? It makes a huge amount of sense for these people, who only need e-mail and a web browser. If you could also have productivity software, it would make sense to many more people. With Windows RT, you can have office software that's, if not the same as the "full" (Windows 8) version, at least "good enough". So I do think it is going to be very attractive to many people. And with Android, you can do it under a linux chroot (I do) but the manufacturers are missing a serious trick by not pushing this hard enough or pre-configuring it to make it easy for users. Or maybe they think QuickOffice and such things are "good enough".

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 16:47 UTC (Wed) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

Steve Jobs with his reality distortion field convinced the world they don't need physical keypads. He was wrong and they are wrong.

I doubt it. I had couple of Android phones with keyboards but my last one lacks it: it's just does not add enough value. Sure, for some rare users they may be a boon, but for vast majority of users they are not needed or only needed occasionally. After all most early models of Android phones had a keyboard - but people stopped buying them en masse.

What we already have on the market (Android tablets or iPads with 3rd-party keyboard-cases) is already very useful to many people. Here in India I see many field workers carrying around cheap ($150) 7" android tablets in cheap ($10) USB keyboard cases, as an alternative to laptops.

Right. But ask yourself: why they are using Android-based tablets and not Ubuntu-based tablets? Answer is obvious: they still want tablets. With optional, used on special occasions only, keyboard.

Keyboard may be useful for texting or e-mail, but for many other uses they are not necessary and you need large screen instead (book reading, web browsing, etc). In many cases sliding keyboard will be awkward.

Sure, for some people Blackberry is "enough", but the fact that RIM is dying shows that such niche is just not big enough.

If you could also have productivity software, it would make sense to many more people. With Windows RT, you can have office software that's, if not the same as the "full" (Windows 8) version, at least "good enough". So I do think it is going to be very attractive to many people.

It'll be superattractive and will get fantastic reviews in press, but there will be no sales for a few more years at least. And you said why yourself:

Much lighter, the battery lasts all day, there's internet everywhere via 3G or GPRS, and what comparable product can you get for $160?

Windows RT is unwieldy (by tablet standards!) and, most of all, expensive. Microsoft Surface is fragile and too large. Are these problems unfixable? Of course not! They are obviously fixable - but while Microsoft is fixing them Android vendors and developers are not sleeping, too.

But the striking difference is that Android vendors are selling stuff and people are learning to use Android while Windows RT is stalling.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 17:14 UTC (Wed) by k3ninho (subscriber, #50375) [Link]

>>Steve Jobs with his reality distortion field convinced the world they don't need physical keypads. He was wrong and they are wrong.
>I doubt it. I had couple of Android phones with keyboards but my last one lacks it: it's just does not add enough value. Sure, for some rare users they may be a boon, but for vast majority of users they are not needed or only needed occasionally. After all most early models of Android phones had a keyboard - but people stopped buying them en masse.

The Android developer previews originally had keyboards - the Nexus line. For me, I want a real keyboard for haptic feedback and to avoid losing screen-space to pictures of a keyboard. I don't think either of us can speak for 'most people' due to a lack of data, but I know I'm an unserviced market niche.

K3n.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 22:37 UTC (Wed) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

The Android developer previews originally had keyboards - the Nexus line.

Nexus never had a keyboard but both first Android phone (HTC G1) and first popular Android phone (Motorola Droid) had keyboards.

You still can find plenty of devices with keyboards (such as Droid 4, or Samsung Galaxy Chat), but they are not as popular as phones without keyboard.

I don't think either of us can speak for 'most people' due to a lack of data, but

Yes we can. Early in Android history most phones had QWERTY keybords (not a hard feat if you'll recall that for half a year 100% of Android phones had QWERTY because there was exactly one Android model - but even in 2010 there were dozens of them). But they were not popular. People abandoned them and even after that the surviving models failed to beat any sales records (which would be natural consequence if there are steady niche of users who refuse to use smartphone without physical keyboard).

This means that while, perhaps, some people still prefer smartphones with a physical keyboard there are not enough of them to count. Smartphones are mass market products. If you don't have tens of thousand buyers (at least tens of thousands!) then you don't have buyers period. And smartphones with keyboards don't have these buyers. Or rather: they do have buyers (new models are introduced regularly), they just don't have as much buyers and non-qwerty smartphones (there are less models and these are less popular then similar non-qwerty smartphones).

For me, I want a real keyboard for haptic feedback and to avoid losing screen-space to pictures of a keyboard. I know I'm an unserviced market niche.

This is strange thing to say: there plenty of Android phones with QWERTY. Enough to create lists of best phones with keyboards. If people are buying Motorola Droid Razr or Samsung Galaxy Note instead then that just means that most of them want thin and light phone or phone with large screen more then they want keyboard.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 29, 2012 4:32 UTC (Thu) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

For some reason these days it's only the cheap phones (like the Galaxy Chat) that have a qwerty keypad. Top-end phones don't. Either there's a market failure, or there is a market, but the buyers don't want to spend a lot of money. Assuming the latter hypothesis, maybe there's a lesson here. If you're the sort who wants the phone to be a useful device, you probably value function over flashy features, you don't care about smooth animation or CPU-intensive games. And you will buy a Galaxy Chat for a fraction the price of a Galaxy S III. You will not buy a more expensive SIII with a physical keypad, because you'd rather spend the money on something more useful.

(Disclosure: I'd buy a Galaxy Chat right now, except I bought a lesser-brand device that developed charging problems within six months and is currently being repaired. This is the Micromax A78 and its form factor is superb -- its screen is as large as the older iPhones, its qwerty keypad is not quite as good as Nokia/Blackberry but still far better than typing on glass, and it runs everything I need. Too bad the big guys don't produce anything like it.)

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 29, 2012 15:09 UTC (Thu) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

This is the Micromax A78 and its form factor is superb -- its screen is as large as the older iPhones, its qwerty keypad is not quite as good as Nokia/Blackberry but still far better than typing on glass, and it runs everything I need. Too bad the big guys don't produce anything like it.

Well, it's Dual SIM, too - which means most lucrative sales channels are closed for it. Which automatically makes it low-cost device which requires low-spec hardware (you can not use high-end components and sell the result for cheap).

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 30, 2012 4:40 UTC (Fri) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

In most of the world, you buy the phone separately from your phone plan, and a dual sim is an advantage, not a disadvantage. There are upmarket dual-sim phones from major brands too, like the Samsung Galaxy S Duos. and some HTC Desire models. In short, dual sim has nothing to do with anything.

It is true that only low-cost devices seem to have qwerty keypads these days. I attribute it to brainwashing by Jobs, and/or cost-consciousness on the part of the relatively discerning customers who use the phone primarily as a communication device and demand a qwerty keypad.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 30, 2012 19:11 UTC (Fri) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

In most of the world, you buy the phone separately from your phone plan, and a dual sim is an advantage, not a disadvantage.

How do you measure "most of the world"? By number of users or by amount of money spent on phones?

Most affluent customers live in countries where carriers sell mobile phones tied to the contract - and of course you'll not see dual sim phones sold by carriers any time soon. And makes no sense whatsoever to produce high-end phones for cheap countries like China or India.

There are upmarket dual-sim phones from major brands too, like the Samsung Galaxy S Duos and some HTC Desire models.

Is this some kind of joke?

Samsung Galaxy S Duos (July 2012):
480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches
768 MB RAM
4 GB internal memory
1 GHz Cortex-A5 (single core)

HTC Desire VC (June 2012):
480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches
512 MB RAM
4 GB storage
1 GHz Cortex-A5 (single core)

HTC Desire SV (November 2012):
480 x 800 pixels, 4.3 inches
768 MB RAM
4 GB storage
1 GHz Cortex-A5 (dual core, finally, but still obsolete architecture)

Compare it with old, obsolete, and no loner top-of-the-line phone of 2011:

Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II (February 2011):
480 x 800 pixels, 4.3 inches
1 GB RAM
16GB/32GB storage
1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 (dual core)

All these upmarket dual-sim phones are still less powerful then by now almost two years old phone! Heck, they are still stuck with WVGA when top-of-the-line phones had WXGA for more then year:

Samsung Galaxy Nexus (October 2011):
720 x 1280 pixels, 4.65 inches
1 GB RAM
16 GB storage
1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 (dual-core)

In short, dual sim has nothing to do with anything.

If "dual sim has nothing to do with anything" then why all dual-sim phones have two years old specs?

It is true that only low-cost devices seem to have qwerty keypads these days. I attribute it to brainwashing by Jobs, and/or cost-consciousness on the part of the relatively discerning customers who use the phone primarily as a communication device and demand a qwerty keypad.

WTF?

Motorola DROID 4 (January 2012)
540 x 960 pixels, 4.0 inches
1 GB RAM
16 GB
1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 (dual-core)

It's resolution is fine for it's size even in 2012 and it's still more powerful then all the upmarket dual-sim phones

I'm not sure why people are not buying high-end QWERTY devices, but that's not because there are no offers: there are still some decent QWERTY phones but they are ever less popular. There will probably no more offers in the 2013, but that's because people are not buying them.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 6, 2012 23:27 UTC (Thu) by JanC_ (guest, #34940) [Link]

Most affluent customers live in countries where carriers sell mobile phones tied to the contract [...].

Although in many countries subsidized phones are sold that are tied to a contract, usually they are not simlocked, or the simlock is removed on simple request (sometimes a small fee needs to be paid for unlocking). Of course, unlocking the phone doesn't cancel the contract, so you still have to pay the subscription fee for the length of the contract (whether you use that particular service or not) or buy off the contract.

Also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SIM_lock

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 9:14 UTC (Wed) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

ps -- what, exactly, in the Surface reviews do you allude to to support your point? The two negatives I see are (1) lack of software (but that will be fixed very quickly; already I see many of the popular Android apps have Windows RT versions); (2) some issues with cracking of the keyboard cover. Again, that ought to get fixed, if it is a widespread issue. Otherwise, the reviews I've seen are glowing.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 13:33 UTC (Wed) by simosx (subscriber, #24338) [Link]

off-topic: "Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster claims Microsoft's store had 47 percent less foot traffic than the nearby Apple store."
http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57554073-75/a-black-fri...

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 16:17 UTC (Wed) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

Otherwise, the reviews I've seen are glowing.

You mean Gotta say love that SURFACE! Have bought 12 already for Christmas gifts #FavoriteThings… via Twitter for iPad reviews? Of course these will be glowing: pecunia non olet.

Serious reviews all note that two modes are confusing and many things are really hard to do without keyboard (and with keyboard it's hard to use these things with just one hand). With typical (and quite justified!) verdict: Surface is a fantastic promise, and holds fantastic potential. But while potential is worth your attention, it's not worth your paycheck. Surface RT gets so many things right, and pulls so many good things together into one package. But it is undercooked. For all Microsoft's claims to hardware perfection and software revolution, Surface RT is undone by too many little annoyances, cracks, and flaws. After the initial delight of an evolved tablet wears off, you'll groan—because Surface brings the appearance of unity, but it's really just the worst of both worlds. Instead of trading in your laptop and tablet for Surface, a cocktail of compromises that fracture the whole endeavor, you'll miss them both urgently.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Dec 3, 2012 11:06 UTC (Mon) by Lennie (guest, #49641) [Link]

ARM devices sold with Windows 8 will not be easy to install Linux on.

As the UEFI "secure boot" is always enabled by the OEM because Microsoft demanded it and there is no "BIOS-option" to turn it off.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 13:23 UTC (Wed) by njwhite (guest, #51848) [Link]

Eugh, that usage notice is horrible. Isn't this exactly what free software should be delivering us from? It really distresses me that Google's "Nexus" line, despite being explicitly not user-hostile, don't demand acceptable terms for their hardware drivers. But then I suppose it's in their short-term interest to keep things on Android. Great...

I'd like to imagine that the explicit disregard for peoples' freedom when it comes to phones and tablets would discourage people from buying them, and have the knock-on effect of doing less environmental and social damage (here meaning poor labour conditions). But apparently not.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 22:48 UTC (Wed) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

Are you sure you don't come from some parallel universe? On my Earth most buyers are not even ready to do the first baby step in the fight for "for peoples' freedom" and stop buying phones from carriers (at least in most affluent countries: somehow people in dirt poor and oppressed countries value their individual freedom more and buy unlocked phones).

This means that people are not really customers as far as phones are concerned: carriers are.

If people are not ready to do such an obvious first step in the fight for freedom with obvious costs and gains then what hope is there for more vague things like "acceptable terms for their hardware drivers"?

Remember that Openmoko was announced year before Android. Heck, first hardware for Openmoko was released before Android's announce! But carriers refused to buy it and as was noted above end users refuse to become customers for the mobile phones thus it's fate was obvious from the very beginning.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 28, 2012 23:27 UTC (Wed) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Well, carrier-independent phones are very popular in Europe (in both Western and Eastern ones).

Mostly only people from US/Canada/UK are in thrall to phone companies.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 29, 2012 20:38 UTC (Thu) by BenHutchings (subscriber, #37955) [Link]

... people in dirt poor and oppressed countries value their individual freedom more ...

That's a very broad sweep! But practically, carrier locking is associated with carrier subsidy, a form of credit. Poorer people are less likely to be considered creditworthy, and poorer countries are less likely to have a norm of carrier subsidy.

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 30, 2012 19:17 UTC (Fri) by khim (subscriber, #9252) [Link]

Many European countries are usually considered "not-all-that-free", "socialist" countries by Americans but many of them are quite affluent... and they don't sell their freedom by signing two—years contracts. Strange, isn't it?

Ubuntu on the Nexus 7

Posted Nov 30, 2012 19:38 UTC (Fri) by Klavs (guest, #10563) [Link]

"Many European countries are usually considered "not-all-that-free", ""socialist" countries by Americans but many of them are quite affluent... "and they don't sell their freedom by signing two—years contracts. Strange, "isn't it?

Well - in Denmark atleast, it's most likely primarily because it was deemed illegal to bind a customer more than 6 months - otherwise most would probably be stupid enough to do it, to save a dime in the short run.

Fortunately we have some consumer protection :)

Do we need Ubuntu on a tablet?

Posted Nov 29, 2012 13:59 UTC (Thu) by NAR (subscriber, #1313) [Link]

I might be old fashioned or fat fingered or just plain clumsy, but after some experience with a qwerty keyboard on a phone and with the iPhone on-screen keyboard my opinion is that these are totally useless for productive work. Writing a 140 character text message with text prediction is OK, but typing anything longer is painfully slow. So I don't really get why would it be useful to get all Ubuntu packages on a tablet when the software in these packages was designed for mouse and keyboard interaction and as such, would be useless on a touchscreen interface.

Of course, with a real keyboard the tablet could be used for work too, but in that case it would be not that much lighter or smaller than a notebook. So the use case I can imagine is that at work (or home) people plug the tablet into the docking station and use it like a computer, then when they commute between work and home, use the tablet for browsing. I'm not that convinced that pros of the "desktop application on tablet" over "app on a smartphone" would cancel the cons of the tablet size (and weight) over the smartphone. A smartphone still fits into a pocket, but a tablet requires a backpack...

Do we need Ubuntu on a tablet?

Posted Nov 29, 2012 14:16 UTC (Thu) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

there is a huge difference between using a qwerty keyboard on a 4" screen and using the same keyboard on a 10" screen.

I've seen a lot of people with ipads typing away happily (and rapidly) on their on-screen keyboards making notes in meetings over the years. personally, I'll bring along a fold-up keyboard for any serious note taking, but I'm the type who uses the old IBM clicky keybards when possible.

Do we need Ubuntu on a tablet?

Posted Nov 29, 2012 18:26 UTC (Thu) by zlynx (subscriber, #2285) [Link]

I love large clicky keyboards myself, but yes, it is perfectly possible to type 40 wpm on an iPad onscreen keyboard when it is laid out sideways. It's easier to type on than most netbooks.

Do we need Ubuntu on a tablet?

Posted Dec 6, 2012 14:26 UTC (Thu) by redden0t8 (guest, #72783) [Link]

Exactly. Another thing to remember is the iPad's aspect ratio is less long-and-narrow, so you loose less of the screen to the keyboard in landscape mode. I wish more Android makers would do the same...


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