Today, Canonical, the makers of the popular Linux distro, Ubuntu, released a new project for all of the world to see. This project is a crowd funded Android/Ubuntu superphone (a phone that lives up to the name). The Ubuntu Edge is currently available for backing on the Indiegogo page with a target goal of $32 million dollars. Keep in mind that for the first 24 hours, they are allowing up to 5,000 people get one of these devices for $600 instead of the standard $830.
So, Canonical wants to build a phone for $830. Why would it cost $830 to build? Primarily because the device will be almost entirely custom and features unique aspects that will make it one of a kind. However, the internal specs are not necessarily considered to be top of the line.
Dual boot Ubuntu mobile OS and Android
Fully integrated Ubuntu desktop PC when docked
Fastest multi-core CPU, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage
4.5in 1,280 x 720 HD sapphire crystal display
8mp low-light rear camera, 2mp front camera
Dual-LTE, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, NFC
GPS, accelerometer, gyro, proximity sensor, compass, barometer
Stereo speakers with HD audio, dual-mic recording, Active Noise Cancellation
MHL connector, 3.5mm jack
Silicon-anode Li-Ion battery
64 x 9 x 124mm
There are a few things here that bother me with the specs. First, that they are going with the ‘fastest multi-core CPU’ when they really should be specific with the SoC that they want to build with and call it an SoC. I do like the fact that it will feature 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, something currently unheard of on smartphones. This is mainly because of the Ubuntu Mobile OS environment which will allow for desktop docking and the use of the phone like a portable desktop. I really don’t like the fact that they went with a 4.5" 1280 x 720 display when almost ALL of the current flagship phones are launching at 1080P resolution. The Sapphire crystal display is a nice touch to prevent scratching, but I have a feeling that people would still prefer a higher resolution display. The 8mp rear camera and 2mp front camera are both pretty standard and don’t really make this phone stand out much from the pack.
The use of the term Dual-LTE is a bit confusing for someone that reviews phones, so I can only imagine what it means to people that don’t know what it means. This should translate to faster data speeds in the future, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on it. It also has 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 along with NFC, all features that we would expect from a mid-range phone. For this phone to be a real flagship phone, it needs to have 802.11ac wireless which would also improve the wireless desktop experience. It’ll also have stereo speakers with HD audio and dual-microphone recording which results in active noise cancelling. They also talk about the battery without really stating what kind of capacity we can expect.
The real truth is that Canonical is a software company, and looking at this device’s specs it’s hard to understand exactly why anyone would pay $830 for a device that may or may not be considered outdated by the time it comes out. Keep in mind that this device will not ship to consumers until May of 2014 and by that time we will likely already have Tegra 5 and the next Snapdragon announced. The truth of the matter is that they will have to probably pick a 2013 SoC to build their phone around, but we don’t even know what they deem to be ‘the fastest’ when you consider how many different SoCs there are and will be on both ARM and x86.
Personally, I think that this is a great idea and I hope that it’s successful because when I first saw this demonstration of Ubuntu’s Mobile OS, I was really impressed. I really do like the fact that it operates as a dual boot OS to still allow for Android functionality, but something about all of this still bothers me. I’m getting the feeling that Canonical is doing this because they haven’t gotten any OEMs or carriers to announce devices using Ubuntu Mobile OS since they last showed it. If Canonical is doing this on their own, there has to be a reason why none of the OEMs wanted to work with them and Canonical is not a hardware company, so I have a feeling that they’ll contract it out to someone, hopefully HTC.
Ultimately, I would love to see another more-open smartphone like Sailfish and Tizen, but it looks like Canonical is out there fighting their own fight for Ubuntu. The phone looks visually stunning and the software looks beyond amazing, but it remains to be seen if they can go with the right hardware to deliver the perfect experience in 10 months from now with things moving as fast as they do in mobile.