Zumbs' Blog

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Four months with a Jolla

Posted by Zumbs on July 16, 2014

Jolla (pronounced ‘yolla’) is a smartphone developed by Jolla Oy – a Finnish company founded by a group of former Nokia developers who preferred to continue working on MeeGo rather than Windows Phone. The result is the Jolla phone, running the Sailfish Operating System.

Overall, I am pretty happy with my Jolla. The UI works pretty well and the battery time is quite good. The low number of apps is offset by the ability to use Android apps. The main drawback is the terrible SD card support when connected to a PC.

The box

I ordered my Jolla on March 10th, the phone was sent 3 days after my order and delivered by FedEx 3 working days later, well within the expected delivery time. The box and its content can be seen below.

The contents of the Jolla box.

As can be seen, some assembly is required. After assembly it is quite easy to remove the back panel (also called The Other Half), e.g. to remove the battery, add an SD card or insert the nano SIM card.

When you turn on the phone, you encounter a short tutorial on how to use the phone. After that, you should connect the phone to your local WiFi network to start updating it. Note that it may need to run multiple updates – my phone needed to run the updater three times before it was up to date. I suspect that you will need to apply each update separately, rather than having it bundled into one update. It seems that there is one update each month.

Jolla comes with the core apps needed by a smartphone, i.e. phone, message, internet browser, contacts, camera and store. You will need to download other important apps from the store (it is free), e.g. maps, picture gallery, calendar, media player, notes, document reader and flashlight.

The store apps can do most of what you want, but there are still missing features, showing how new the Jolla is. An example is the picture gallery that will find all images on your phone and display them to you. It can also share them over bluetooth, send them as MMS or even edit them. However, it finds all images, even those inside mp3 files (of which I have a lot) which gives a lot of clutter. And there is no way of organizing the images into albums, which is a bit annoying, especially considering the all the pictures from mp3 files.

One quite cool feature is the ability to load an image – any image – and let Jolla build a UI theme from it. The image will be shown as a background, and the UI will use the color palette from the image to color text and highlights.

Lockscreen after choosing an ambiance.

Homescreen after choosing an ambiance.
The lockscreen and the home screen after loading an image for use as a theme.

User interface based on Gestures

One of the daunting features of the Jolla UI is the use of gestures in place of buttons. Instead of a ‘Home’ button you swipe right to left (or the other way around) starting at the edge of the screen. Starting at the top edge of the screen and swiping downwards will close the app and return you to the Home screen. Swiping from the bottom and up will display system notifications.

Using gestures with the phone.

The ‘Back’ (or ‘Forward’) functionality is handled by pulling inside the application (there are even dots in the top left corner to help you navigate). Pulling left to right goes back and right to left goes forward. This is also used to accept or decline a request instead of ok/cancel buttons. Pulling down will pull down a list of options and one will be highlighted so it will be selected when you release.

pulling

In the Home screen, you can see all the running apps, displayed as squares, next to each other in order of last usage. It is possible to close them, select them or even to interact with them directly. The user guide can tell you a lot more about all the capabilities. Some UI elements can be pressed or long pressed to interact with them, e.g. the timer will start on a short press and allow you to modify it on a long press.

One issue is that it is not always as consistent as I would like. For instance, in the calendar app, a long press gives you the option to delete an event, but not to edit it (you have to press it and pull down the option), whereas the timer will allow you to both delete and edit it from a long press, but not when pulling down.

Overall, I really like the gesture based UI. It does take a few days to get used to, but comes surprisingly quick, given how different it is from Android.

Jolla Store and apps

It is said that access to apps is what makes or breaks a smartphone. Like most other smartphone producers, Jolla has an app store: Jolla Store. At time of writing all apps in the store are free. The store simply does not support paid apps (yet?). The selection is not all that big.

If that was the full story, Jolla would be in a tight spot. Fortunately, it is not so. One of the (official) apps in the Jolla Store is the Android(TM) Support app that allows users to install and run Android apps on their Jolla. The app comes with Yandex Store, which requires that you log in before you can look at their offerings … so it took some time before I did that. There is also an Aptoide app.

If you have the Android app installer package (*.apk files), you can also install them manually on your phone.

Battery

Each of two conversations lasting some 45 minutes drained roughly 8% battery level. This equates to some 9-10 hours of conversation time on one charge.

With my usage, the battery lasts for about 5 days on a single charge. It should be noted that I am not a heavy user, so mileage may vary. My previous phone – a HTC Desire running Android 2.2 – lasted about 2-3 days on a single charge.

SD Card failure

Jolla can be connected to a computer using a USB connection, like pretty much any other smart phone. The internal memory is mounted using the MTP protocol. This has the advantage that you can actually access the internal memory without the need of an SD card. The bad part is that the MTP protocol is not well supported on Linux and Mac.

Worse, if there is an SD card inside your Jolla when connecting it to a PC, it will also appear as an MTP drive rather than as a USB key. This is quite annoying if you e.g. want to transfer music to your SD card, as it will habitually fail to transfer files and refuse to transfer files that are larger than some 5 MB (Windows 7 Pro 64 bit). In my experience, it is both faster and easier to turn off the phone, pull out the SD card and insert it into the PC using an SD card reader. This is the closest to a deal breaker that I have experienced while using a Jolla.

There are a lot of people who have been complaining about this on together.jolla.com. If you run into trouble with your Jolla, it is a good place to look for information and ask for help.

Update (26/9/2015): It appears that one of the software updates has improved the issue significantly. I managed to copy 150 MB to the SD card in 60 seconds with no errors.

The Other Half

The Other Half refers to the back panel of the Jolla. It is quite easy to remove and put back on, and there are a number of interesting options for customization and modification. Removing the back panel and looking underneath, one can see a number of hardware pins.

Picture of the other half and back side of Jolla.

With the SDK for The Other Side, these pins and the NFC chip in the phone can be used by 3rd parties to make custom back panels with custom functionality, e.g. a colored back panel with its own theme, a keyboard like in N900 (still in development), a wireless charger, a solar charger or maybe an eInk screen?

Lots of great and interesting options. At time of writing they are somewhere between the idea and independent tinkerer level. Unfortunately.

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