Canonical has been talking about its mobile plans for quite some time, promising that it will one day create a truly all-encompassing ecosystem that bridges the gap between mobile and desktop systems.
To date, however, we've seen only glimmers of hope that this will actually happen with Ubuntu. Other competing tech companies, like Microsoft with its recently unveiled Windows 10 OS, have begun gaining ground in efforts to create a converged ecosystem.
Fortunately we had our interest in Canonical's open-source Ubuntu Mobile operating system reignited at MWC 2015, as we finally got to see the platform in its full glory running on the Meizu MX4 smartphone.
Design and build
The MX4 is a very slick looking smartphone with an aluminium alloy body and matte back cover that makes it look and feel like a top-end smartphone. This fact is helped by small design touches, like reducing the screen bezel to a minuscule 2.6mm.
The MX4 felt well built in the hand and left us reasonably sure that it could survive the average wear and tear expected of a smartphone. The 5.4in handset is also reasonably ergonomic and never felt unwieldy to use.
The one oddity we noticed is that the MX4 has a capacitive front button at its bottom edge. Considering Ubuntu Mobile's 'pure touch' focus, the inclusion of the button is slightly odd and during our hands-on didn't appear to have been assigned a function, Although a spokesman at the stand told us that this would "probably" be sorted out come the full release.
The MX4 has an impressive 5.4in 1920x1142, 418ppi display. Using the MX4 on the insanely bright showroom floor we found that colour balance and vibrancy levels were excellent, viewing angles were wide and icons were wonderfully sharp.
The MX4's high maximum brightness meant that the handset remained usable even in direct bright light, although like all smartphones it did become slightly reflective in this situation.
The MX4's use of Canonical's Ubuntu Mobile operating system is its most interesting feature. The version running on the MX4 is similar to the one we saw at MWC 2014, but has had a number of fixes and upgrades to improve stability and performance.
We were impressed with Canonical's work, and the handset didn't crash or stall once during our 40 minutes of testing. Last year we had to reboot the Nexus 4 running Ubuntu Mobile twice during our hands-on.
Ubuntu Mobile is entirely touch and gesture based. Accessing new features is done by scrolling up, down, left or right from a specific point on the screen's bezel.
For example, a short scroll from the left bezel brings out the Ubuntu Unity Application launcher - a menu similar to the one seen on Samsung's TouchWiz Android skin - while a short scroll right brings up the last open application.
A longer scroll right brings up a new window showing all open applications on the phone.
The home screen is also radically different to most other mobile operating systems'. Ubuntu Mobile doesn't have multiple menu windows and is managed directly from the home screen.
The home screen is separated into panelled sections for things like recently used apps, contacts, music, video and messages. The order of the panels can be customised to suit the user's wishes.
This means that the home screen can be set up to push data and alerts from applications like Facebook, Twitter, email and news outlets.
This is a big selling point and, if implemented well, could greatly improve the way we consume information on mobile devices and remove the need to jump from application to application when opening and responding to alerts.
Additionally, as a spokesman explained, companies can port apps to the Ubuntu Mobile thanks to its open Linux nature.
The MX4 is powered by an octa-core Media Tek 2.2GHz processor, PowerVR G6200 GPU and 2GB RAM. We didn't get a chance to benchmark the MX4 or see how it handled demanding tasks, like 3D gaming.
However, the MX4's performance was impressive when handling everyday tasks. The handset moved smoothly between menu screens, launched apps in milliseconds and felt suitably responsive.
The MX4 comes with a sizeable 20.7MP rear camera with a Sony IMX220 Exmor RS sensor and a 2MP front camera.
This Sony sensor is a positive addition that makes images sharper by removing noise and gives the camera a higher than average maximum ISO sensitivity. The MX4 is also listed as having an impressive 0.3 second shutter speed.
We were impressed after taking a few photos in the camera's automatic mode. Shutter speeds were good and photos were crisp with decent colour balance, contrast and white balance levels.
Battery and storage
We didn't get a chance to battery burn the 3,100mAh Li-Po battery during our hands-on.
However Meizu claims it will offer "above average" life and around nine hours of video playback, which if true is fairly impressive.
During our battery burns we find most phones in its size bracket struggle to offer more than seven to eight hours of video playback off one charge.
The MX4 will be offered with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage.
Price release date and conclusion
The Ubuntu MX4 is yet to receive an official price or release date, but our opening impressions of it are very positive.
Featuring a premium design, innovative operating system, and decent internal specifications the MX4 looks like a great smartphone.
We also have to praise Canonical for the great work it's done over the past year to improve Ubuntu mobile's stability and performance, and can't wait to test the OS more thoroughly.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the MX4 Ubuntu phone.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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