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Review: Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus 7 is almost awesome

I installed Ubuntu Touch "1.0" on my first-generation Nexus 7 tablet and have been using it as my main tablet system for the last four days. Here's how it went.

This past week, we saw the release of Ubuntu 13.10. And, with it, we got the first official release of Ubuntu Touch (dubbed "Ubuntu Phone 1.0"). So, of course, I couldn't resist installing the "1.0" version of the operating system that Canonical is pitting against the likes of Android and iOS.

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I installed Ubuntu Touch "1.0" on my first-generation Nexus 7 tablet and have been using it as my main tablet system for the last four days. Here's how it went.

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First off, the installation was surprisingly painless. I followed the official instructions and didn't encounter a single problem. The whole process took roughly 45 minutes, though most of that was spent waiting for the Ubuntu Touch image to download and flash onto the Nexus 7. Truth be told, there were only a handful of steps that I actually had to do (mostly copying and pasting a few lines into the terminal).

That being said, the installation is really geared toward software developers, power users or people already comfortable on a Linux command line. If you're not in one of those categories, I recommend holding off for the time being.

Once installed, Ubuntu Touch booted up rather quickly -- in only just a few seconds (a fair bit faster than Android 4.x on the same tablet). And, immediately, I was presented with a short tutorial that appears the first time the system is booted, which, I might add, has got to be one of the slickest, least annoying tutorials I've seen. It took all of about 5 seconds and taught me the basics of how navigating in Ubuntu Touch works (swipe from the left side of the screen and get the Unity launcher dock, swipe from the bottom to get navigation controls, etc.).

Working with the system is pretty simple for anyone who's used a computer (or phone... or tablet) in the last few years, and everything certainly has that "Ubuntu Style." One of my favorite touches is the fact that screenshots of your running applications are shown on your Home screen, which I found incredibly convenient.

In fact, overall, I found the system to be incredibly usable. The web browser is fairly peppy. The onscreen keyboard isn't half bad (I'm not a fan of onscreen keyboards on any system, so that's actually a pretty big compliment from me). Oh, and did I mention that it has a Terminal app? Oh yeah. This is a full Linux system in your pocket, baby.

There aren't a ton of apps available, mind you. And many of the apps are simply pointing to mobile versions of websites (such as the Twitter app). Luckily, there are just enough apps to get by for most day-to-day uses.

But... there were problems.

The battery life was, to put it mildly, terrible. The first night after installing, I sat it down (fully charged) with no applications running. It was completely dead by morning. I've also noticed that it doesn't seem to be reporting the correct battery level.

Performance has been mixed. Typically, moving between applications is quite peppy. And working with the Unity interface is surprisingly smooth. Launching applications, however, I found to be quite slow. For example: launching the simple calculator app, with no other apps running, took roughly 7 seconds. Not the end of the world, but a noticeable lag.

I also encountered what I have dubbed "The Pulsating Seizure Feature" a few dozen times over the weekend. In a nutshell: launching apps (and, occasionally, moving between apps) can cause the device to freeze and begin flashing the screen rapidly, requiring a forced power off by holding down the power button for 10 seconds. Being as this is a "1.0," and the Ubuntu crew has a pretty solid track record for fixing issues, I'm not terribly concerned about this. By the time Ubuntu Touch lands in devices as a pre-loaded option, I'm sure issues like that will be resolved.

In general, I think Ubuntu Touch "1.0" is off to a pretty stellar start. I dig the systems design and I'm more than a little impressed with how far it's come in the last six months alone.

Which leads to the big question: Will I keep using Ubuntu Touch on my Nexus 7?

Probably not. At least not yet. The bugs that are in there right now (such as the "Seizure-O-Matic 3000") are pretty major show-stoppers. But the system is good enough, and interesting enough, that you can bet I'll be taking it for another spin in a month or so after they've had a chance to fix a few things.

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