Sailfish OS powered smartphone The Other Half by Jolla offers consumers an alternative to Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and iOS platforms. Jolla was founded by former-Nokia employees involved with the development of Nokia N9. The company announced the Jolla smartphone in May 2013 and started selling it in November in select markets. Is the Jolla phone a good alternative when it comes to real world use? We try to find out in our review.
Powered by a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, the Jolla smartphone comes with 16GB storage expandable via microSD card. 13.7GB storage is available to the end users. The phone comes with GPS and A-GPS for navigation and maps and was easily able to lock a signal. It also comes with NFC connectivity to initiate file transfers to other NFC-enabled phones and receive data from NFC tags.
The Jolla phone is rectangular with partially rounded edges and sharp corners. The phone is sleek which one would not expect as it houses a smart back cover. The phone is built from premium quality plastic and feels good to hold. Some people may have an issue with the sharp corners but we did not find them to be intimidating.
The back cover of the phone, which Jolla calls ‘The other half’ is NFC enabled and not only lets you customize the physical appearance of the phone but also changes the phone’s theme, wallpaper and other UI elements. The front of the phone is devoid of any hardware buttons though it does feature a discreet LED notifications light, while the right edge sports the Power and volume rocker key. The plastic keys offer good tactile feedback and are pretty responsive.
The 3.5mm headset jack and the micro-USB port sit at the top and the speaker outlet is placed at the bottom edge. The back sports the camera lens and the LED flash. There’s very little Jolla branding on the phone. Removing the back cover reveals micro-sim and microSD card slots and the battery compartment which houses a 2100mAh removable battery.
The front of the phone is dominated by a 4.5-inch qHD(960x450p) display. For a device that costs more than 350 euros, we would have expected a 720p display but the panel is not really bad to look at. Having said that, viewing angles were not very wide. Sunlight legibility was average and shooting pictures on a bright, sunny day is a little difficult. The default system font also doesn’t suit the display.
The key highlight of the phone is its Sailfish OS, an open source platform based on MeeGo that also supports Android apps. The navigation is totally gesture based, somewhat like BlackBerry 10.
You unlock the phone via a double tap gesture and navigate across three different screen panels – the lock screen displays the time, notifications and status bars, the second one is the Home screen that presents a live view of running apps and the third one is Launcher that features app shortcuts. You exit apps by swiping from the left edge towards the right or vice versa, explore additional options and settings by swiping towards the bottom and get notifications by swiping towards the top. Swiping to the left takes you back a step in navigation.
There’s also a pulley menu indicated by a glow at the top of the screen. Whenever you see the glowing bar, you can simply swipe down across the screen to see other options and select one of them. Some apps also have this menu at the bottom. Instead of a pull-down notification tray, Jolla offers an Events view which can be initiated by simply swiping up the screen from the bottom bezel. It displays all notifications including social network feeds. The social feeds screen also lets you post to respective social networks.
Just like BlackBerry 10, the native apps become live widgets in the running apps view offering some information, but Android apps display a static frame of the last accessed screen. Simple Android apps and games run smoothly on Jolla and it never feels there’s an emulation layer. Having said that, the native apps look really beautiful and integrate the ambience of the UI in a much better manner. We tried a few third party clients for apps like Facebook and Twitter and found them to be really good looking although they lacked full functionality. There were also issues with notifications while using Android apps as they’re not integrated with the system.
One of the strengths of Jolla is its integrated Messages app. It reminds you of the Windows Phone messaging app but this one also brings in support for Google Hangouts in addition to Facebook Messenger and XMPP-based services. Messages are received and send instantly and you can see all your communication threads on a single screen.
Jolla phone features an 8MP rear camera alongside an LED flash, and a 2MP front-facing camera as well. The Jolla camera app offers a number of granular settings but misses out on Panorama and HDR modes. The camera takes good quality pictures in daylight with accurate colour reproduction and good amount of detail. The pictures don’t look good on the phone due to the low display resolution but transfer them to a PC and you’ll realize that the phone has a very capable rear camera especially for pictures taken in optimal light conditions. Even low-light photos were decent though these pictures were not as rich in terms of detail. There was very little noise. The rear camera is capable of shooting 1080p video but video quality was average. The front camera takes good quality selfies.
2100mAh battery of the phone helps in achieving a respectable backup. With the phone’s brightness set to automatic and intermittent use of WiFi and 3G, the phone lasted a full day (9-10 hours) with usage comprising few hours of phone calls, casual gaming, an hour of web browsing and accessing Twitter and Facebook, in addition to clicking a few pictures.
The Jolla phone offers an alternative ecosystem to users who maybe tired of Android, iOS or Windows Phone and are open to experiment and try a less evolved, community supported platform. Jolla phone could perhaps be a good secondary smartphone used mainly for messaging. If you’re a smartphone enthusiast and have been been waiting to buy this phone, you’ll find the price not very attractive. Jolla has good potential but in its current form it is still far from becoming a viable, mainstream smartphone platform.