Rising from the ashes of Nokia's cancelled Meego project, Jolla is the Finish smartphone startup with its eye on disrupting the market
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/16/2014 4:01:40 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
A breath of fresh air in a heaving marketplace.
Other Half has huge potential.
Sailfish has some clever gestures.
Concerns over durability of Other Half.
Not compatible with all Android apps.
Screen resolution lower than rivals.
By Alistair Charlton, Devices Editor
When Nokia canceled its MeeGo mobile operating system in 2011 a group of redundant employees broke away in pursuit of creating their own vision of what mobile software should be. They created a company called Jolla and an operating system called Sailfish, and the eponymous smartphone you see here is the result of their efforts.
From the front, the Jolla looks like any other 4-inch smartphone. Dominated by a glass-covered display, the phone has a sizeable black bezel around its edge, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera in the top left corner, and...not much else.
However, turn the Jolla around and you see The Other Half. Not just capitalised for effect, The Other Half is a feature whereby the phone’s rear cover can be removed and replaced with a variety of different colours. More than that,e ach cover communicates with the phone via NFC, instructing it to alter settings and its appearance depending on which cover is used.
Our Jolla review sample came with three Other Halves, each making changes to the phone’s user interface when attached - and what each cover does can be altered in the settings menu.
For now, The Other Half is little more than a degree of personalisation missing from other handsets, but Jolla hopes the system could be adopted by third parties to widen its appeal. For example, game developers might offer a themed Other Half which downloads a free copy of the game when connected.
Even more exciting is the addition of a power connection between phone and rear cover, giving the possibility for rear covers incorporating backlit keyboards, a whole range of sensors, and even an e-ink display. We’re yet to see these reach reality, but there’s huge potential here and I hope application and accessory developers alike see an opportunity to create something interesting.
That 4.5in screen has a fairly unremarkable resolution of 540 x 960, giving it a pixel density of 245 per inch; while this won’t cause iPhone and Samsung Galaxy owners to bat an eyelid, the Jolla’s screen is still a worthy first attempt, with good colour reproduction and a level of brightness that will satisfy the majority of users.
For a company’s first smartphone the Jolla feels surprisingly well made. The handset has a premium metal finish and at 141g the handset has a reassuring heft to it. Unfortunately it’s The Other Half that lets things down as far as quality is concerned.
Jolla expects users to swap Other Halves on a regular basis - every time you’re in the office, for example - but we’re concerned about how well the covers will live up to regular removal. A prototype Jolla seen last June used magnets to hold the rear cover in place, making it easy to swap, but the production version of Jolla’s phone uses a series of plastic push-clips which click loudly when you pull the cover off. I was limited to a week with my Jolla review sample, but I wonder how much removing and reattaching each Other Half would take before showing signs of wear.
Sailfish is all about the gestures. As smartphones grow they become more difficult to use with one hands. Recognising this, Jolla’s Sailfish OS can be navigated almost entirely with swipes alone, meaning you rarely need to reach to the top or bottom of the screen - a move often difficult to perform with a single free hand.
Wake up the Jolla with two taps of the screen, swipe up to unlock, and you’re greeting by a page of up to nine live thumbnails showing which applications were most recently opened. The thumbnails serve as a handy way of checking for unread messages and new tweets, as they update live to show any application activity. Another swipe up reveals the rest of your applications, but the most interesting gestures come to life after you open an app.
A swipe inwards from either the left or right edges closes an up, demoting it to the home screen thumbnails, while a swipe downwards from the top fully shuts the app down, and some apps make use of a gesture where you swipe downwards from the middle of the screen. Doing so reveals a list of options at the top of the screen, but selecting them is decided on how far you swipe - no need to reach up to the top of the screen and tap.
Recognising that the bottom of a smartphone’s screen is easier to tap than the top (again, when held in one hand), Sailfish’s notifications centre can be accessed by a swipe up from just below the display.
All this swiping makes perfect sense in a slick and well-rehearsed product demonstration, but in reality they take some getting used to.
Performance from the dual-core 1.4GH Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM is good, if not groundbreaking. The user interface is snappy and responds quickly, but Jolla’s claims of being able to run Android apps and games left us feeling short-changed. Getting access to the Google Play store is possible, but it requires visiting a unofficial website and downloading an app called 1 Mobile Market, which looks and acts just like the Play store.
As a workaround it’s a fairly simple one, but it is still exactly that - a workaround, and downloading Android apps this way feels like you’re using the tradesman's entrance. The first app I tried - Cut The Road 2- downloaded but refused to open, but Templerun 2 and others worked flawlessly.
Battery life is much like any other smartphone if this size - you’ll get a full day out of it before a recharge is needed. A weekend of very light use might just be possible, but I’d suggest a nightly recharge is the way to go.
It’s hard not to group the Jolla phone into a class of one. Where iOS, Android and even Windows Phone are recognisable to most, Sailfish is unique and even though some aspects are demonstrably better (like the easy-to-reach notifications drawer), it faces an uphill battle in convincing consumers to give it a second glance.
Those who understand where Jolla has come from and want to support its cause will buy this phone - and will no doubt be vocal in helping Jolla improve the user experience over time. In that regard, Jolla should be respected, if not bought, by everyone.
I’ve met the team behind Jolla at their headquarters, coincidentally in a building used by Nokia, and I have nothing but positive things to say about everyone involved. They are honest - and above all else, modest - about what they want to achieve with Jolla, so while their first phone isn’t a Samsung rival, it’s always fun to support the underdog.