Jolla Lands in Malaysia & First Impressions

After much waiting (and hefty donations to ParcelForce aka British Royal Mail), I’ve finally got my hands on the first (hopefully of many) Jolla device here in Malaysia. Here are my initial thoughts on the device…

It feels fairly hefty (because it is), but it feels good. At least it feels like you’ve got a well built phone in your hands as opposed to if it was really light, in which case, you’d probably think you had a plasticky dummy unit in your hands. The Other Half (hereforth referred to as TOH) of course is almost completely plastic with the exception of the tiny bit of electronics otherwise known as the NFC sticker. TOH is fairly difficult to remove (especially for a new user), and combined with the fact that it’s basically a thin piece of plastic, makes for a rather hair raising experience when first removing it to install the battery/SIM/MicroSD. After the first couple of times, you’ll probably develop some kind of method to help in removal – mine being getting the 2 bottom corners off first, then using a fingernail to pry out the plastic catches located along the edges.

Jolla Front

Jolla Front

Jolla Back

Jolla Back

After powering on the device and letting it boot up (which doesn’t take very long), you’ll be greeted with… a somewhat disappointing display. I say this coming from a Galaxy S3 and iPhone 4S of course, and given the specifications of the screen were known fairly early on, it wasn’t really a surprise (but still resulted in me making a /sadface anyway). Now, when I say disappointing, I’m speaking from a pixel peeping perspective – when it comes to actual usage, you probably aren’t going to find much wrong with the display. Would I like to have a higher resolution, better PPI, and all that? Sure… Would I completely rule out a device because of it? Probably not. Fact is, that once you reach a certain resolution, a certain PPI, anything more is just icing on the cake. The only bad thing if I can call it that, is that the software doesn’t appear to control the brightness of the screen too well (or it might just be that I’m still using the device with the plastic “screen protector” attached) – the lowest brightness setting looks about the same as the highest to me. Anyhow, a bunch of tapping/swiping of setup and tutorials later, I find myself at odds with the Jolla store (or lack of it rather) and updates.

For some reason, the initial firmware that comes on the device appears to have some issues with connecting to the Jolla store (and as an extension, updates appear but are uninstallable too). Some attempts at executing fixes that other early adopters found ended up fruitless for me, and I chose to execute the always trusty Restore To Factory Defaults combo (which worked after doing it a couple of times). After installing the updates and some other random apps, I somehow managed to screw things up yet again a short while later… and found that, interestingly, updates on the Jolla appear to NOT be persistent. Decide to factory reset your device? Here have the factory default firmware as well… I suppose technically that makes it a “true” factory restore compared to what you’ll get on other devices…

After further muscle flexing, I got the device more or less set up, and it was time to move on to muscle flexing at the apps. For the most part, the Jolla device app selection very much reminds me of the early N900 days; minimal apps available on the Jolla Store. The Jolla does come with more social media integration than the N900 did (which is to be expected seeing it’s 2014), but the unfortunate bit is that despite the integration of Facebook (notifications) and Twitter (a basic form of your timeline) into the OS itself, any interactions you may want to carry out just launch the browser and you’ll end up using the mobile Facebook/Twitter site. I have absolutely nothing against using the mobile site, but some kind of a native application for the “popular” social media sites is kind of expected these days. The browser also reminds me of the N900 in “some” ways… with the N900 you were stuck with landscape browsing (early on), and now on the Jolla (not including WebCat which is a browser available on the store), you’re stuck with portrait. These are early days yet of course, and undoubtedly there’ll be a ton of apps that will start to pop up like mushrooms in time. As a side note, there IS a Facebook application on the Jolla store, but at time of writing, it can’t really be described as fully functional.

On the bright side, the Jolla does come with something that the N900 didn’t have – Android app compatibility. The Yandex Store (and Google Play Store with some “hacking”) will easily fill up all the holes in your application loving life until such time that native Sailfish applications are more abundant. There are caveats of course, Android apps will typically live in their own little sandbox/VM and as such are lumped together in the SailfishOS multitasking view; you won’t be seeing separate windows for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Whichever application was last active will show up, the rest are somewhere or other waiting to be called upon. A tiny bit of a problem occurs when you get a little too worked up when tapping away on the back button (which may have become a habit if you are at all used to an Android device) – one too many taps and the entire VM actually closes. This is all fine if you only use applications that involve active interaction… but if you were to say, be running WhatsApp (or a similar messenger), you’d be wondering why you haven’t been getting any messages… and then be bombarded by about a thousand messages when you reopen the Android VM.

Why would you be running Android WhatsApp when Sailfish has a WhatsApp client you may ask… The native WhatsApp client on SailfishOS (named Mitakuuluu) unfortunately has some “issues”. It’s unable to sync contacts for some reason – which basically means that you can’t create a new conversation with anybody (groups that are imported work fine). If you want to talk to someone, you’re going to need them to drop you a message first. Of course, this isn’t so much of an issue if you’re a very patient person and have a lot of extroverted chatty friends that randomly drop you messages. The Android version of WhatsApp has it’s own set of problems, but if the world was going to end in an hour and you needed to get a WhatsApp message to someone, you would be able to do it by yourself and not wait for your friend to first drop you a message saying they’re sorry they forgot to pay you back 20 bucks for drinks last month.

The Android version of WhatsApp, strangely, is only able to see and interact with contacts that are labeled as having a “mobile” number. Now, this doesn’t seem like a problem, but when you combine it with the fact that SailfishOS at this point in time oddly enough mislabels all contact imports from Google/Hotmail/etc. as only having “personal” numbers and not “mobile” numbers (the bug also affects email addresses and other random things) you find yourself in a bit of a tangle. Fortunately, in a pinch, you’ll be able to manually edit the contact you want to… well… get in contact with… duplicate their phone number that was imported as “personal” as a “mobile” number… switch over to Android WhatsApp (possibly a reboot later), and drop them a message.

Another random annoyance that I currently have is the camera application – there doesn’t seem to be a way to get it to focus on something that isn’t in the [ ] in the middle of the screen… which wouldn’t be a problem if the [ ] could be moved… but it can’t… or at least I can’t figure it out. Oh well, nitpicky.

Now that we’ve got the actual device out of the way, time to get the claws out. No really… To be honest, communication by Jolla along with customer service response time thus far has been absolutely abysmal. Shipping hold ups? No news, updates were (from memory) limited to “We have a problem with shipping”, followed by “Fixed, we’re starting to ship again”. This would be fine if the time between the two messages was a day… but it was more like a week or two (pulling random numbers out of the air here). Email support to ask a question… 2 weeks for a response (from experience and experience of others from forums). Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love Jolla, what they stand for, and all that… and at the same time, I get that they are a tiny company doing big things… but the level of interaction they had with their customers (all of whom bought a €400 device sight unseen) during this critical period does leave a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. I bought the device KNOWING they couldn’t deliver it to me and that I’d have to resort to courier services on top of the €400. I honestly hope that Jolla realise that all the good will of the community along with their patience does have a limit and learn from their mistakes.

At this point in time, you’d have to be an enthusiast or a very patient person to be using the Jolla as your main device. I like to think that I’m a little of both… but even then, as someone who is reliant on WhatsApp as a method of communication, it’s difficult for me not to rush off somewhere and pick up a 5S or S4 (at the very least until the major bugs are sorted out). TLDR: Hardware is decent, software is beta (and is advertised as beta) but has huge potential, weakest link for Jolla at this point in time is communication and customer service (I’ve just received a reply on the 24th of January to a ticket I posted on their support site on the 25th of December).

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