“Don’t go by the middling specs… the usability and functionality offered by the Jolla is unmatched”
After Nokia decided to go the Microsoft way (as far as its mobile devices were concerned) back in the year 2011, several of its MeeGo developers decided to part their ways and came up with a new company called Jolla. Following its inception, Jolla utilised its know how and the result was a brand new smartphone operating system called Sailfish, and the only device that uses it – the Jolla smartphone. The Jolla has just landed in India, and stands out from the crowd thanks to its unique platform.
Jolla has gone all out in an attempt to make it near perfect, and the different user interface and approach surely make a great first impression. We’ve got the device at our labs for review and here is what we have to say after having used this entirely new smartphone powered with a dynamic new operating system for a few weeks now.
It’s hard to become a fan of the simple yet intriguing design that the Jolla smartphone offers immediately, but it grows on you. The device is simple in every possible way as far as design goes, but there are quite a few many intricate details that make it a delight.
The first thing to be noticed is that the brand has restrained itself from using any bold branding across the device. The only place where you would find some branding is at the back, where the name has been mentioned in an unobtrusive manner. In addition to that, the device gets a smallish signature on top, right next to the USB port.
The device has been manufactured using metal, glass, and plastics in just the right proportions. The back cover features an all-plastic construction while the front of the device gets metal and Gorilla Glass 2, making it durable as well as light in weight at the same time. However, the back cover which is called “the other half” looks more like a different device by itself and the Jolla smartphone looks like a combination of two super-slim smartphones joined together to make one device.
Apart from imparting a unique look, the back cover is replaceable and users can customise their device by changing this to add a splash of colour. In addition to that, some of the covers also come with embedded chips that pass on their colour info to the device, which in turn, prompts the users to change the ambience (i.e., theme or colour scheme) on their Jolla smartphones. So for instance, if you install an orange cover at the back, the device will prompt users to download the related ambience and set it so that the user interface gives a similar feel as the back cover.
The device boasts slim bezels and that helps in improving the design, and in addition, the designers have cleverly made use of curved plastic edges on both sides of the glass in order to give it a nice and comfortable feel. Bigger brands try doing the same by bending the glass, which increases the cost of the devices, but Jolla finds employs a simple solution which works and saves on the cost as well.
A display that offers lovely colours
While most smartphones are going with 5-inch plus display sizes and full HD plus resolutions, the Jolla sticks to a more conventional approach by offering a smaller 4.5-inch display. Now Jolla has been designed around one-handed functionality and a compact screen perfectly gels with the ideology. The device has no hardware buttons on the front, or to control the user interface. Instead, the display and the touch panel doubles up as the input method for the phone by providing navigation completely based on the use of gestures.
The low resolution however, could be a bit of a turn-off, as most devices within the same price range offer full HD displays… the Jolla just manages to offer a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels. However, even with a low resolution screen, the device manages to offer bright and colourful visuals. The key here is the small screen size, which results in a higher pixel density.
The refresh rates offered by the display are also very good and therefore even while playing games and HD video content, there is hardly any blurring or trails, which are common for low-cost devices.
In conjunction to a good-looking display, the smartphone offer a super-sensitive touch as well. There is no glove-mode that can be toggled, but instead the touch surface is very sensitive and can track movements even with leather or woollen gloves on. In addition, with a user interface which is particularly designed around gestures and movements, a sensitive touch makes a big difference and offers a seamless experience to the users.
The gesture-based sailfish operating system
We are not going to get in to the technical details of the Sailfish operating system, but we would definitely like to share our experience of using it as our daily driver.
First and foremost, the thing that you notice and could be a little bit intimidating, is the gesture-based operating system the Jolla smartphone comes with. Sailfish as an operating system is complete in itself with proper app support and integrated services and apps, but needs a learning curve to get used to for new users.
However, once you are past that, using this device is a breeze. The phone works with three simple gestures, which include swiping downwards to bring up options and notifications, swiping upwards for accessing the pages and apps, and the most important, swiping sideways to return to the home screen. However, it is not that simple, as swiping sideward has also been segregated between swiping from within the display and swiping from the edge of the device. Nevertheless, Jolla has an embedded tutorial and it pops up when you start using the device to give users the basic training as to how to use it.
Multitasking is one thing that differentiates a capable mobile platform from another, and the Jolla features live multitasking, which means that switching between applications is easy and faster than any other smartphone available in the market as of now. To switch between apps, all the users need to do is swipe from outside of the display on any of the sides and the device will take you back to the home screen which shows the open apps. To switch between apps, all you need to do is select the app from here and you’re done.
While the user interface is different than most devices, the functionality offered by the operating system is similar to any other smartphone and those accustomed to Android should be able to use this device without any issues. Talking about issues, the device has a few of them as well. For instance, the phone app opens up directly on to the call log and in order to enter a phone number manually users need to access the options and access the dialler and then proceed, whereas most devices start with dialler and then give a call log as option.
In addition to that, whenever you get an incoming call, the device shows option to accept, reject or ignore a call. However, the device switches to an always-on mode if you choose to ignore the call, and there is no way you can turn the display off. Moreover, the stock browser is a bit of a disappointment as it works according to its own whims and fancies. However if you want better internet experience download Google Chrome or any other third-party browser.
The on-screen keyboard is fun to use and despite the phone’s narrow profile, typing with single as well as both hands is easy.
In terms of usability, Sailfish is very lightweight and offers a zippy experience to users. In addition to getting apps from Jolla’s very own app store, users can also sideload Android apps on the device from third -arty application stores or can simply install APK files. As for its native app store support, Jolla has made available the most popular applications through the native store including commonly-used apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. For applications that users are not able to find on the Jolla store, can be easily downloaded from third-party stores like Amazon and One marketplace. In terms of preloaded apps the device comes pretty much loaded for an average user with Facebook, WhatsApp, Here maps (online version), and Google contacts migration app being preloaded on the device. So from the moment you lay your hand it, and with an active internet connection, you just need about half an hour to get the device up and running.
A snappy snapper
Well again, the camera is where Jolla falls short in terms of pure numbers. The smartphone rocks an 8-megapixel camera at the back that comes with a LED flash for illumination during low-light conditions. For photography lovers, the Jolla might just fall a little short of the expectations because of its low megapixel number, especially since 13-megapixel cameras are the norm on similarly-priced handsets. However, the device focusses more on quality and that same is the case with this 8-meg shooter, which aims at offering good imagery overall.
The images offered by the rear camera are high of quality but the lower resolution limits the use of images. However, the images are easily comparable and even surpass many like-priced devices rocking dual-digit megapixel numbers for the camera. You can get a detailed lowdown on the camera quality with the camera review of the Jolla smartphone.
For the 2-megapixel front camera, we would say that the same has been added keeping functionality in mind and has nothing special to offer than overly-saturated images that are always not good. However, it should suffice for making video calls and the occasional selfie.
Not speedy but optimised hardware
When it comes to the hardware, the Jolla can’t really be called loaded. The device is based on a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor clocked at a nimble 1.4GHz, which is aided by 1GB RAM to do all the processing and multitasking. As per today’s standards, dual-core processors are only found in budget devices. However even with these hardware specs, the Jolla smartphone managed to offer fluid performance through the course of our review, and never hung or froze.
The Jolla smartphone is a clear example of why optimised software is much more important than pure hardware specs. The device comes with 16GB of total storage out of which close to 13.7GB is made available to the users. However, out of that close to 2GB will already be in use by the system and preloaded apps when you get the device. You can easily increase the internal storage to an additional 64GB using a microSD card.
For external connectivity, the device offers single-SIM connectivity with a 4G capable modem, which makes it ready to rock 4G data speeds. However, the device does not support the band that is currently in use in India, so users will have to make do with 3G connectivity for the time being. There are plans to open up newer bands and frequencies in India, and when it happens the Jolla smartphone will be 4G ready.
In addition to the 4G connectivity, the device comes with fairly standard connectivity options including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wireless connectivity and for accurate location reporting, the device gets support for both GPS as well as GLONASS satellites as well.
Low hardware specifications have an additional benefit that they are less draining on the system resources and same is the case with the Jolla as well. Its 2,100mAh battery pack returned some astonishing numbers in our battery drain test and actual usage tests as well. In the complete battery drain test the device managed to offer close to nine hours of HD video playback with 50 percent brightness and volume levels, which is great and definitely one of the USP’s of this smartphone.
In day-to-day use the device offer close to two days of usage with moderate usage of features, functionality and application use. However even for heavy users, the Jolla should last through the day easily with some juice left over, without making the user struggle to search for a power source.
Well, this is quite subjective and will vary from user to user when it comes to a new device. Moreover, here we are talking about a completely new ecosystem all together. Having said that, the Jolla smartphone has got the potential to make users give up their Android and iOS devices for some better functionality which is user-friendly. If anyone values better user experience over faster hardware (on paper) then this device should be worth a look.
The Jolla offers a completely new way of using a smartphone and has offered something very polished for a first attempt although there a few minor glitches which we are sure the company will take care in the coming iterations of the OS.
The device is fluid, offers good application experience, great battery life, a capable camera and above all a pocket-friendly price tag. However, it still needs a lot of TLC and education for the users to make it a hit among smartphone users.
Editors Rating: 8 / 10
- Great display
- Superb battery backup
- Fluid and lag-free performance
- Android app support
- Gesture-based UI is a little intimidating
- Stock browser is useless