The Ubuntu Touch Phone


The following article became – as many things in the technical branch – outdated shortly after publishing. The Ubuntu Phone project doesn’t exist anymore as such, it is nowadays community-driven and named UBPorts. Which is awesome, better than Ubuntu Phone ever was. Check it out on!

Half a year ago I got fed up with the mobile phone triopoly of Google, Apple and Microsoft. Being a Linux nerd for years I thought the time was right to evaluate the Ubuntu Touch phone.

There are only a few phone brands sold with a native Ubuntu OS. Offers can be found on the homepage of Ubuntu for phones. There is also the possibility to put the OS on a huge variety of phones yourself, but it is not recommended for inexperienced users as it demands quite some skills to make it work. Also I took the easier way and ordered the cheapest of the Ubuntu Phones, the BQ Aquaris 4,5.

What actually is the Ubuntu Phone? The official commercial reveals more about Ubuntu-founder Mark Shullteworth’s eating and leisure habits than anything else.


Ubuntu is one of the most successful distributions of the free Linux operating system. Since the last year Ubuntu is also available for mobile phones. The competition with the three giants Microsoft, Apple and Google makes Ubuntu’s success in this sector a really difficult enterprise.

Let us take a closer look on the phone itself. The Aquaris looks nice, is not too heavy and comes with two slots for SIM-cards. The first setup is really easy, the touch-screen has a smooth feel. I was used to Android and Cyanogen Mod, but the navigation is completely different on Ubuntu. It takes some time to get used to but once you did you don’t want to go back. The whole system works neatly, there are several updates and upgrades every month and also the offer of Ubuntu apps is growing every day. If you are happy with it like this, you can leave it.

However, Ubuntu Phone has its edges, but there are lots of things you can do to improve it and turn it into a real alternative to the established operating systems.

Let the following screen-shots showcase the look and functions of Ubuntu Phone. If you already own one, you can continue reading below the pics.

ubuntu2 ubuntu1 ubuntu4
At first sight the app scope looks ugly, it needs some improvement After changing the background and some icons, it is more peasant to look at Recently I felt more for some Steampunk design
ubuntu4 ubuntu2 ubuntu4
A swipe from top-down brings you to the settings
A swipe from left to right shows your favourite apps A swipe from right to left shows the active apps
ubuntu4 ubuntu2 ubuntu4
Album Playing a song

Things to do first

If you already own an Ubuntu Phone you will find some optional steps for improvement in the following.

First you should look if there are any updates for your software. Swipe from left to right an go to settings. Go to Updates.

Get important apps. On the app scope scroll down to the bottom and click on “Ubuntu Store”. These apps you should have: Dekko (E-Mail-Client), Filemanager, Terminal and Calendar. Also quite useful are Podbird (a podcast app), the Facebook app by M. Reese, and the gallery app Imaginario (it is better than the built-in Gallery app).

To import your contact you need to export them to a vcf-file on your former phone. Mail this file to yourself and open it in Dekko. The contact should be imported automatically.

To get some very nice tweak tools for your Ubuntu Phone, install Open Store (instructions are here). With the Open Store you can install the Ubuntu Touch Tweak Tool, with witch you can make the file-system writeable (you only need that for advanced improvements, see below) and organise your apps.

For Advanced Users

The following steps are recommended only for experienced Linux-users. As you could break your OS, I take no responsibility for the outcome. For the following you will need the Terminal app and the Filemanager and a writeable file-system (activate via Ubuntu Touch Tweak Tool).

Change the Scopes’ background:  Copy the image of your choice (in PNG-format) to the /home/phablet/Pictures folder. Go to the Terminal app and replace the background with the following command:

sudo cp /home/phablet/Pictures/your_image.png /usr/share/unity8/Dash/graphics/paper_portrait\@27.png

After a reboot your new background should be there.

Replacing icons: Replace the icons in the same way as the Scope’s background above. The tricky part here is to find the location of the icons to be exchanged, as they are not within the same folder, but scattered all over the file-system. Here is a list of the locations of icons I found. Replace them by adjusting the following command:

sudo cp /home/phablet/Pictures/your_icon.png /path/to/location/icon.png

Get rid of the circle on the lockscreen: The lockscreen of the Ubuntu Phone is showing a circle with statistics of your mobile phone behaviour. It was praised by a lot of users, I just find it ugly. What I did is a dirty brute-force method, I just renamed the graphics-folder of the lockscreen so that it cannot access them. Do it only if you are aware of the risk.

sudo mv /usr/share/unity8/Greeter/graphics/ /usr/share/unitiy8/Greeter/graphics1/

You can revert this decision with this command:

sudo mv /usr/share/unity8/Greeter/graphics1/ /usr/share/unitiy8/Greeter/graphics/

lockscreen2         lockscreen

Nothing left to say than: “Happy modding!”


Icons I used in the Steampunk-theme are from:

I didn’t get paid to write this article, nor do I want to make a commercial. As the Linux-fan that I am, I am intending to show you an alternative and share my experience with those who could benefit from it.

About André Savetier

Since 2011 André Savetier is actively working as a music journalist with an expertise on contemporary new wave music phenomena. His scientific specialization is anthropology of music and anthropology of popular culture. Savetier remains intrigued by the interplay between the aforementioned social phenomena, the told (and untold) legends of music and its roots.

2 Thoughts on “The Ubuntu Touch Phone

  1. James on 29th May 2016 at 05:24 said:

    Very informative… I am currently looking at UI and theming possibilities ( Ubu touch is soooo bland to look at!), do you happen to know how/if font colour/style/size can be adjusted ?

    • Hi James, it depends on how much you are into Linux. The Ubuntu Phone is not really ready for the big market, as modding around with it is quite tricky. Until they don’t make this easier, it will stay a geek-thing, I guess. You definitely can re-style it though, but you have to find out, how.

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