BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition review

Is the world's first Ubuntu Phone worth the wait?

BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition
The BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition is the first commercially available Ubuntu Phone

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It will come as no surprise that the along with the low price of the Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition, BQ has packed pretty unexciting hardware. This means a 4.5-inch screen with a rather low 960 x 540 screen, a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek Cortex-A7 processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage.

With these specs in mind, Ubuntu Phone performs quite well on the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition, feeling reasonably smooth as you flick your way through the Scope interface of the operating system.

BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition

Some scopes work better than others

Clicking on headlines and opening up web pages in the custom default web browser is perfectly fine, which is good news as you'll be doing that a lot.

Some Scopes also work very well, and show the potential of Ubuntu Phone. For example, the Music scope not only shows new albums that can be bought through 7digital, and popular music videos on YouTube, but it also shows upcoming music gigs at venues near your current location.

This means you don't have to go opening up lots of different apps to get all of this information, and I'm looking forward to seeing what future Scopes bring – though it's unlikely I'll still be using the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition, due to its disappointing performance in other areas.

Long load

For example many of the installed apps such as Facebook take some time to load, ranging from a couple of frustrating seconds, to nearly half-a-minute, which wasn't very impressive at all.

After waiting a short while to load the Facebook app, I was greeted with a message above the login screen that said "Get Facebook for Android and browse faster." If this was the first impression of a phone I had just splashed out on, I wouldn't be amused – no matter how cheap the price tag was.

The interface of Ubuntu Phone also takes some getting used to, and even though I am a veteran of iOS, Android and Windows Phone, it still took me a while to get accustomed to yet another interface.

You swipe through the preconfigured scopes by drawing your finger from right to left, and with a quick swipe from the left-hand side of the screen, a menu appears giving you quick access to apps such as Gmail, settings and the phone app. Menus and Scopes flow smoothly enough, though there can sometimes be a small – yet perceptible – pause, while browsing.

Low power

Opening apps is another story, however, with noticeable delays reminding you that the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition is an underpowered phone. Some of the delays can be down to the Ubuntu Phone's new and sometimes buggy software, but I fear that on these modest specs, you're never going to get a snappy experience.

As the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition runs Ubuntu Phone we can't run the usual Geekbench 3 benchmarks, but from my time with the phone it's clear that this is a bottom rung handset when it comes to performance.

As the Ubuntu Phone software matures and bug fixes are released, the performance of the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition could improve, but there's only so much you can do with such limited hardware.

Battery life

The battery life of the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition is very good, and it wasn't until the third day of using it that I had to find the charger and plug it in. Although three days of battery life is pretty great, I don't feel as if I can give the 2150mAh battery all the credit for this.

The Ubuntu Phone operating system is the main reason the battery lasted so long, but not in the way Canonical would be particularly keen on shouting about.

BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition

There are simple battery saving options

Sure, the software is a bit lighter than other resource-intensive operating systems, but the main reason the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition's battery lasted so long was that I hardly used the device.

None of my favourite games are available for Ubuntu Phone, and the ones that are present are either awful or perform terribly on the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition's limited hardware. Sometimes both.

So without me playing games while waiting for the bus, the battery remained relatively untroubled. Regular checking of Facebook, Twitter and emails is another reliable battery drain, but the apps are so barebones, or perform so badly, that I cut down my social networking habits as well, preferring to wait until I get to a PC or – whisper it – a more competent smartphone.

Browsing the internet is better, and I did far more of that, though when out and about there's no fast 4G LTE mobile connection, you instead have to settle for good old – and slow – 3G. But it's less battery intensive so that's something.

Although the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition does a good job of holding its charge when not in use, in our battery benchmark – which involves playing a high definition video for 90 minutes with the screen at full brightness – the battery life plummeted, leaving only 54%. Regardless of the poor resolution of the screen, this is obviously not a handset for watching movies on.

If you want a smartphone that can last for days on a single charge with light usage, the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition could be of interest, as it at least offers more features than a basic handset. However, it's worth considering something like the Lumia 435 which is much cheaper, offers similar battery life and has roughly the same features – but is a far more solid and dependable handset.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.