Sunday 2 February 2014

Jolla phone review: Sailfish OS User Interface

Image: home screen of Jolla smartphone after update. Latest update brought landscape use also to the native browser. Covers shown are: Android launcher screen with a Meego theme (top left), native Sailfish browser (top right), Terminal (bottom left) and Webcat Browser (bottom right). Favourite app icons (right) doesn't support landscape mode yet.

Sailfish OS Naamankajärvi: This article introduces the latest Sailfish Operating system on Jolla smartphone, released by Jolla 31-Jan-2014. Article includes a review to the User Interface and couple of most used pre-installed apps, extended with all gestures used on Jolla smartphone. Article was published just a couple of days after was out (short time experience).


  1. How does Sailfish differentiate?
  2. Sailfish OS (Beta?)
  3. Gesture based user interface
  4. Moving around - 20 gestures storyline (review to the UI)
    - Included: Sailfish UI screens, Messages app, People app
  5. Available gestures - Lock screen
  6. Available gestures - Home screen
  7. Available gestures - Launcher screen
  8. Available gestures - Notifications screen
  9. Available gestures - Messaging app, 2nd screen
  10. Available gestures - People app, 1st screen
  11. Available gestures - People app, 2nd screen
(read also: Jolla smartphone - Detailed hardware specs) updated after
(read also: Newsletter from Jolla, released  6-Feb-2014)

1. Sailfish, the key factors against competitors

  • Sailfish OS, even at Beta stage, creates an unique, light and intuitive gesture based user interface. The phone doesn't need surface buttons (and it doesn't have any either).
  • Real multitasking with active covers (all running apps have an interactive thumbnail screen at the phone's home screen).
  • OpenSource policy of Jolla. According to CEO Pienimäki, Sailfish is planned to be shared to all Android users, and also to other device manufacturers. Additional to that, users can activate developer mode in their phone and access the Linux based operating system as a root user. No other phone offers this without rooting the phone first. Even more, after version there is a new recovery menu enabling unlocking the bootloader of Jolla, giving developers a possibility to load other operating systems to Jolla smartphone.
  • Android support running as a virtual machine (VM) on top of Sailfish OS, Jolla carries "a phone in a phone", enabling running a lot of Android apps. The support is not 100%, but it's been better after each system update so far. At the moment Android already supports all sensors.
  • Unlike? Binding all the above together gives me an idea that we might really have something new and different. At least we have a new finnish company, a new smarth phone and a new operating system providing a new UI. How many of you remember the beginning of Nokia story? Will Jolla make another story to follow? Does Sailfish differentiate enough to gain a share of the market ruled by Google's Android (81% of all smartphones worldwide)?

2. Sailfish OS (Beta?)

Jolla phone is powered by Sailfish OS, a Linux based system developed by Jolla. Sailfish OS has a longer history, it's developed from Meego (used in Nokia N9) in cooperation with OpenSource MER project. Nokia dropped Meego and it's developing team when Nokia started to use Microsoft software. The team was still exited about developing Meego, they saw its potential. Knowing it wouldn't be further developed by Nokia, company Jolla Oy was founded, and developing if both the Jolla phone and the Sailfish OS have been going on since 2011. Jolla has been updating Sailfish OS all this time, new versions have been published monthly. Latests one,, was delivered to the customers 31-Jan-2014.

3. Gesture based user interface

In Jolla, there are no surface buttons and all interaction is based on gestures. This supports Jolla's idea of developing an OS which can be used in multiple devices, not only smartphones or tablets. In Jolla smartphone most of the gestures can be started from any location of the screen, fitting your hand too. The used gestures in Sailfish OS environment are:
  • Pull - Slow gesture for selecting options from Pulley menus, moving object and selecting text content.
  • Flick  - Fast pull for moving inside and between screens and opening pulley menus in total. This most used gesture seems very intuitive when using the phone
  • Swipe - A pull which begins from outside the display. Very useful and intuitive gesture:
    • Swipe up (starting below the bottom of the screen) opens notifications screen, where you can find the latest messages and interactions (Phone/SMS/FB/Twitter/available updates). Second swipe up closes the notification screen and bring you back to your previous screen.
    • Swipe down (starting from above teh top of the display) closes the foreground app, or if there is none, shuts the screen down and locks the phone.
    • Swipe left/right (starting outside the edge of the screen) drops the foreground app to the home screen, leaving it running as an active cover. Active covers are explained below.
  • Tap - The most common gesture in several smartphone models to select an item, take a photo etc. Less used in Sailfish, as moving between the screens doesn't require tapping.
  • Double tap - Used to wake up the phone when the screen is shut down, bringing user to the lock screen.
  • Pinch - Two finger gesture used mostly for zooming. Works in browser, camera, maps, viewing photos or documents
  • Short hold - e.g. to open a selection menu or select a whole word from text content
  • Long hold - e.g. to select a whole line from text content
  • more gestures (multi-finger) might be interoduced later
The phone is fully usable with these gestures and without touching any buttons (except for powering up / shutting down the phone). Power key and volume keys are the only buttons on Jolla. Volume button can be used to take a photo (an option to tap).

4. Moving around 

20 gestures story, introducing the most of the user interface

As told, using Sailfish is based on gestures. I find it best to describe the user interface with a storyline, describing the screens and optional gestures on the way. This is how the phone is used - the content and the gestures just can't be separated. Moving from screen to another happens via transparency, and pull & swipe gestures can also be used to just peek the next screen - sliding your finger back the view you were about to see disappears again. By the way, all this takes a while to learn, but Sailfish user interface is actually very intuitive. After getting used to Sailfish, other UI's feels a bit... inelegant? But now, let the journey begin. Each gesture used is numbered:

1. Double tap in anywhere of the blank screen wakes the phone up.I'm at lock screen, watching the time and some icons telling I have some new notifications. Now we must hurry... lock screen shuts down in 5 seconds.
2. Short pull down, starting from anywhere in the screen. I'm in a meeting, so I quicly silence my Jolla via a pulley menu. I could start a camera too from there.
3.-4. Swipe left and tap. I enter my favourite ambiences selection screen and change my ambience to one of my favourites. The background, text colors and different notification sounds ant the ringtone are changed. I'm back on the lock-screen.
5. Swipe up. I saw on the lock screen that I had received a message, so I opened my notifications screen.
6. Swipe up again. There were no important notifications at this time, so I didn't tap any. Instead, I just closed the screen, and this is just another way to enter home-screen from notifications.

At home-screen I can see my favourite app icons (4) on the bottom and active covers (max 9) for my running Sailfish apps. One shows the latest one of my running Android apps. Android apps are forced to share just a single active cover.

7.-9. Tap on one of my favourite apps, player, and two more taps there to start playing one of my albums, saved to the phone in mp3 format.
10. Swipe-left. I drop the app to the home-screen. It's now running in a small screen called "active cover", and there seems to be a couple of gestures attached to it too.
11. Pull-left on the player active cover. I change to the next song. Another option would be pause.
12. Flick-up. The most used gesture again, starting from anywhere on the screen. This way I quickly enter my launcher-screen. Changing between screens seems very responsive, scrolling is fast.

Suddenly the music fades out and a nice, soft sound tells me I've got another message. The music fades back in. I was just about to download some more music with an Android app, but now I decide to check the message:

13. Swipe-up, familiar gesture to enter notification-screen, available from about anywhere.

There it is - one new FB message. Next to an icon I can see the sender and the beginning of the message, and the time passed since when it was sent. Other things shown in the notification screen are e.g. system-messages and transfered files. There are also big icons to enter FB and Twitter in Sailfish browser view.

14. Tap on my friends message. It opens the Messages app, a pre-installed part of Sailfish OS.

SMS, FB, Google, and XMMP are all integrated into the Messages app on Sailfish OS. Actually I don't consider it as an app at all, more likely a part of the UI. It's most usually opened via an incoming message. Here we can see an important part of the Sailfish OS - opening an app might bring few circles to the top of the screen. They tell that the app has more screens, scrollable with flick-gesture, or optionally, tapping the circles. I always use the flick. A highlighted circle shows on which screen you are - at the moment, on the second screen of Messages App.

I read the message and decide to answer. However, a small grey line is showing that my friend isn't online at Facebook any more... But Sailfish offers another option:

15. Tap to open keyboard. Writing the answer...
16. Hold to change message type. Aa small green line shows that my friend is online at Google Talk.
17.-18. Tap to choose Google Talk, another tap to send

It took me six gestures (+writing) to open a facebook message and to answer it with a Google talk message. Not bad at all :) After sending, the message app stays open, looking forward if my friends answers.

19. Swipe left. I drop the app to the home screen. Music was playing all the time, and it's still playing nicely, cover showing the album image. Latest app "Messages" is opened to another active cover, showing my latest three activities with my contacts. Oh, and I'm back on the home screen again.

20. Tap on my most favourite app, People.

This best part of the UI is yet without introduction, and I saved it as the last. In the 1st screen (let me call it People search screen) I have a view to my favourite contacts, all recent messages and to the alphabets. Coloured line on top of the screen teels that there is also a pulley menu. So, here are all my contacts.

21. Pull down to open search. Fastest way to enter a contact card when you have several contacts.
22. Tap the name which was found (after writing a couple of letters). Now I'm in the contact card (People app, 2nd screen. After a minute, the screen was shut down and the phone was locked.

Oh, 22 already? This is so much fun I just can't stop going on. But now I do that.  With just 20 gestures, I managed to:
  • Wake up the phone
  • Enter favourite ambiences
    - changed ringtone + all other sounds
    - changed volume levels for the sounds
    - changed backround image + text colour
  • Enter notifications screen
    - Check my notifications 
  • Enter home screen
    - start Player app
    - select an album
    - start to play it
  • - get a new active cover (Player)
  • Return to home screen
    - change the next song
  • Enter launcher screen
    - nothing was done here...
  • Enter Notifications screen again
    - select an incoming message
  • Start Messaging app
    - answer to an FB message with a Google Talk message
    - get a second active cover (Messages)
  • Return to home screen, looking at two active covers.
I'm wondering how many gestures I would need with other phone models for all this... Could someone do all the above with an Android, and count the gestures (including key presses)? By the way, there's one lie included in my story. Jolla users: can you find it?

5. All available gestures, lock screen 

  • Pull down - select items from pulley menu. Fast access to Settings, Camera, Phone and Silence mode.
  • Flick down - open the whole pulley menu and choose items with a tap
  • Swipe left/right - to enter favourite ambiences screen
  • Swipe up - Open notifications-screen. Lock screen already shows if I have some. 
  • Swipe up and return - Just a quick peek to the notification-screen
  • Swipe down to shut down the screen (or I could just wait 5 seconds)
  • Pull/flick up - Direct way to enter home-screen

6. All available gestures, home screen

  • Tap active cover to open an already running app to full screen (foreground)
  • Tap a favourite app icon to open one of those
  • Flick or Pull left/right on top of any active cover to launch the varying cover activities
  • Pull down and return to peek the clock
  • Flick or Pull down to return to the lock-screen
  • Pull up to enter a launcher-screen, showing more of my apps
  • Swipe left/right to enter favourite ambiences-screen
  • Swipe down to shut the screen down
  • Swipe up to check my notifications
  • Hold to enter the home-screen edit mode, enabling closing apps from the covers or pulley menu.

7. Available gestures, launcher screen

  • Tap on any icon to open an app
  • Hold to enter launcher-screen edit mode. There, you can sort the icons or remove apps.
  • Flick/pull down to return to the home-screen
  • Flick/pull up to enter the next launceh screen (only when more than 28 apps installed)
  • Swipe down to shut the screen down and lock the phone
  • Swipe up to open notifications screen. (Yes, it's possible here too) 

8. Available gestures, notifications screen

  • Tap to open an app or browser (depends on the notification)
  • Pull or flick down to open Pulley menu: Set to away, Show and tune your presence (in different account), clear all or Update all
  • Swipe down/left/right to close notifications and return to home
  • Swipe up to close notifications and return to the previous screen
  • Swipes can also be done as peeks, transparent view shows where you are heading to

9. Available gestures, Messages app (2nd screen)

  • Flick right to move to the 1st screen (showing all your latest messages)
  • Flick left to show and edit the contact information of the person (3rd screen)
  • Tap on a text line to open virtual keyboard and write an answer
  • Tap on "change type" to select the way of sending your answer. By default, it's selected as the same service from where the message came from.
  • Hold on "change type", to do the previous after writing a message 

10. Available gestures, People app (1st screen)

  • Flick down to open a pulley menu: Search, Add contact
  • Pull down to direclty select from the pulley menu
  • Tap on a favourite to open contact screen (2nd screen)
  • Tap on a recent message does the same
  • Tap an a letter shows a list of your contacts, starting with that letter
  • Swipe left/right drops People to home'screen, showing your favourites as changing images
  • Swipe down closes the People app
  • Swipe up opens your notification screen (yes, from here too)

11. Available gestures, People app (2nd screen)

  • Flick down opens a pulley menu: Delete, Link, Share, Edit
  • Pull down, selectiong items from that menu
  • Pull up to scroll the information
  • Flick or pull right to return to the 1st screen (circles are visible)
  • Tap on image to change it
  • Tap on star to add/remove from favourites
  • Tap on contact informations to enable "Send..." (another tap to send)
  • Swipe up to enter / peek notifications screen
  • Swipe left/right to drop to home screen
  • Swipe dowm to close people app
  • FREE: Pull left might have a future action - not in use yet

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