This is the dawning of the age of Aquaris -- and Ubuntu, too

/ Updated: March 7, 2014 5:10 PM PST
The Spanish-made BQ Aquaris is one of the first Ubuntu phones. Rich Trenholm/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in...on the first Ubuntu phones. The BQ Aquaris will, alongside the Meizu MX3, be the first phone to show off the Android-rivaling new operating system some time this year.

I dropped in on Canonical, the British company behind Ubuntu, at Mobile World Congress 2014, where I got my hands on prototypes of both the Aquaris and the Meizu MX3. Sadly, neither are actually working models yet, but at least we can get a glimpse at what's in store when Ubuntu arrives.

The BQ Aquaris, on the left, and the Meizu MX3, on the right, are the first Ubuntu phones.

Both phones are existing Android smart phones but will have Ubuntu software piped in some time before the end of the year. The exact release dates will be confirmed soon, as will the actual specs and prices.

The phone
The Aquaris is built by Spanish manufacturer BQ. It's a 4.5-inch smart phone -- slightly smaller than the 5.1-inch Meizu device -- and it's powered by a MediaTek A7 quad-core chip, as opposed to the MX3's eight-core version.

But when it comes to looks, I know which of the two phones gets my vote: the Aquaris, all the way. The Chinese-made MX3 is styled somewhere between the Samsung Galaxy's curved glossy plastic and a classic iPhone -- and looks utterly anonymous as a result. But the Aquaris has something about it that gives it a bit of style, with its subtly rounded corners, slim profile, and slablike, minimalist rear.

The software
The BQ Aquaris will be powered by Ubuntu software, which boasts an elegant and intuitive interface. It's controlled by swiping in from each side of the screen, with home screens replaced by customised and themed screens called 'scopes'.

I've gone into more depth on how Ubuntu works in my hands-on first take of the Meizu MX3 -- check it out here to find out how Ubuntu is different from Android.

For more of the coolest new phones, tablets, and wearable technology, check out our in-depth coverage of Mobile World Congress 2014.

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