BQ Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition is the second Ubuntu phone

Swapping apps for "scopes", Ubuntu's software mounts a challenge to Android and the iPhone.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The BQ Aquaris E5 is the second Ubuntu phone to go on sale. Canonical/BQ

Four months after Ubuntu first offered an alternative to iPhone or Android, the second Ubuntu-powered mobile device is here. The BQ Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition is available in Europe and costs €200.

The E5 Ubuntu Edition is a version of BQ's Android-powered E5, with Ubuntu software for mobile devices running the show instead of Android. Ubuntu is a long-established operating system beloved of developers and tinkerers looking for an alternative to Windows or Mac OS X for their computer, but it isn't widely used among everyday folks.

Canonical, the British company behind Ubuntu, is expanding the operating system's reach so it works in other devices as well as PCs, including phones and tablets and even drones. We first tried Ubuntu for mobile devices back in 2013, and since then Canonical has partnered with manufacturers BQ in Spain and Meizu in China. The first Ubuntu Edition phone to be available to the public was the E4.5 in February , sold in a series of time-limited "flash sales".

The 5-inch E5 goes on sale on 9 June at the BQ online store, ditching the gimmicky flash sales. It'll costs €200, which converts to around £145, $220 or AU$290. There are currently no plans to sell the phone in the US, Australia or anywhere else outside Europe, however, as Spanish manufacturer BQ only offers customer support in Europe.

The E5 Ubuntu Edition's Ubuntu software uses "scopes" custom home screens that combine online sources with the stuff on your phone. Canonical/BQ

The E5's screen is a 5-inch, 720p high-definition display. Underneath is a 1.3GHz MediaTek Quad Core Cortex A7 processor backed by a mediocre 1GB of RAM, with 16GB of storage for the phone's firmware and your photos, movies and music -- and a microSD slot to expand that.

The camera is a 13-megapixel job with dual flash. It shoots full-HD 1080p video. On the front is a 5-megapixel camera for video calling or lower-resolution selfies.

The E5 boasts not one but two SIM card slots. That means you can put in two SIMs and have two different numbers; one for work and one for personal calls, say, or one for calling domestically and one for international calls on a better tariff. If you regularly call or travel abroad that can save you money without having to constantly fumble around with different SIM cards.

Dual-SIM phones like this are rare in the UK, for example, but are more common in developing mobile markets.

Ubuntu software

The Ubuntu operating system is the same as found on the E4.5. The operating system takes a slightly different approach than the app-based system you might be familiar with from the iPhone or Android phones. Instead you have home screens called "scopes" that mix together, for example, online sources of video such as YouTube with the videos saved on your phone. The idea is you don't need to open separate apps; if you want to watch a video, they're all in one place.

Other scopes include News or Nearby home pages that tell you what's going on in the world or suggest local bars and restaurants.

Individual websites and services can also build their own scopes, which are similar to the dedicated apps we're all familiar with. Essentially HTML5 Web apps, scopes are intended to be simpler to make than a full-blown app, so developers working on Ubuntu phones aren't obligated to spend time and money building another proprietary version of their app as they would with iOS, Android or Windows Phone.