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Jolla Sailfish OS smartphone

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly



Jolla Sailfish OS

While the hardware dares to be different, the real interest in Jolla is the Sailfish operating system. Other than its Nokia/Intel foundations, what immediately appeals is Sailfish OS will be distributed to handset makers free of charge. Revenue will come from the licence of optional proprietary features and intellectual property. A ‘free but…’ model, if you like.

So what will tempt handset makers and telcos to invest? The most promising aspect to Sailfish is its core user interface. It is heavily gesture-based and borrows elements from BlackBerry 10, Windows Phone and Android, but combines them to create something unique.

Sailfish OS 6

Arguably Jolla has been motivated to do this because Nokia has kept the rights to its lauded Harmattan UI on the N9, but we like what we saw. Rather than icons, the homescreen features BlackBerry 10-esque tiles of the most recently open programs. Much like an Android widget these can be interacted with directly, swiping the phone tile left or right to reveal the dialler or contacts, the music player to switch content or get playback controls and so forth. Each tile also features live information like Windows Phone and can even continue playback of video.

Intriguingly Sailfish also requires no physical or virtual home, back, menu or search buttons. Instead these are again gesture based. Swipe up to the screen from the left or right bezel to go backwards or forwards between apps; up from the bottom of the bezel from apps to go back to the home screen and from the top bezel down to get critical information like battery life, signal strength, search and key settings.

All of these features work like BlackBerry 10 providing the option to ‘peak’ at information by not fully completing any swipe gesture. The current screen becomes transparent mid transition to show the screen before. Swiping up from the homescreen also pulls up an app drawer (akin to Android).

Sailfish OS notifications 2

Some of this will take time to learn, especially the swipe options of tiles for each currently open app but we can see how it could become an extremely fast and efficient way of navigating a UI. There were some glitches in what we saw, but it was already predominantly smooth and slick and an almost playful way to perform what are fairly arduous tasks on other platforms.

This system also means no space is wasted on docks at the bottom or the status bar at the top so the full screen is used at all times.

Sailfish OS app drawer

Elsewhere Jolla has a unified messaging system so Facebook, SMS and IM messages can be grouped into a single feed. Photos and contacts also unify with your social networks allowing you to comment on and like content without the need for a dedicated app and the lock screen contains information on missed calls, SMS and app notifications. This is much like Windows phone and navigation within apps also works in a similar manner, swiping left to right between sections and categories, rather than requiring access to a menu.

As for apps support, Jolla is appealing to developers to make Sailfish specific applications that take advantage of its navigation system, but it will be compatible with apps for Android. Jolla claims Android apps can be easily implemented because its lack of physical or digital buttons means the stock Android buttons can be recreated easily for each app. That said Jolla wasn’t demonstrating Android apps at this stage and it won’t get access to the Google Play store so third parties, including Amazon, will be necessary.

Sailfish OS notifications

Jolla Sailfish OS Prospects

From this initial hands-on we came away with the impression that Sailfish OS has a great deal of potential. It has a huge leg up from the core work already done by Intel and Nokia and its UI is genuinely innovative while taking a mixture of the best aspects from other platforms. On the hardware side whether the ‘Other half’ functionality of covers can be a genuine differentiator is less clear cut, but we can see it being popular in younger age groups.

That said where the real battle lies for Sailfish is not in convincing people it is a viable platform, but that it is preferable to the existing heavyweights. Our feeling is Jolla will have to reduce its handset price to achieve that, provide tight Android app integration from the outset and pick its markets carefully.

Sailfish OS 7

The company has already said it will release in a limited number of European countries for a Christmas targeted launch and telco agreements for them will be crucial. Jolla is also targeting China, a smart move given its sizable population and lesser commitment to iOS or Android.

Aside from this the other battle is with three more newcomers: the Samsung/Intel funded Tizen, Firefox OS and Ubuntu. The first two will also have phones out in 2013 with the latter expecting to debut in early 2014.

In the months before launch Jolla is putting a strong focus on community building and says a number of campaigns will appear between now and Christmas while pre-orders are already open. Expectations are realistic too with the company saying it doesn’t expect to be anything but a niche player for a number of years. From what we have seen it at least deserves to attain that.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut


May 24, 2013, 11:05 am

Which came first, nokia N9 or BB10? I think you will find that BB10 has a lot of Nokia N9esque features. Credit where it's due...

Gordon Kelly

May 24, 2013, 12:33 pm

That's true and I don't think I have discredited Nokia. In fact I go out of my way to point out the merits of the N9 because it deserves them.

That said there *are* a lot of BB10 features in Sailfish.


May 24, 2013, 1:37 pm

I do like your review and I am very jealous that you have had a hands on. I have pre ordered one and cannot wait until it comes :D


May 24, 2013, 1:55 pm

Regarding BB10, most of the swipe features was already introduced in Meego N9. Its an excellent interface and Sailfish is of course built on that UI. RIM probably figured Meego dead already so basically copied the best features from the system.

David Jensen

May 26, 2013, 12:13 pm

I have been following Meego since Nokia's Internet Tablet. The idea was that everything would be open source and Python, the easiest language, would be native. Apple's "There's an app for that" is a throwback to the 80's for microcomputers where you could not do anything unless someone developed it. This initial concept may have become mangled in Meego's previous partnerships, first with Intel (Moblin. based on Fedora combined(?) with Internet Tablet, based on Debian), then with Samsung. Sailfish must be REAL computer, as Ubuntu Touch apparently is, or it will not do well as do-it-yourselfers will want everything. A close examination will probably reveal that Microsoft took over Nokia by a type of force. Nokia's projects before the takeover indicates that Nokia understood open source very well.


May 26, 2013, 12:20 pm

Sailfish is more of a truly F/OSS stack than Ubuntu is ever likely to be...
It adopts all libraries/standards used in the community, Jolla's not plagued by the "NIH" syndrome as a way to CONTROL elements of the stack. Just one e.g; Canonical's Mir, as opposed to the community's Wayland/Weston.

Canonical has a dubious track-record in this area....
It's still early days, so they may turn out to be good citizens, but I won't hold by my breathe. I have more confidence in the Sailfish(Jolla) initiative for delivering something truly meritocratic, for the CORE, not the proprietary bits, which often have their place/uses.

Gordon Kelly

May 27, 2013, 10:20 pm

Which begs the question whether whoever owns these patents could now come calling...

Gordon Kelly

May 27, 2013, 10:22 pm

It is a really interesting project - both from marketing and technological standpoints. Impressed to see you sign straight up. Hopefully we can bring you a full review closer to launch, though do let us know your thoughts if you get your device before our full review is up.


July 9, 2013, 2:55 am

Actually, the reason I started following Blackberry's progress and eventually bought a Z10 was because it was very similar to Sailfish and Sailfish isn't 'out' yet ! I had been actively following Nokia's situation when I was looking for a replacement for my N8, and was happy to see the "MeeGo" work continued !

Kevin Haworth

September 16, 2013, 2:51 pm

I read this review with great interest. The handset looks and description are appealing.
It is of no great matter what the core software is based upon so long as it works. To buy the handset it would have to offer the same as what I have now or better. I tried an early Blackberry Z10, and was initially impressed with the gesture based ineterface. However I soon lost interest when I realised the camera was featureless, the navigation hopeless, and customisation out of the box none existant. To rub salt into the wound you have to pay extra for a Blackberry bolt on to obtain full functionallity. It is notable that the Z10 sells now for half what I paid for it 6 months ago. It would be a shame if the Jolla phone failed in these critical areas. For me it has to have a featured camera, useable satnav and customisation out of the box. I feel the jolla has hit the right note (not more of the same but also not too different). If the Jolla maintains the current specification / looks and addresses the camera, navigation and customisation criteria which are not mentioned in the review this handset should be a winner and I would wish them great success. I will follow progress in the run up to release, but it is too early for me to commit to pre order until the full specification and features are released.


September 18, 2013, 4:09 pm

There is no sense in Linux phone without QWERTY keyboard


December 1, 2013, 9:23 pm

I dont think the Jolla device has a special camera, thats not really the selling point, but it does have good navigation. It uses Here (Nokia) maps, these maps are used by all the large car manufacturers and is aguebly better than google maps (maybe not in features, but in accuracy). It does have some customization, from the feature called ambiance, and you're able to change the pulley menu, but I dont think its as customizable as android.


December 2, 2013, 2:02 am

There is 1-2 BIG functionality limitations with the maps, but they've already hinted that they have fixes coming soon that'll remove those, touch-wood. HERE's POI data generally isn't as good as Google's, but in terms of location accuracy & raw location data, it's just as good as Google.

In time Sailfish will be just as customisable -if not more*, they're focusing on stability/performance/feature_count in the ~1st yr of it's life before allowing too much flexibility WRT customisation. But there will be others in the community working on that in parallel regardless, so you can dip your toe into that area long before it becomes a hard-focus for Jolla/Partners.

*certainly Nemo already is "right now"


February 28, 2014, 10:08 am

The community is building at least one QWERTY keyboard Other Half amongst other, more imaginative things.

Bear in mind, this is a community which has rebuilt the N900 with faster CPU and more memory using off-the-shelf parts.



June 21, 2014, 10:48 pm

I'm Still using only one handset that's Nokia 808 pureview, and madly in love with it. But with time I'll have to replace it. Wondering what could be a worthy successor? I hate nokia 1020!

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