Like Jolla's hardware, its Sailfish OS isn't markedly different from when we saw it running on a Nokia developer device almost a year ago. It's structured vertically, so you scroll up from the lockscreen to get to the multi-tasking screen, then to the app drawer. The interface is very gesture-heavy, so minimizing applications to the multi-tasking panel is done by dragging inwards from the left or right bezel. Similarly, dragging down from the top bezel closes an app, and coming up from the bottom bezel brings the notification and social network quick-access panel up. Some apps have "pulley" menus that open when you swipe downwards on the screen, and long presses in some contexts opens up a separate option menu.
If all that sounds kind of complicated, well, it is. We got better at knowing what to do next even during the short time we spent with the phone, but it's that learning curve we take umbrage with. It wants to be intuitive -- as the Jolla folks put it, they want you to do something, rather than press a button that does something -- but ends up being mysterious and sometimes confusing. The big smartphone platforms are much easier to navigate, partly because we're used to them before, but also because they do a good job of guiding you. Sailfish isn't friendly to novices, and the swipe gestures don't feel like a natural or particularly efficient way of interacting with the UI. There were a few occasions, too, when we just couldn't find that setting, or this option. Sharing a picture shouldn't be a chore. However, Jolla says it's committed to listening to feedback and intends to build on this initial release with updates. One such update that'll be arriving fairly shortly will enable LTE on the handset, which is limited to 3G at the moment.
Another problem with Sailfish is that performance just isn't as slick as other platforms. Poking around the OS is fast enough, but most apps take a second or two to load, when there are no crashes or quirks. Strange WiFi behavior and other problems like struggling to free our camera sample images show that there's a lot of polishing to be done. The Android integration, too, needs some work. Android apps appear in the regular app drawer, so there's no confusing disconnect there, but they all run very laggy. The selection in the Yandex app store itself is a little deflating also, but there are rumblings it's possible to install Amazon's App Store and others like Atoide. Sailfish's dedicated app store is extremely sparse at this time, but Jolla says there are a bunch in development. The company's general software strategy is to Android performance and stock up its own marketplace.
We were excited to get an extended look at a brand new smartphone player that's building its own products and OS. However, we came away a little underwhelmed. The handset is distinct, but not remarkable, although we're yet to see what can be done with the "other half." The OS is admittedly a work in progress, but now the Jolla phone is a retail device, we have conclude that the user experience just isn't up to scratch at this point. Perhaps mixing in some more traditional UI elements will make us appreciate the gesture system more, too.
The company has plans beyond their firstborn, as more handsets will be made in the future. Jolla were keen to report, however, that the focus currently is to improve Sailfish and support this initial device, not move on to other things now they've got this launch out of the way. All pre-ordered handsets are shipping across Europe at this time, but the phone will be available internationally through Jolla's website soon. Sailfish might end up in other devices not of Jolla's design, too. Dillon told us that prior to this handset's launch, Jolla had been in discussions with several Android smartphone makers. Now the company has delivered their own hardware, we're hearing some of those discussions just got a lot more serious.
James Trew contributed to this report.