Jolla Tablet shows us what Sailfish OS is capable of

When Jolla's first smartphone debuted with Sailfish OS, it didn't leave a great impression with some of our staff. The gesture-heavy UI was confusing to newcomers and offered few advantages over rival mobile platforms. Aside from just being different, of course. Since then, however, Jolla has been quietly improving Sailfish OS to ensure it makes a splash with its first tablet. That's right: We're talking about the slate that blasted through its $380,000 crowdfunding target on Indiegogo last November. We've been hands-on with a not-quite-final build at Mobile World Congress and the impact of "Sailfish OS 2.0" is immediate. The hardware is solid, but it's the simplified navigation that stands out the most.

The first software revamp that grabs your attention are the retooled gestures. Now, you swipe in from either the left- or right-hand edge to jump to the home screen. Similar to the Jolla smartphone, this area doubles as the app-switcher with live previews for recently opened Sailfish apps. Dragging your finger from the bottom edge will open the app drawer, while a flick from the top offers different profiles and a lock shortcut. Following so far? Good, because that's almost all there is to it. From the home screen, thumbing left will reveal Jolla's combined quick settings and notification center, while a step right reveals optional "partner spaces," where brands can offer pinned, personalized services.

When I first used the Jolla smartphone and Sailfish OS, which is based somewhat on Nokia's old MeeGo platform, I was a little overwhelmed. All too often, I would dive one or two levels down into a menu and then feel disorientated as I tried to step back and, almost inevitably, used the wrong gesture to end up somewhere else entirely. Needless to say, Sailfish 2.0 should be a little easier to grasp for people just testing the water. The overall look hasn't changed all that much, but it feels markedly better on the new hardware.

The roughly 8-inch display is fairly bright and sharp, and the Intel Atom processor kept everything ticking along nicely. I didn't have the chance to really put the tablet through its paces though -- I'll save a proper stress test for when the company has a finalized, consumer-ready version. Unlike the Jolla smartphone, which felt like a distinctively mid-range device, this new tablet has some premium flair. There are few buttons and other hardware clutter, and the rounded edges make the navigation-critical swipes easier to perform. The design isn't adventurous or original, but it's pleasing to the eye.

Jolla is still optimizing Sailfish OS 2.0, so it would be unfair to nitpick individual apps. The company's own offerings seem functional though, and its support for Android apps should make most of them redundant anyway. There's no Google Play, but you can get your Android fix via Jolla's marketplace and third-party alternatives, such as Yandex.Store.

Jolla wants Sailfish OS to be the third dominant ecosystem behind iOS and Android. Microsoft, Mozilla and a few others might have something to say about that, but the Finnish company has a clear strategy to differentiate itself; for one, it's promising monthly Sailfish OS updates, as well as increased security through a new partnership with SSH Communications Security. It's also picked a fight with Google today, claiming that Android is "designed to collect data from its users." If you pick Sailfish OS instead, Jolla co-founder Marc Dillon says your user data will be kept under lock and key.

I'll hold off on a final judgment until Jolla's tablet is closer to release. But this first look surprised me. The company's debut smartphone was a mixed bag full of promising ideas and lackluster execution. The tablet is a different proposition though; the hardware is better and the improvements to Sailfish OS show promise. Jolla is now keen for other manufacturers to adopt Sailfish OS, so think of this device like Google's Nexus program. Regardless of how it sells (although its crowdfunding campaign suggests there's plenty of interest), Jolla can use it to demonstrate the potential of its alternative mobile OS.

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