Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ubuntu 13.04 on the Nexus 7... It works!

I could not resist the temptation to flash my Nexus 7 with the special Ubuntu 13.04 version built by Canonical.

The flashing process is quite easy to execute but does require some geek experience to avoid bricking your precious Android device. As writing this post, there is a major flaw in Ubuntu where the touch interface dies leaving you with no way to interact with the GUI. But there is hope as dedicated developers are working on this issue and have released today a patch to "fix" the problem (Link to patch in comments)

After installing the patch, it does work almost like a charm. I still triggered the issue but it took a while before it happened. As a plan B, make sure to have an external keyboard connected or a Remote Desktop access enable to be able to logout and login again, resetting the issue.

What works!
- Wifi
- Brightness control
- Sound and microphone
- Bluetooth (used a BT keyboard)
- Ubuntu One file sharing
- Playing video streams, using Chromium
- Sharing folders over Samba
- Remote Desktop Access (VNC)
- Sound level is way louder than using Android
- Video playback fullscreen

Everything seems to work as a regular Ubuntu desktop!

What does not work...
- The webcam
- Could not find a workable Flash player
- Playing music sometime have hiccups.
- USB file access is not implemented (at least, not by default)

What I think

It's just amazing. Of course, it's a preview distribution and not meant for a mainstream. It's a proof of concept, that's all. But it's usable to some point.

The overall experience is pretty smooth. Not much lag, not more than Android as a matter of fact. Icons are too small in some cases making it difficult to click on the right one. The virtual keyboard is okay, but since it can be fully customized, there is a way to make it more practical. The default keyboard layout is too small so you have to be careful when typing.

A few tips

Lower the default brightness level as the battery drains fast. Actually, I found out that the battery last almost the same time as when it is running Android, if you are not transcoding a video file for example.

Have an external keyboard available as it can save your butt when the touch interface stops working. With the available patch, it's far less serious, but still possible. Also enable the desktop icon in the virtual keyboard settings to invoke the keyboard. Even if Unity is not capturing touch events, the keyboard icon still is. Press "Alt" to invoke a "Run" command line and type "log". The dashboard will show you a short cut to "Log out". This will bring you back to the login screen and reset the touch interface to a working state.

Also enable Remote Desktop access as you can, from another computer or device regain access to your tablet using VNC.

Enable Ubuntu One or Shared folders via Samba which will let you copy some files on your device.

Firefox does run well, but Chromium is way smoother on the Nexus.

After booting up, sound is always muted, but it works if you adjust the volume with the hardware buttons, unmuting it.

Chromium does interact better with the virtual keyboard than Firefox.

Enable multi-desktop in your settings, it does work perfectly and let's you have multiple apps opened with an easy access.

Be prepared to re-flash everything if it does not work for you.

Flashing from Windows, it's possible!

Most tutorials are written for using an Ubuntu computer to unlock and flash the Nexus 7. But you can do it using Windows 7 also.

Install Wug's Toolkit to unlock the Nexus ( Follow the instructions until your tablet is unlocked.

Then, open a console as "Administrator" (type "cmd" in the Start menu, CMD.exe will show up, right-click on it to "Run as an administrator".

Download the 2 files to install Ubuntu ( Follow the instructions from the wiki page...

Copy your Ubuntu files in C:\Program Files(x86)\WugFresh Development\Data. The command "fastboot" is located there. The in your console, move to that folder and follow the wiki instructions the same way.

After a few minutes, you'll have a brand new Ubuntu tablet!

Have fun!

Patrick Balleux

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