The concept of a standalone computer residing in a portable device is one that would seem not beyond the realms of possibilities. Today's smartphones, tablets and even smartwatches are powerful enough to drive larger displays, may connect with devices such as mice and keyboards, or access higher capacity storage devices. We've seen the Chrome OS platform condensed into a computer that is around the size of a USB stick and over time this is likely to shrink further, but Canonical have another project involving using the Ubuntu LINUX distribution and portable hardware. Ubuntu is considered to be the only operating system that can run both a mobile touchscreen interface and a personal computer, windowed experience from a single smart device. Canonical's project has been delayed by at least two years and there are several similar such projects in existence, not least including Microsoft and the Continuum software, but it's finally here: Canonical have released their first Ubuntu tablet this week in conjunction with hardware manufacturer, BQ. The tablet follows a number of Ubuntu-powered smartphones.
The new tablet is in reality a modified version of an existing model, the Aquaris M10. It has a 10.1-inch screen with a FHD resolution and is powered by one of MediaTek's tablet System-on-Chip designs, the MT8163A. This consists of a cluster of four 64-bit, ARM Cortex-A53 application processors backed by by 2 GB of RAM. Although in the context of modern Android devices, this is lower mid-range, the Ubuntu platform is lightweight and should perform well on this hardware. The device is 8.2mm thick, weighs 470g and includes a 7,280 mAh battery. The device works in tablet mode when used standalone, but switches to a windowed PC mode when a wireless mouse and keyboard are connected, or when an external monitor is connected, becoming a Ubuntu PC. One software tweak that the tablet has is what Cannonical are calling "side stage," that is, the ability to run two applications side by side and so take advantage of the device's larger screen. The Ubuntu installation includes the full range of desktop and thin client applications, file browsing including file creation and management, an application store and access to the Ubuntu security update service.
Cannonical's Chief Executive Officer, Jane Silber, explained that the tablet interface is designed to be a tablet rather than a stretched smartphone experience. She also added that Ubuntu has something that, currently, no other operating system can offer; a single visual framework and set of tools that allow applications to run on any kind of Ubuntu smart device. The Ubuntu operating system also offers enterprise-grade security and is ideal for enterprise organisations wanting to take tight control over their own systems. Rodrigo del Praco, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at BQ, said this about the new tablet: "The Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition is our third mobile device to ship with Ubuntu. Our customers were delighted with the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition and Aquaris E5 HD Ubuntu Edition phones, and we're excited to be the first OEM to ship the converged Ubuntu experience. It's this kind of innovation that makes BQ and Ubuntu such a great fit."
At the moment we do not have confirmation of an exact release date or price, other than the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet is going on sale in the second quarter via BQ's website. The tablet has been much delayed, but when it will soon see the light of day: this could be a very interesting project to see if the Ubuntu platform can gain traction in the tablet market.