First Ubuntu smartphone, Aquarius E5 now available in the U.S., but with a catch

Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu OS, and Spanish hardware maker BQ launched the first Ubuntu-based smartphone in Europe in February this year. This was followed by a second handset in June, which was also limited to European buyers. Now, for the first time, the customers in the U.S. will be able to lay their hands on these phones.

With entry level specs, the Aquarius E5 Ubuntu model is a reasonably priced device that comes with a 5-inch, 1280×720 HD display. It is powered by a quad-core MediaTek processor clocked at 1.3GHz coupled with 1GB of RAM. It also comes with 16GB of in-built storage capacity along with a microSD card slot. Further, it has two unlocked SIM card slots and is backed by a 2500mAh battery. Additionally, it has a 13-megapixel camera with dual flash that can shoot 1080p HD video along with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.This smartphone comes at a price of €199.90 (approx. $219) off-contract.

The smartphone’s predecessor, the BQ Aquaris E4.5, was launched in February as the first Ubuntu phone and was only made available in flash sales in limited quantities. This model comes with a 4.5-inch qHD (540×960) display 4.5-inch 960×540 display, 8-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front cameras, 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and a 2150mAh battery. This handset is priced at €169.90 (approx. $186).

Aquarius E5 Ubuntu operates on 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz 2G GSM bands, and the 900 and 2100MHz 3G UMTS bands. However, in the U.S., carriers AT&T and T-Mobile support HSPA+ services. AT&T supports the 850/1900MHz GSM bands, but it only supports the 850/1900MHz UMTS bands, while T-Mobile similarly supports the 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM bands and the 850/1900MHz UMTS bands.

This means that the frequency bands in use by both dominant telcos are incompatible with those used by the E5. As a result, the users of the E5 would be shifted onto the 2G Enhanced Data GSM Evolution (EDGE) network. The smartphone also does not support 4G LTE.

Canonical accepts that in some locations these phones have limited connectivity, but says that it wanted to give everyone the chance to “get a taste of the Ubuntu OS and experience it for themselves on a great range of BQ devices.”

Canonical and BQ have launched a global store from where anyone can buy an Ubuntu phone, which currently has two models: the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition and the BQ Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition.

With these Ubuntu phones finally being made available to consumers globally, it is the limited connectivity in places like the US that is likely to limit their appeal. However, there is a new Ubuntu phone on the way, the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition that offers higher-end specs and will also be able to take advantage of the 4G networks offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. No official announcement has been on the U.S. release date for this phone just yet.

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