The BQ Ubuntu Phone Will Be Stocked With Binary Blobs
The BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition smartphone announced today that will begin selling next week via "flash sales" is certainly interesting from the software side with being the first official Ubuntu Phone, but from a hardware side, it's less than exciting.
The phone specs are just decent by today's standards with just having a quad-core Cortex-A7 up to 1.3GHz, 8GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, and 4.5-inch qHD display. What makes the hardware less desirable though is that it uses a MediaTek SoC. This MediaTek SoC with quad-core Cortex-A7 processor uses ARM Mali 400 graphics.
While there is the Lima driver for trying to free up to the ARM Mali graphics, Lima hasn't seen too much work recently and the code is not mainlined in Mesa. Lima and the new "Tamil" driver is the hobby work of Luc Verhaegen. The graphics driver to be used by the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition is MediaTek's closed-source Android driver, which through libhybris will work with Canonical's Mir display server that's at the heart of Unity 8.
There isn't much in the way of new enablement of the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition hardware given that Ubuntu Touch leverages CyanogenMod. The choice of the first Ubuntu Phone using a MediaTek SoC is already drawing criticism in the forums as MediaTek isn't one of the nicest Linux players.
MediaTek doesn't have much upstream Linux kernel support, puts out binary blobs, and even does controversial moves around its drivers. Last year at XDA Developers it was pointed out how MediaTek attempts to close off GPL-licensed code and has violated the GPL in the past. MediaTek charges a licensing fee to device manufacturers for the Linux kernel source code. MediaTek isn't a good Linux partner.
There aren't many open-source friendly ARM SoC vendors out there, but a Qualcomm-powered Ubuntu Phone would be interesting given there's the improving Freedreno driver that Qualcomm has even started contributing to. It would even be exciting to see an Intel-powered Ubuntu Phone given that Intel is one of the friendliest major hardware vendors to Linux, their latest-generation designs improve the power efficiency a lot, and their Linux graphics stack is in great shape along with their other components being supported by the mainline Linux kernel. For a high-end phone, the NVIDIA Tegra K1 and newer would be very interesting for great performance, some open-source support, etc. It will be interesting to see how these BQ "flash sales" go in the next few weeks to see if the first Ubuntu Phone is a success and will lead to more smartphones launching in different markets.