Aquaris E5 Ubuntu phone launches globally, sans 4G or even 3G in US

BQ has finally made its Ubuntu smartphone available in the US -- but the handset doesn't have 4G LTE, and it also won't be compatible with the 3G bands in use.
Written by Corinne Reichert on

Spanish technology manufacturer BQ announced over the weekend that its Aquaris E5 Ubuntu smartphone is now globally available -- but its lack of frequency support means it won't be operating on 4G, or even 3G in the United States.

The E5, originally made available only in the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway when it was launched in June, is priced at €199.90 ($218.94) and operates across 900MHz and 2100MHz Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) 3G networks.

In the US, carriers AT&T and T-Mobile support HSPA+ services; however, the frequency bands in use by both dominant telcos are incompatible with those used by the E5.

The E5 works on 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz 2G GSM bands, and the 900 and 2100MHz 3G UMTS bands. 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, meaning users of the E5 would be shafted onto the 2G Enhanced Data GSM Evolution (EDGE) network.

The phone also does not support 4G LTE.

The E5 runs Ubuntu Touch, the smartphone version of Linux-based OS Ubuntu, and its specs include a 5-inch, 720p HD display powered by a 1.3GHz MediaTek quad-core Cortex A7 processor; 1GB of RAM; 16GB of internal storage; a microSD card slot; two unlocked SIM card slots; a 13-megapixel camera with dual flash that can shoot 1080p HD video; and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

"Working with Canonical on bringing the Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition has been very satisfying," Alberto Méndez, BQ's CEO, said in June. "We share the same philosophy as them, along with the same commitment to the open-source Initiative."

Its 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.

"We're launching in a very different way and I think that's critical. We can't replicate the mistakes made by other platforms in recent years that have gone for volume on day one by sticking phones on retail and not really giving any thought to what it takes to launch in a mature and cluttered mobile market," said Christian Parrino, VP of mobile for Canonical, at the time.

In late 2013, Canonical failed in an attempt to raise $32 million to develop and manufacture its proposed Ubuntu Edge smartphone.

"We thought we could take a leap forward two or three years in terms of the capabilities of today's phone through the Edge," Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said at the time.

The company fell close to $20 million short of its goal to produce the device, which would have been a combined desktop PC and a phone.

"It certainly raised eyebrows in the phone industry in a good way. Folks feel there's a hunger for something new and it sent a signal as to what that something new might look like," Shuttleworth had said.

Chinese electronics manufacturer Meizu, on the other hand, does produce an Ubuntu phone that works on 4G networks. The Meizu MX4 was launched in China for developers and Europe for consumers in June for €299 ($327.81) -- but was only made available to a select number of customers via random invitations.

The Meizu MX4 features a 5.4-inch display; quad-core 2.2 GHz Cortex-A17 and quad-core 1.7GHz Cortex-A7 processors; Corning Gorilla Glass 3; 16GB of storage; a 20.7-megapixel rear camera; and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.

Shuttleworth approved the adoption of Ubuntu by Meizu, claiming that it would help the company differentiate itself from the myriad other manufacturers in the Chinese market.

"Those developers have worked their heart out," said Shuttleworth. "They shipped a phone. China Mobile, Meizu -- they're keen to ship that phone in China. Why on earth would I say no? Give them room to run and see what they do."

Meizu has not yet revealed whether it will release its Ubuntu smartphone to the US market.


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