Returning to Jolla’s Sailfish OS after two months on Android

My Jolla phone just got the Sailfish OS upgrade and so I’ve decided to switch back to Sailfish from Android/CyanogenMod to see if anything’s improved.

The good news is, some of my big gripes with Sailfish are fixed:

  1. Android apps can now run in the background, which means I probably won’t be missing WhatsApp notifications from family chat. I haven’t decided whether it would be smarter to try to persuade the family to use Telegram and accept that everything is stored in Russia, but at least using an open API, or whether to wait for Kontalk to mature. Mobile messaging, what a broken mess of a market.
  2. If I don’t do two-way sync, I can now reliably get my contacts and calendar synced from ownCloud using SyncEvolution. The built-in CalDav support is still broken.

But other annoyances remain, and I notice them even more now that I’ve been living with better solutions on CyanogenMod for a while:

  1. The wireless and mobile data connection status indicator doesn’t show whether it’s transmitting or receiving any data, only whether it’s connected. An indicator would help to troubleshoot things.
  2. There is no mobile data connection meter, log or limit. The phone will just suck down data unhindered until my bank account is empty.
  3. Access to SMS from Android apps still isn’t implemented, which means some Android apps that need SMS activation (I’m looking at that fucking cancer called WhatsApp again) are stupid to install. You have to wait 5 minutes for SMS activation to time out and then enter the code manually. Granted, this is mostly WhatsApp/Facebook’s fault, so it’s not really fair to list it as a Sailfish problem, but still.

New annoyances

There are also things that annoy me now more than ever:


  1. The keyboard’s international characters that you get when you long-press a key are almost unreadable. What’s this, “drawing user interfaces in pastel colors for beginners”? The symbols with the ambiance I’ve currently selected are written with light cyan text on light cyan background. Please, please hire better UI designers. Since the Silica components aren’t even free software, you can’t ask the community for help.

    On Android, the symbols are simply white on black, at least with Hacker’s Keyboard installed. With the stock one they are white on dark grey. That’s not as inventive as using some ambiance color, but at least it’s, you know, readable. Something that’s useful for a letter to be.

  2. Android apps don’t seem to have reliable connection to the Internet when on WLAN. This is weird because 1.1.7 explicitly mentioned improved WLAN reliability for Android apps, and I think it’s actually worse than it was. It sometimes takes a full phone reboot before WLAN access works again from Android, and since I don’t always notice, that means that WhatsApp is again unreliable, but this time due to a different bug.
  3. The timeout before an app is “not responding” and offers a “close now” or “please wait” choice is very aggressively short now.

    While installing SyncEvolution from Warehouse, Sailfish prompted me about this 14 times, just because the Python packages SyncEvolution depends on take a bit longer and a bit more CPU time to install. An average user might think something’s wrong and actually stop the process, perhaps leaving the RPM package database in a shitty insonsistent state, and we all know how much fun it is to try to repair a broken RPM database. Last time I checked it was even impossible in some situations, but admittedly, that was some years ago.

Where to go now?

There is no real conclusion to this story. I don’t know what to do, and I really can’t recommend Sailfish OS to friends at the moment since it feels to me to be so far behind even Android 2.3. I actually unearthed one of my old Android 2 phones to compare, and I felt more comfortable using that. At this time, for me the Jolla phone is a less than mediocre Android phone with good battery life and a few unique (but unreadable) apps.

Probably the best thing to do is to wait for Sailfish 2.0, but as far as I’ve seen in preview clips, they didn’t address the thin fonts, the dark backgrounds, the bad contrast or the keyboard. They did improve notifications and other bits and pieces, but overall I fear that I will still be using my four year old Galaxy Nexus with CyanogenMod 11 this time next year.

Upgrade options are few. Most of the Android phones shit on your privacy and bundle Google Play Services, something I wanted to avoid by running Sailfish. There are a few Firefox OS phones, but that isn’t ready for primetime either. The Fairphone 2 is a bit expensive, but at least you might have the option of refusing Google Services like with Fairphone 1. Windows Phone isn’t any better in this regard than Google’s, so that’s not an option.

It’s tough to be a nerd in 2015! Maybe 2016 will be better.

Fun piece of light-hearted trivia to finish off: I put my Jolla phone in a drawer at about 86% charge and when I booted it up again after two months, it was still at 80%. So at least the battery thing, they got that. Now if only the rest were this great.



6 thoughts on “Returning to Jolla’s Sailfish OS after two months on Android”

  1. I’m looking for a new phone. Which Android phones don’t invade your privacy? Should I get a One Plus phone and run cyanogen?


    1. It’s really tough at the moment, personally I’d recommend sticking CyanogenMod on either a Motorola Moto G, Sony Xperia Z2 (which you can find used), OnePlus or Oppo Find7, depending on what your requirements are. That’s from low-end to high-end, with the Oppo being roughly equal to the OnePlus, and you can decide whether you need a QHD screen (Find7) or whether FHD is enough (Find7a). But be sure to look for reviews of all of those. I always use the CyanogenMod official devices list and filter by those manufacturers that are actually available here.

      Ultimately what invades your privacy a lot are the Google Play Services, so make sure not to install those and face the consequences. You can use alternative stores such as F-Droid and Aptoide, but some apps that only work with Google Play Services will not run at all or only with reduced features. Unfortunately, Google’s current strategy is to remove more and more features from stock Android and stick them in their proprietary Play Services, so at some point it might no longer be possible to have a halway decent phone without them.


  2. I totally agree with the post.
    After 2 years fighting with jolla I gave up.
    Many things are not working as notifications sound app – kontalk – but the small and really bad keyboard is a big issue.
    Now I m waiting the pricey but ethic Fairphone 2.
    Crossing fingers for having better luck


  3. Dammit, I’m in the same position.
    I don’t want Google, Microsoft, Blackberry of Apple.
    What’s left, not much.
    Jphone is way outdated, Fairphone2 is a expensive option but can run SailfishOS(although not fully supported). Ubuntu is still some way back and ForefoxOS will never make it any further in mobile I think.
    Maybe Tizen on day but Samsung has never been so good in software.

    Dammit, I miss Maemo, Meego, WebOS, BBOS10 and Symbian…


  4. It’s now 2018. The issues you raise in rhe article have only become more serious. BB10, Windows Phone, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu Phone have all been discontinued and Cyanogen is no longer an option. Ir does not appear as if there will be a successor to the Blackohone BP2.

    An increasing nunber of ohones in the droid world come with locked bootkoaders and an overreliance on google play.

    Sailfish is the only OS left for anyone with an interest in privacy. But there is some good news. Sailfish waa recently certified by the Russian government for use by its ministers.

    I am writing this on an Xperia X running sailfish 2.1.4 as my daily driver.

    I think Jolla will make it. With each new release the OS is becoming more refined and if you don’t want to be Apple’s or Google’s lab rat they are the last option left.


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