• Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review
  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

  • Jolla review

    Jolla review

Samsung, Apple, HTC. We troll and snipe over tiny differences between top-tier phones. We even get into fisticuffs over these handset heartthrobs (three words: LG balloon launch). But the fact is the Ones, Z1s and S4s of this world are actually very similar, playing it fairly safe with every new iteration.

What we want is something a bit risky. Something to take a gamble on. An indie, alterna-OS phone with heart. Something like the 4.5in Jolla, the very first smartphone from the company of the same name.

As with its cohorts in 2014's New Wave of slightly bonkers, exotic phones - the two-screened YotaPhone and the CyanogenMod-friendly Oppo N1 - it has a fresh OS, is cheaper than regular high-end handsets and still runs in relatively tight-knit circles. You won’t see a line of heads bent over Jollas on the 08:27 to KL Sentral any time soon.

That said, there’s only a small percentage of people we’d recommend the Jolla to. Why? Because if glowing dots in swipeable email apps don’t get you hot under the collar, there are many better specced, more straightforward and stable smartphones out there for the money.

So what does Jolla do differently? And why do we love it despite it's many, obvious limitations?

Jolla apps with a side of Android

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

There’s no getting round it - it’s slim pickings on the Jolla app store. With about 200 or so to choose from, if you want a battery or data tracker you’re in luck. If you want a casually addictive side scroller, not so much.

The Store itself is laid-out to help you see what other Jolla users are downloading, but a quick swipe brings up more traditional categories. A few Stuff recommendations: Tweetian, a Twitter client, SailBox for Dropbox, and Bluewhale for Evernote are all useful workarounds, and the esteemed Snake makes an appearance.

It’s not enough, though, and Jolla knows it - which is why the smartphone runs Android apps, too. By installing third-party Android app stores such as Jolla’s go-to Yandex store (which actually played up rather a lot for us during testing), Amazon and Aptoide, the Jolla gets access to "proper" apps such as Netflix, Facebook, Kindle and Jetpack Joyride. It’s straightforward even for Android n00bs, Yandex problems aside, and the choice is there. Phew, right?

Well, yes, but also no. Android apps just don’t run as smoothly here as we’re used to, even on budget and mid-range Droids. And to get full access to Google Play you need to dig into developer mode and risk bricking the device - Jolla tells us it will still fix your phoneif that happens, but it does void the warranty.

Running Android apps also turns the Jolla into an OS and app experience of two halves - you can’t swipe from the right out of Android apps, icons spoil the grid of teardrops and you even get the Android back button and multi-tasking screen.

Two-sided design

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Talking of two halves, like a chunky wafer in a black and white movie or a stretched out liquorice allsort, our black Jolla comes with a white rear panel that can be removed for access to the microSIM slot, microSD card slot and swappable battery.

Jolla’s additional backplates, selling for around US$30, are, in fact, NFC-equipped smart covers that can add ringtones and ‘ambiences’ (themes) via NFC tags to the phone in a quasi-modular system. We haven’t tried out The Other Half accessories yet but Jolla’s released an SDK to 3D print cases with instructions of where to place the NFC tags. It’s a fantastic idea but one without a killer use just yet - we want to see a ‘work mode’ Other Half, 'guest mode' Other Half or even in the future a wireless charging Other Half.

With a similar size to the HTC One, the Jolla is neither skinny at 9.9mm nor featherlight at 141g, but its chunk does make it easy to hold. With a case snapped on it’s sturdy, too, and looks eye-catching in a retro sort of way - opposite curves on the two edges, big bezels, everything 2014 smartphones don’t do, but it works, and it doesn't look quite like any other phone. And isn't that why you went all off-piste with your handset choice?

Pixels Working Overtime

Jolla review

Jolla review

There’s no HD screen but the Jolla’s 4.5in 540x960 display is still surprisingly lovely. Colours are accurate and not too overcooked, blacks look inky, there's good contrast, and although it misses some of the finer details due to downscaling, it can play 720p and 1080p videos.

If you’re going to use the Jolla for reading lots of text - catching up on tech news, say - the low resolution quickly becomes apparent. We’d like it to go brighter, too, both for watching movies and for when you're using it as a camera viewfinder. Viewing angles are also only so-so.

That might be fine on a bargain basement blower, but this is a RM1805 phone, which means Jolla’s simply a bit behind in the pixel wars. Having said that it is responsive, Sailfish itself looks great and Gorilla Glass 2 gives it good protection.

READ MORE: YotaPhone review (the alterna-phone with two screens) 

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So-so performance

It’s not just pixels that are missing: on paper the Jolla doesn’t look too powerful either, with an ageing dual-core 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM.

Day-to-day it’s respectable, and playing the best of the Amazon App Store’s games doesn’t fluster it - but as we mentioned earlier, Android apps trip it up and the Jolla can get stuck on pulldown options.

Downloads of apps and files from Dropbox are fairly nippy, but we did have some connection problems to both Wi-Fi networks and a portable hotspot. And browsing isn’t as fast as we’re used to, with the Jolla scoring a mediocre 1583.1ms on the Sunspider 1.0.2 benchmark.

It’s not all bad news: the Jolla supports 4G - not always a given at this price - and has a microSD card slot for expanding storage by up to 64GB. It might be a little slow but in other ways it’s great value.

Sun in Jolla's Eyes

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

The Sailfish UI designers have high standards and the Jolla’s camera app looks lovely, with a drop-down grid of options including mode, flash, white balance and focus type. It’s limited compared to most Androids - no scenes or effects, for example - but both auto-focus and tap to focus are fairly quick and for most casual snappers it’ll get the job done.

Pics are a mixed bag - they don't look brilliant on the qHD screen itself, but on a monitor you can see that the 8MP camera actually captures a lot of detail, more so than the HTC One’s UltraPixel cam, in fact. Some people might prefer more pumped-up colours but the Jolla’s palette is nice and accurate. Contrast could be better, though, while low-light snaps appear fairly grainy and the f/2.4 lens often struggles to expose correctly in daylight compared to superior smartphone cameras. The 2MP front-facer is fine in decent light but unlike HTCs and LGs it won’t magically brighten-up dark living rooms.

READ MORE: Oppo N1 review (the alterna-phone with a rotating 13MP camera) 

Battery Panic

The final straw? The Jolla’s battery life just isn’t quite good enough. This is a phone that’ll do just fine if you use it lightly throughout the day, thanks to a good, solid standby performance (battery percentages stay put overnight), and on an HD video rundown at half brightness it manages 7 hours 12 minutes.

But this screen really needs to be above half brightness to be most usable and if you hammer the processor for a couple of hours it drops a panic-inducing 30%. Forgiveable on otherwise flawless phones - think HTC One - but a phone with as many "quirks" as the Jolla needs to keep its icons glowing longer.

Jolla Verdict

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

Jolla review

But despite the flaws we can't help but find ourselves rooting for the little Jolla.

There’s alternative, and then there’s alternative, and while the almost as swipetastic - and also MeeGo-inspired - BB10 on BlackBerry was surprising in the way that red-faced businessmen in bumper cars are surprising, the Jolla’s fresh the way hip Scandinavians swigging jam from whiskey jars in password-protected bars are fresh. In short, it’s cool.

Jolla’s slogan is ‘we are unlike’, and if that’s your only criteria for your next smartphone you should jump for Jolla and never look back.

But this is not a phone for everyone. In fact, it's just about as far away from that as it's possible to be without being a phone for absolutely no-one. If you care about the screen, camera or apps you need to forget the quirky Jolla and go for a "proper" phone such as the Nexus 5 or Xperia Z1 Compact, both of which can be had for the same sort of money.

Jolla’s experiments will keep the big smartphone makers nimble and we're grateful for that. We also can’t wait to see a leaner, meaner Jolla 2 in the next 12 to 18 months. For now, the Jolla is a funky statement phone or iPad companion for tech hipsters, but as a standalone device for "normal" people, it’s just not there yet.

Stuff says... 

Jolla review

A fresh “indie” smartphone that tears up the rulebook but is just a bit too limited to get a solid recommendation
Jolla review
RM1,805
Good Stuff 
Gorgeous, swipetastic UI
Other Half concept has real potential
Bad Stuff 
Relatively low res screen
Apps and games lovers, look elsewhere
Battery life can be a pain
power
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