Installing Ubuntu Mobile OS on Nexus devices: Guide

Getting Ubuntu onto your Nexus Device may seem like the next cool thing to do, but before you take the plunge, there is a whole lot you need to know!

Published Date
22 - Feb - 2013
| Last Updated
22 - Feb - 2013
Installing Ubuntu Mobile OS on Nexus devices: Guide

Canonical has just released their long awaited Ubuntu Mobile OS for phones and tablets, but it is currently not in its finished state. If you’re itching to flash your shiny Nexus phone or tablet with this early developer build, there are a number of things that you must keep in mind before you begin the process of giving your device a new soul.

Currently, the “Touch Developer Preview for Ubuntu” is only compatible with Google Nexus devices, but each device must be running a specific version of the firmware. Here is a neat little tablet that shows the various devices and the required firmware.



Factory firmware from Google

Galaxy NexusWhere to buy 2775



Nexus 4



Nexus 7



Nexus 10



If you’re wondering how you can find out which version of the firmware your phone/tablet is running, just go to the Settings tab and click on “System”. The “Device” section should read one of the titles under the “Codename” section of the above table. Along with that, the “Product” should read one of those listed under the “Factory Firmware from Google.”

If your phone is running a version not listed above, and you feel pretty confident about tinkering with its innards, you can download the compatible firmware for your device from Google’s Developer’s page

What’s Still Broken:
To start with, the Touch Developer Preview for Ubuntu supports voice calls and SMS exchange only over GSM networks. So if you have a Nexus phone from a CDMA provider like Verizon or Sprint, the build will not work on your device. This is because currently, radios like CDMA, LTE and 2G (only) radios are not supported. In fact, data over cellular network isn’t supported at all and you must be connected to a Wi-Fi network to get your daily fix of internet goodness. The OS currently does not support the MMS service either. Besides the basic functionality that is missing in the build, importing contacts is not as simple as syncing with Google Contacts. You will either have to re-enter all your contacts manually, or employ a CSV file. Therefore, we recommend getting all your contacts in one place in a CSV file for importing later.

Canonical has also stated that the build has not yet been optimized with respect to memory usage, so there is a strong likelihood that running too many apps will start causing crashes. Their simple solution is, “close apps that are not being used.” Might sound silly, but this is actually quite a helpful suggestion.

Device Specific Issues:
Universal issues aside, the Developer build also comes with its fair share of device specific issues which are listed below:

Nexus Galaxy

· 802.11a (i.e. 5GHz) is currently not working.

Nexus 4

· In rare circumstances, the Nexus 4 may get into a state where it may not boot at all after the battery is drained (even into recovery). If this happens, the only way to restore it is to disassemble the back of the phone and unplug/plug the battery connector.

Nexus 10

· Taking pictures with the camera application causes an issue with audio. The volume indicator and volume keys will not work to control the sound until reboot.

· People lens sometimes comes up empty after first flashing the device and booting. Rebooting fixes the issue.

Nexus 7

· Runs in portrait mode by default. (no side stage)

· Camera, video decoding and audio output do not function.

· Greeter screen is misaligned.

· No multi-user login.

Those are some pretty big bugs if you ask us. We’d hate for our Google Nexus 4Where to buy 16490 to get stuck with in a non-booting state, wouldn’t you?

What to Expect After Flashing:
We’ve talked enough about all that’s missing in this early preview build of Ubuntu’s Mobile OS, so let’s look at what does work. For starters, you can make and receive calls, with the same luxury being afforded to SMS. At least your phone will be able to serve its primary function of a communication device. It will support networking via Wi-Fi, which shouldn’t be an issue seeing as how there are Wi-Fi hotspots almost everywhere. Last but not the least, the good guys at Canonical have ensured that both the front and the back cameras are functional. No word on whether the music/video playback capabilities are functional yet or not.

In order to get the OS on your Nexus device, you will need to follow the process detailed here. As you will notice, it is not for the faint of heart, so proceed with utmost caution.

If you manage to successfully flash your device, do share your feedback with us in the comments section!

Swapnil MathurSwapnil Mathur