Install Ubuntu Touch OS on Galaxy Nexus (GSM) and Nexus 4 [Guide]

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When Canonical unveiled the new Unity interface for Ubuntu, one of the most popular Linux distributions, people suspected that it may be part of the company’s vision to move into the mobile business.

Then last month Canonical finally surprised everyone by unveiling Ubuntu Touch, the mobile version of the OS that they have been working on, and announced that a developer preview would be available for testing on the Galaxy Nexus in February. Well, it has finally been released, and Canonical has released a version for the Nexus 4 as well.

Similar to the now discontinued MeeGo and the new BlackBerry 10 OS, Ubuntu places a heavy focus on multitasking, allowing easy switching between open applications. A major feature that also takes cues from the aforementioned OS is that the user experience is based around gestures and doesn’t need any hardware navigation buttons, as everything is done via swipes from the edge of the display.

The primary gestures used in the OS are as follows:

  • A swipe from the left edge of the display brings up the launcher, which is basically shortcuts to your favourite apps as well as the homescreen.
  • A swipe from the right edge of the display switches between all open apps in an endless loop.
  • A swipe from the bottom edge brings up application-specific commands, which are usually brought up using the menu button on other OS.
  • Finally, similar to Android, a swipe from the top opens the status bar, which shows notifications from apps and also allows toggling things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.

Ubuntu Touch has a different take on a homescreen – it displays different types of content right on different pages, such as recently played movies or music, people contacted, running apps, and of course the usual list of all the apps installed on the OS. It looks quite beautiful to be honest, with everything neatly organised and easily accessible, much like the tiles-based homescreen on Windows Phone.

While the gestures in the OS might sound like too much for some people, they’re actually quite effective once you get used to them, allowing to switch between apps in a jiffy. Ubuntu runs native code, including QML and HTML5, which also means that when it finally ships on devices in early 2014, it will be quite smooth and fast even on not so powerful hardware and make multitasking a fun and productive affair.

I know, I know, you must be getting impatient to try out Ubuntu Touch on your Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4. But before we proceed with the guide, there are some things that you should know about this release of Ubuntu Touch.

First, this is an early developer preview build of Ubuntu Touch and as such most of the things do not work and/or are just screenshots/placeholders. Here’s a list of things that work as of now:

  1. Shell and core applications (Gallery, Browser, etc)
  2. Connection to the GSM network (on Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4)
  3. Phone calls and SMS (on Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4)
  4. Networking via Wifi
  5. Functional camera (front and back)
  6. Device accessible through the Android Developer Bridge tool (adb)

It’s also a bit buggy and can restart sometimes, specially when too many apps are opened as RAM usage is not yet optimized for these devices. It’s likely most will be wanting to go back to Android after an hour or two, so unless you are really interested in trying out a new OS no matter how limited or buggy it may be, it’s probably a good idea to wait for more stable and functional builds to come out.

Warning! On the Nexus 4, there is a serious issue that must be noted. If the battery of the phone drains completely while Ubuntu is installed, the phone might not turn back on again at all, and the only way to make it work again would be to somehow open the non-removable back cover and unplug/plug in the battery. So make sure you don’t let the battery drain completely – in fact, it would be best if you kept the phone on charging during the entire time you use it.

That’s about it about what’s working and what’s not. Make sure you’ve read everything above, including the quoted warning, then continue reading to find out how you can install the Ubuntu Touch developer preview on the Nexus 4/Galaxy Nexus.

Compatibility

The procedure described below is only for the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus (GSM). Do not try it on the Verizon or Sprint Galaxy Nexus or on any other device.

Warning!

The methods and procedures discussed here are considered risky, so try them out at your own risk, and make sure to read each step carefully before attempting anything. We will not be held responsible if anything goes wrong.

How to Install Ubuntu Touch OS on Nexus 4/Galaxy Nexus

  1. The procedure to install Ubuntu involves wiping the data on the device, including everything on your internal storage. First, backup installed apps and personal data such as contacts, messages, bookmarks, etc, by referring to our Android Backup Guide for help. Then, copy everything from the SD card to your computer.
  2. The phone’s bootloader will need to be unlocked to flash the ROM. You can unlock the bootloader on your Nexus 4 by following the guide → here or the Galaxy Nexus → here. Make sure you took a backup in step 1 as this will wipe all data from the phone and reset it to factory settings. Skip this if you already have the bootloader unlocked.
  3. You should have ClockworkMod (CWM) or TWRP recovery installed on your phone to install the ROM. If not, follow this guide to install it on your Nexus 4, or this guide for your Galaxy Nexus. The instructions will assume you are using CWM recovery, though TWRP recovery will work equally well.
  4. Download Ubuntu Touch OS from the official downloads page. You will need to download two files:
    1. Main Ubuntu OS file: This file is named quantal-preinstalled-phablet-armhf.zip and is around 500 MB in size.
      ubuntu-main-file-ss
    2. Device file: This is the needed file for your particular device, and it’s named quantal-preinstalled-armel+mako.zip for the Nexus 4 and quantal-preinstalled-armel+maguro.zip for the Galaxy Nexus. Make sure to download the correct one – the one with mako in the file name for the Nexus 4, or the one with maguro in the file name if you have a Galaxy Nexus.
  5. Copy both the main Ubuntu OS file (quantal-preinstalled-phablet-armhf.zip) and the device file to the phone.
  6. Reboot the phone into CWM recovery. To do that, turn off your phone and boot into the bootloader mode. Follow the instructions for your device below to find out to do that:
    • Nexus 4: Hold down the Volume down and Power buttons together till the screen turns on. Then, using the volume buttons, scroll to the Recovery mode option, then select it using the power button to reboot the phone into CWM recovery.
    • Galaxy Nexus: Hold down the Volume Up + Volume down + Power buttons together till the screen turns on. Then, using the volume buttons, scroll to the Recovery mode option, then select it using the power button to reboot the phone into CWM recovery.
  7. [Important] Now, you should make a backup of your currently installed ROM. This is a backup of the whole ROM and will restore the phone to the state it was in before you flash Ubuntu OS in case you want to go back to Android, unlike the backup in step 1 which only restores apps and personal data. To take a backup, select Backup and Restore,then select Backup again. Go back to main recovery menu after backup is complete.
  8. Select wipe data/factory reset, then select Yes on next screen to confirm. Wait a while till the data wipe is complete (this will only wipe installed apps and settings, but will not wipe files on the SD card).
  9. Select install zip from sdcard, then select choose zip from sdcard. Scroll to the device file (downloaded in step 4.2) and select it. Confirm installation on the next screen. NOTE: You might need to select “/0” first in order to see the files on the SD card.
  10. After installation is complete, select choose zip from sdcard again, then select the main Ubuntu OS file (downloaded in step 4.1) to install the actual OS. This will take some time, up to 10 minutes.
  11. After installation completes, go back to the main recovery menu by selecting go back, then select reboot system now to reboot the phone. The screen will go blank for a few seconds after the Google logo, after which Ubuntu Touch OS will boot up.
  12. Going back to Android: In case you want to go back to Android after trying out Ubuntu, turn off the phone and boot into recovery (see step 6). Then, select the backup and restore » restore option, then select your ROM backup and confirmation restoration. This will restore your Android ROM, after which you can reboot the phone to go back to using your phone normally.

That’s it. Ubuntu Touch should be up and running on your Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus. Play with it, get into the groove with all those gestures and, well, do the few things that the OS can do at this point. If you run into any issues while installing, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help you out.

Oh, and be on the lookout for our guide on installing the tablet version of the OS on the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10!

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