In 2019 the German company "Hallo Welt Systeme" started their first campaign on Kickstarter. They announced and promised a privacy focused phone that could run Android, UbuntuTouch and SailfishOs out of the box. About a year later my VollaPhone arrived at my front door and I used the last month to test it wit UbuntuTouch and their own Android version called VollaOs. In this review I'll mainly focus on the software side of things, but here is a quick look at the hardware.
The VollaPhone hardware was assembled in Germany by GigaSet. The phone is based on the GigaSet GS290, but has a slightly better battery. It has a nice feel to it and is not very heavy. I get an average of 24 hours out of the battery. The camera is pretty bad and the speakers are only "OK".
VollaOs wants to be a whole new mobile experience. A private, gesture based, minimalistic and intuitive design are it's key selling points. Volla promises its Os would be
as easy to use as pen and paper
and wants to achieve this by putting their own launcher on top of degoogled open source android. The whole launcher consists of 5 important pages: Settings, App drawer, Springboard, News and people. The App drawer and Settings page are self-explanatory, the only important things you can configure are whether you want% to use light or dark mode and your news sources, which are just regular RSS feeds. The interesting pages are the Springboard and People page.
The Springboard is a big blank page with a red dot and a search field. The red dot can be used for navigation and to open other shortcuts, the search field is the key feature of VollaOs the idea is that you input text and the phone knows what you want and that works very well for all the supported commands. You can easily search the web, call people or write an SMS. Now we slowly get closer to the main problem of the Springboard which is supposed to be your main method of using the phone. There are to many things you can't do with it, like opening apps, writing something else than SMS, browsing your RSS feeds, etcetera. This ruins the whole concept of the Springboard, because you end up spending more time in the app drawer than on the Springboard and even have to swipe each time to get there. I think the biggest problem of the Springboard is that is forces a design idea on the user without keeping in mind that Android phones are all about Apps.
The people tab is another interesting concept of the VollaOs launcher. All the information about one contact are accessible in one menu. This includes stuff like SMS and Email. Sadly, again third party apps are not integrated very well in this menu, which means I still have to open a separate App to access Signal messages or similar.
VollaOs is a great concept and I really like the goal it tries to achieve, but this concept doesn't work very well in reality because it ignores how people actually use their phones today. I write more than SMS and Email on my phone and want to use apps conveniently without the need of extra gestures. VollaOs doesn't feel like a new and free experience. It is a compromise between the design ideas of its creators and Android.
Part2 with my thoughts on UbuntuTouch on the Vollaphone coming soon. My RSS-feed