Last year we had a look at deepin 20 and I was so impressed that I even installed it long term on a secondary machine. Now with version 20.2 out it is time to have a fresh look and see how it matured.
Download & Installation
Deepin 20.2 was a rather large download at 2.75 GB and the direct download speed was a little bit underwhelming. I transferred it to an 8 GB USB stick using Etcher then fully installed it to my Dell E2740 internal SSD drive.
Deepin uses its own installer. It gave me the option to use the whole disk or do a manual set-up. Unfortunately it lacks the option to install alongside an existing OS, something quite crucial for many Linux users. I opted for the whole disk option without encryption. The process was quite fast at around 5 minutes total. Just as with the original version, the installer sets up two root partitions: Root A and Root B as well as a Back-up partition.
The system then starts setting everything up stating that it is being “tuned” for us. That takes a little while and reminds a little bit of Windows. After logging in for the first time we are greeted with a welcome app. The first part is a fancy video tour of what to expect, complete with cheesy background music. Then we get to set up a few visual things: The bottom panel style (hovering or full width), enable the “effect” mode or not which provides translucency and rounded corners and finally the icon set. So, nothing really crucial to the operation of the system like choosing software sources or enabling restricted extras.
Once installed. Boot times are quite good at under 10 seconds and htop reports:
- 527 RAM
- 86 Tasks
- 296 Threads
Nice to see they managed to stick to these incredibly low numbers that we had already seen from the original version 20.
Visually it looks the same as the original version 20 which is to say it looks really damn good. I know it is a matter of personal taste but there is no denying they have produced a very polished product here.
The menu on the left hand side is really good. By default it has a traditional layout but can be expanded into a full screen touch friendly affair when needed. Apps are presented according to their popularity but they are also presented according to categories further down. Home folders are fixed on the left pane. I love how the Calendar app displays the current date on its icon, both on the panel and in the menu. Type to search works well too, hitting enter opens the first app on the result list.
The panel can be moved to any side of the screen and works well on the sides. By default there are many icons on it and when moved to the sides things get a bit too small due to the reduced length. The system tray icons take a lot of space but they are really nice looking as well as functional. When hovering over the “connected disks” icon it displays the attached disks and how full they are.
Notifications pop-up from the right hand side in a semi transparent fashion. No doubt the whole visual experience took a lot of inspiration from OS X and iOS.
System Settings let us adjust a couple of visual things. Like in the original version, we can choose between dark and light themes, change the accent color and the amount of transparency. As promised, we can now also choose how strong the roundness of window corners are. Rectangular is thankfully now an option too!
The display settings let us tweak the color temperature and there is a scaling option as well. My paltry 1366×768 display only supports the default resolution so I couldn’t test this function this time around.
As usual, there is a nice big variety of desktop wallpapers to choose from. The default one is probably the least attractive but that is easily fixed. Overall The whole desktop experience is very consistent and fits well together. For my taste everything is a bit too large. The minimum size of many apps still take up most of the screen real estate. Again, my mediocre screen is mostly to blame for that.
Deepin 20.2 is an incremental update so visually things haven’t changed much but if we check the release notes, we can see how incredibly busy the developers have been. I have counted updates to 27 apps with a total of 145 improvements! Most, if not all, of these apps are in-house developed and follow a common design language. The result is a very polished homogeneous looking and behaving desktop. They are creating their very “own” Linux ecosystem at an incredible pace. Let’s have a look at some of the apps:
Thankfully, deepin apps tend to have very simple names. That makes life a lot a easier compared to let’s say KDE. The web browser for example, you probably guessed it, is named Browser and is based on Chromium.
- Browser: a Simple clean looking browser based on Chromium.
- Mail: A nice looking 3-pane email client. I tested it with my test account at mailo.com (French based. Lots of good short names still available if anyone is interested). Mail worked well during the short test. It also minimizes nicely to the system tray.
- Downloader: This is deepin’s own download and torrent tool. Didn’t get to test it.
- Music: Deepin’s music player. This app I tested a bit more extensively. For the test, I imported around 600 songs from about 300 artists. The app didn’t handle it well. Starting up the app seemed to take for ever after the import. Changing views from tracks to artists also seemed to hog down the app too much. None the less, the app does look quite nice and future updates will hopefully improve its performance. It also seemed to be missing its own system tray icon.
- Movie: Deepin’s movie player. The app played all my video files but here I noticed again that there is no escaping deepin’s “roundness”. I had done away with the rounded corners in the system settings but the app’s internal controls are still very round. Since this app defaults to the dark theme I also noticed that the window corners were made rectangular by filling the difference with white which obviously doesn’t work here with the dark theme.
- Voice Notes. Not sure why it is under the “Video” category. It’s a nice app for taking notes that supports voice notes as well
- Camera: A simple camera app
- Screen Capture: Deepin’s stellar screen shot/recording tool with annotation options. Love it!
- Image Viewer
- Album: Both Image Viewer and Album look very much alike. Album, as the name implies, lets us also create albums. Nice simple apps that work. Finally figured out the full screen mode, only accessible via right click – should be on the on-screen controls too.
- Draw: A simple drawing program
- Document Viewer
- Text Editor
- LibreOffice Suite
There is also a large number of system apps like the File Manager, Boot Maker, System Monitor, etc. all of which have received improvements according to the change log.
To install further software we have the App Store. A well designed and very responsive app with good search functionality. I successfully installed Abiword as a quick test. The only irritating aspect is the abundance of Chinese language in both software descriptions and reviews. My App Store showed only one app that needed updating: Sunpinyin. Apparently a system app that has to do with input methods. Every other detail was in Chinese so I had no idea whether I really needed to update the app for the system to function properly or whether it was only for Chinese users who needed special input methods?
There is also the Package Installer, an app that installs any .deb file to the system.
While I complained about the abundance of Chinese in the store, the overall translation to English everywhere else is well done. I had installed the previous version deepin 20.1 to my secondary system and used it for a while. I was happy with it overall but noticed a major issue: It is hard to trouble shoot problems when they arise as online search results were either non existent or in Chinese. Sure, to some extent we can search for Debian issues but there is so much custom work done by deepin that things get a bit too muddy for non Chinese speakers.
I already said it in the original review: This system is so polished and has so many in-house developed apps that one forgets this is a Debian based Linux distribution. Other than LibreOffice, there is hardly any commonality with say Ubuntu. Version 20.2 added even more polish and customization options for the user. In-house apps have matured nicely, even if some still need some work. For most long term Linux users this system will be uninteresting because they already have their favorite apps and have no desire to ditch them. This in turn means there are less experienced users in the forums who might speak one’s language, a bit of a vicious circle. I suspect the system will best appeal to the standard Chinese user who wants a good looking alternative to either Windows or OS X. Still, for me this is one of the most exciting systems to test because there is so much to check-out and discover. Really impressive work, well done!
Have you used deepin since version 20 came out? Share your experience with us in the comments below.