Back in September, deepin released version 20, a major update of their glitzy Linux distribution. I finally got around to test it, installing it fully onto an external SSD.
When deepin 20 came out, I immediately downloaded the ISO in order to test it in a virtual box. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a live session. The ISO was only good for full installation. To make matters more complicated, deepin requires at least 64 GB of space for a full installation. Space I didn’t have at the time. Now, as my new Crucial MX500 external SSD arrived I was finally able to to test the system.
I chose the suggested standard installation utilizing the whole disk. Here it becomes clear why it requires at least 64 GB of space. It creates two root partitions: Root A and root B as well as a recovery partition. I have never seen a Linux system do that. I tried to find out the exact reasoning and mechanics behind it but had no luck. No mention is made on their website or English forum pages. Other reviewers have suggested the second root is for backup during system updates. That could be the case. In fact we find that root B is actually empty after installation which would support the idea.
Once installed, it boots much faster than I had anticipated! Even faster than my Fedora Station on my internal drive! The deepin bootloader also detected my other operating systems on the internal drive: Windows and Fedora. So far so good.
After logging in for the first time we get a professional looking Welcome app. It includes a nice little introductory video and options for personalizing the look and feel. Deepin also includes a manual that explains how all the included apps work.
I installed htop and rebooted to check system resource usage after a fresh start and the numbers were surprisingly frugal for a fancy looking system like this:
- RAM: 588 MBs
- Tasks: 85
- Threads: 280
I should add that the system remained very quiet throughout my use, meaning CPU cores were hardly taxed during normal operations. Just how it should be.
While deepin looks absolutely stunning, it is quite traditional in it’s layout. We get a panel at the bottom with the system tray on the right and our menu on the left. The menu can be set to be either traditional or as a full screen grid view. The whole system works very well with touch screens. All input areas are perfectly sized for that. Some will probably find items to be too large for their liking and many of the apps have quite a large minimal size.
All the system settings are bundled in the unified Control Center which has been completely revamped from the previous version. It now follows the design language of the rest of the system and is very easy for any type of user to understand.
There is a Multitasking icon pinned to the panel that works well. It does the job, however, I was annoyed how it maximized all apps when switching back and forth between virtual desktops. I also couldn’t figure out a keyboard combination to switch between desktops. The typical CTRL+ALT and arrow keys didn’t work.
System notifications pop up on the top center of the screen. There is a notifications button in the system tray that opens a beautifully blurred window pinned to the right hand side of the screen and displaying all notifications in a list form.
All in all, this is an easy system set-up for anyone to get used to. It has limited options for customization but what we get is already quite useful and stunning to look at. The system is also surprisingly snappy. All the eye candy doesn’t seem to be slowing down things in any noticeable way.
deepin comes with a huge selection of in-house developed apps. They cover everything from listening to music to viewing system logs. All of them follow the same design language and can be individually set to use a light, dark or the system theme. The combination of these with deepin’s striking own desktop makes this distro truly feel unique. In fact it doesn’t feel like a Linux distribution at all and much more like an independent operating system. It comes with over 20 in-house developed apps that cover most of any user’s day to day operations. The only noteworthy non deepin apps included are LibreOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird. Everything else forms a cohesive unified experience. A lot of the design obviously borrows from Apple’s OS X and iOS but they have done a great job. I do dislike the heavily rounded edges but apparently this will be customizable in an upcoming update.
Some of the in-house apps are quite simple while others have great functionality. Let me briefly talk about some of them:
Album & Image Viewer apps: These are two separate apps that essentially look and behave the same. While Image Viewer is used for looking at an image at a time, Album is more of a library to store your photos and look at them in a time line fashion. However, what drove me crazy was the large navigation/menu bar at the bottom that was superimposed over the photos. I could not find a way to look at a photo in full screen without that huge bar intruding. The app is simple and provides no editing options whatsoever.
Draw: A very simple drawing tool but useful to annotate documents or photos. It has useful export options with a quality slider for saving in different sizes.
Screen Capture: This is an awesome tool. Not only does it take screen shots, it does screen recordings and has a good range of annotation tools out of the box. This should be standard with any distro. well done!
Music is nicely done and has just the right amount of features. It lets you create playlists, add songs to the queue and has a full equalizer built in. It can also fetch and display lyrics for you when available.
Movie. Does just that, plays videos. Any format. Just works.
Worth a mention is also the neat voice note taking app which does just that in a well presented way.
With any other distro we would be talking about theming but deepin goes beyond that. As already mentioned the whole OS, from the installer to the desktop environment to the included apps all form a cohesive unique experience. As a result, the user has only limited influence on the look and feel and has to mostly accept the developers’ design decisions. There are two areas the user can customize. First the panel at the bottom can be switched between “Fashion” mode or “Efficient” mode. The former being a larger floating panel with rounded edges while the latter being a more classic one. Both use blur/transparency to give us a modern look. The panel can be moved to any side of the screen and actually works well pinned to the left – for those Unity lovers.
The other area that can be modified is found in the Control Center under “Personalization” where the user can choose between dark and light themes as well as set the accent color that pops up throughout the system. Panel Transparency is also modifiable. The included wallpapers are also worth mentioning as they are both stunning and plentiful.
Another point of note: I have installed the system to a Dell E7250 with a 12.5″ Full HD touch display. Normally I struggle a bit as things appearing too small for my eyes. Deepin however scaled the display to 1.25 out of the box and I must say it is the perfect setting and one of the reasons I have enjoyed doing this review so much.
I was a bit worried with the App Store after having read many reviewers complaining of speed issues. When I opened it for the first time I was surprised there was only one update pending. I was expecting a lot of little updates since it has been over a month that the ISO came out. I prefer it this way to be honest but it did seem odd. To test the store, I installed GIMP and it was completed very fast with no issues. The version did seem old to me but after checking I verified that it is actually the latest stable version for Debian, what this system is based on. I then clicked to uninstall it and GIMP was promptly removed from the system. I made another test installing AbiWord and the experience was the same.
All in all the app store is very responsive and in my opinion smoother than many other distributions’ software centers. If there were something to complain about it would be the abundance of Chinese apps in their native language but we can just ignore those. I have noticed that non deepin apps that get installed also tend to get slightly curved edges in order to fit better with the overall aesthetics. I’d prefer the in-house apps to have that same style of edges but that is very personal.
Deepin also comes with it’s own Package Installer that would install any .deb file you drag into it. App images are also supported. I tested it with Etcher and it worked as it should.
It appears it was worth the wait. Most of the complaints other reviewers had stemmed from what appeared to be a slow app center and slow updates. That was probably due to server issues. This seems to have been resolved as I had no issues in that respect. I really enjoyed using the system. It is pretty to look at and functional enough to get work done. It is definitely meant to please more visually than functionally but the in-house developed apps keep getting better and better. I for one, however, cannot live without a fix for my “top left hot corner syndrome” inflicted by Gnome so a small missing functionality like that could put a potential user off. As a nerdy Linux user it does feel a bit weird having this vast ecosystem of deepin developed apps when there is such a big choice for everything already out there. I do think that it is an excellent choice for many users wanting to switch over from OS X or Windows or really any user who is just looking for a stunning and easy to use system. It’s definitely one of the flagship distros to keep watching out for and I am sure they will continue to wow us in the future so we wish them the best of luck!