Essential Phone embodies Andy Rubin's high-end Android vision


— 10:00 AM on June 1, 2017

Ask ten gerbils about high-end Android phones, and the responses will be dominated by Samsung and Google. Ask a layman, and you might only hear the first name. Essential is an upstart established by Android founder Andy Rubin, and it has an uphill battle to break into the market. The company is finally showing off its first product, the Essential Phone (or PH-1), and it's a looker.

Essential's phone is made from premium materials. A sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass covers the screen, and the main body's encased in a titanium-and-ceramic shell that the company says eliminates the need for a case. There's even a video and a few pictures on the Essential site detailing how the PH-1 apparently doesn't get damaged from a corner drop onto concrete, unlike competing handets (a Galaxy S7 edge and an iPhone 7 by the looks of it).

The screen is also interesting. In a similar vein to the Galaxy S8, the 5.7" 2560x1312 display covers nearly all the area on the front, with radiused corners and a rounded notch for the user-facing camera. The PH-1 is based on the same top-of-the-heap Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 don't-call-it-a-SoC "platform" as Samsung Galaxy S8 phones destined for the North American market. The memory capacity is the same as Samsung's flagship at 4 GB, but the onboard storage is doubled at 128 GB. Wireless connectivity comes by way of 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO support and Bluetooth 5.0 LE.

 

The PH-1 starts to distinguish itself a bit with its cameras. The user-facing camera is an 8 MP number, and the main snapper is actually a pair of 13 MP shooters. One is capable of full color, while the other shoots in black-and-white. The B&W camera can take monochrome images, but will probably be used more often to enhance the color camera's shots in low-light situations. Both cameras can record 4K video at 30 Hz, 1080p at 60 Hz, and 720p at 120 Hz. Oh, and there's no unsightly camera bump.

Perhaps the most unique part of the Essential PH-1 are the two holes on the back of the phone that allow docking accessories. The first compatible accessories are a thin 360° camera and a magnetic charging dock. The company says that more options will be coming in the future, though similar past attempts at phone add-ons from Motorola and LG have not proven particularly successful.

The phone's dimensions are compact for a smartphone with a 5.7" display. The PH-1 measures 5.6" x 2.8" x 0.31" (or 14.2 cm x 7.1 cm x 7.8 mm) and weighs 6.5 oz (185 g). The 3040 mAh battery charges over a USB Type-C port with Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 rapid-charging technology. No headphone jack is present, though.

The operating system is Android Nougat 7.1.1, with some special additions to work with Essential's upcoming Home smarthome hub. Essential is asking $700 for the unlocked PH-1, and it's offering a package with the 360° camera for $750, which is $150 less than buying them separately. The company hasn't provided a release date for the PH-1 yet. The logo-free Essential Phone is available initially in black and white, with Stellar Grey and "Ocean Depths" finishes coming soon.

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