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

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" 2560×1312 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.

Comments closed
    • DrCR
    • 2 years ago

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll still waiting for other OS options. A simple smartphone with FirefoxOS, Ubuntu, or the like, would pique my interest, but those seem to never be sold in the US market.

      • tsk
      • 2 years ago

      Both FF OS and Ubuntu for mobile are discontinued.
      If there is another OS coming the next 2-3 years it’ll come from google.

    • albundy
    • 2 years ago

    high end? i dont think they know what that means to the consumer.

    what real and useful features make it high end that every other phone doesn’t already have?

      • Laykun
      • 2 years ago

      Titanium corners? An almost bezel-less display? Snapdragon 835? 128GB storage? I mean, these are all markers of a high-end device. High-end features don’t need to be useful features, they just need to be expensive, putting them at the high-end. I don’t think you know what high-end means.

    • Firestarter
    • 2 years ago

    no headphone jack = don’t care

    call me a luddite but my headphones have cables, my speakers have cables and my car has an AUX plug. All of them work just fine with my current Oneplus 3T and I don’t even need to charge them

      • DancinJack
      • 2 years ago

      Well, just get ready to get used to it. I’m sure there will be SOME phones over the next five or six years that keep headphones jacks, but they may not be phones you want to buy. I’m on your side in this argument, albeit with different logic, but I’m just saying get ready because at some point you won’t have a 3.5mm jack on your phone.

    • Welch
    • 2 years ago

    Yeah, no thanks. You go calling the phone essentials and then make it a high end phone that cost almost as much of the competition. You aren’t trying to fill a niche when you push the price to $700.

    Price th phone $450 and it quickly falls into One Plus territory, but you have to stay sub $500

    • derFunkenstein
    • 2 years ago

    Here’s an idea. Stop me if you’ve heard it before:

    Instead of implanting the camera in the top of the screen, just lower the screen to something with a narrower aspect ratio, say 16:9, and put the camera above the screen. If you have to “hack” the notification bar to be so freakin’ huge anyway, it’s a waste of space and energy.

    I just hate everything about this phone. I haven’t had such a poor reaction to a phone since…ever, really.

      • Peter.Parker
      • 2 years ago

      Stop! ๐Ÿ™‚

        • derFunkenstein
        • 2 years ago

        Probably not my most novel idea. LOL

          • RAGEPRO
          • 2 years ago

          No, don’t listen to him, that’s Spider-man!

          I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

            • Peter.Parker
            • 2 years ago

            Duuuude!!!! You forgot to say Spoiler Alert!!

    • brucethemoose
    • 2 years ago

    Oh, and it’s not even waterproof for $700? With no headphone jack to worry about sealing? Why…

    • PBCrunch
    • 2 years ago

    Would not buy.

    No headphone jack.
    No mention of water/dust resistance.
    No microSD port.
    No replaceable battery.
    No guarantees this company will provide timely OS updates.
    No guarantees the company will even be around in two years.
    No availability in stores.

    I want an Android phone with guaranteed bloat-free software updates, a cheap plastic case that permits good reception (everyone puts cases on high-end phones anyway), a replaceable battery, a headphone jack, a microSD port, and multiple ways to charge it (built-in Qi, microUSB, AND USB-C).

    No one is ever going to make this phone, but it should exist. Alexa support would be great, too.

      • Chrispy_
      • 2 years ago

      1+1 aren’t too far off, but I’ll agree that they’re still not ticking everything on your list.

      • MrJP
      • 2 years ago

      95% agree, but I don’t think you need microUSB and USB-C. USB-C is a much nicer, more robust socket to have on the phone, and you can stick a cheap microUSB to USB-C adaptor on your key ring to cover off using other chanrgers & accessories.

        • southrncomfortjm
        • 2 years ago

        “and you can stick a cheap microUSB to USB-C adaptor on your key ring to cover off using other chanrgers & accessories”

        BRILLIANT! I keep running into that problem with my OP 3T. Thanks.

      • Peter.Parker
      • 2 years ago

      the Moto G4 Play ( [url<]http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_moto_g4_play-8104.php[/url<] ) is ticking most of the items on the list. Only the USB-C is not available on this model.

      • DancinJack
      • 2 years ago

      FWIW – No availability in stores.

      You are wrong about that one.

      • brucek2
      • 2 years ago

      So you don’t own a phone?

      • southrncomfortjm
      • 2 years ago

      How about a phone that gives up the crazy thinness for 1000 mAh bigger battery? Replaceable is key too as you say, mostly so I don’t have to decide between buying a new phone and trying to replace the battery after 18 months.

      Also, headphone jack needs to be on the bottom like sanity dictates.

    • brucethemoose
    • 2 years ago

    Oh, that color + B&W camera setup is a really good idea, and not just for low-light situations. I hope that comes to other phones in the future.

      • DPete27
      • 2 years ago

      The Huawei P9 from 2016 comes to mind. I’m pretty sure other phones have done/tried this already also.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    Big screens don’t fit in my pants pockets. No bezels are a con, not a pro. No thanks.

      • DancinJack
      • 2 years ago

      Either your pockets are EXTREMELY tiny or you just don’t know how big this phone actually is.

      • tipoo
      • 2 years ago

      Lesser bezels = more screen possible before hitting pocket limitations. Even though it has a 5.7″ screen itโ€™s 2 mm shorter and 2 mm wider than the Pixel with its 5″ one.

      • oldog
      • 2 years ago

      Maybe you’re wearing your pants too tight?

    • tipoo
    • 2 years ago

    My question is what was up with Walt Mossbergs seething hostility towards Andy this whole hour, lol…

    [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCjjnVNXDLI[/url<] Phone seems nice enough, titanium is a good idea (albeit more expensive than alu), but I don't really see enough differentiation to go big at 700 dollars, it's just Android on another slab with a thin bezel. Interesting how investors thought this was worth 300 million in venture funding, from the above video.

    • thedosbox
    • 2 years ago

    [quote<] the main body's encased in a titanium-and-ceramic shell that the company says eliminates the need for a case.[/quote<] I doubt it. Ceramic may be more resistant to scratching, but it isn't drop proof. The lack of grip on those hard smooth surfaces requires a case (unless you always hold it two-handed).

    • Chrispy_
    • 2 years ago

    I’m dealing with a range of different smartphones across multiple offices on a daily basis and I can say without any hesitation that all of the zero-bezel phones out there are a significant downgrade over the traditional phone screen with a distinct boundary between the edge of the phone and the start of the touchscreen surface.

    It may look cool, but having a bezel, even a pretty tiny one, is a really really important part of the phone that lets you hold it without activating stuff accidentally. Phones like the S7 edge try and avoid these issues with recognition software, but that just adds input lag, sometimes gets it wrong and you click stuff you didn’t mean to, sometimes it misses desired input – especially edge swipes, and sometimes the recognition software actually interferes and hinders the app being used altogether; It’s a lousy workaround for a silly design flaw.

    Bezels are really useful. Making phones bezel-free is really bad and most of the staff who have bezel-free phones have told me they wouldn’t get one again.

      • DPete27
      • 2 years ago

      Amen Reverend!!!

    • southrncomfortjm
    • 2 years ago

    This phone looks nice, and if the OS is near-stock Android (with quick updates), this should end up being a really nice phone.

    Thing is, the (now defunct) Nexus line got me started on the idea that good phones shouldn’t be $700. The OnePlus line (OPO and now the 3T) have helped keep me in that mindset, though the OnePlus phones have been creeping up in price (paid $350 for my OPO, but $479 for my 3T, though the 3T had double the storage). Will have to see what the OnePlus 5 ends up costing.

      • MrDweezil
      • 2 years ago

      [quote<]Thing is, the (now defunct) Nexus line got me started on the idea that good phones shouldn't be $700.[/quote<] This is the thing for me too. I bought a 5x at launch for under $400, so the idea that I'm ever paying for than $500 for a phone is absurd. The $700+ phones aren't even significantly nicer. The Pixel couldn't be much blander looking if they tried and I have a Samsung S8 at work and I wouldn't use it over the 5x regardless of the price difference. OnePlus is basically the only relevant phone manufacturer for me at the moment.

        • southrncomfortjm
        • 2 years ago

        If I hadn’t dropped my OPO and caused the screen to get discolored (not cracked… just a band of discoloration), I’d have replaced the battery and continued to use it. The OPO with CM13 is still my favorite all time phone. Even moving to a OP 3T was a downgrade in the usability department since Oxygen OS and Lineage OS (a fork of CM) are missing so many little features I took for granted on the OPO (so little, I can barely remember them 5 months later). Overall performance was still pretty damn good on the OPO even 2.5 years later.

        Anyways, yeah, the small (to me) upgrades that you get from paying $300 more for a Galaxy, Pixel or whatever other flagship phone just aren’t worth it. I *want* a 1080p screen (though I’d love OLED), I don’t need a crazy camera, just a competent one, and I definitely don’t need an infinity screen.

    • BillyBuerger
    • 2 years ago

    I was going to complain about being too big with a 5.7″ screen. But checking the dimensions it’s almost exactly the same size as the 5″ Pixel. So this has piqued my interest. I would still like a smaller phone overall but could compromise with this. Although like the Pixel, it’s a bit more expensive then I would like. Maybe they could make an “essential” version of the Essential phone with more modest/reasonable specs and a lower price. And maybe a little smaller while they’re at it.

    • cynan
    • 2 years ago

    Seems a bit pricey for what is still essentially an “off-brand” phone. It’s going to have its work cut out competing with some of the better Chinese phones. The Oneplus 5 is a prime example, which should be out to refresh the Oneplus 3T within the next couple of months.

    • sweatshopking
    • 2 years ago

    I didn’t know they had remade the lumia 920.

      • curtisb
      • 2 years ago

      That’s the same thought I had originally, but it’s just an illusion because of the way that photo is cropped. If you look two images below with the close up of the camera, you’ll notice that the actual edges are where the rounded corners are.

      • blastdoor
      • 2 years ago

      Any word on whether Microsoft will re-enter this market?

        • DancinJack
        • 2 years ago

        lol

        • terranup16
        • 2 years ago

        Current rumors are that they’re working on using CSHELL (short version of this is right now a different user interface basically necessitates a different distribution; CSHELL is a project within MS to eliminate that and to leverage a shell which adapts to the form factor being used) and x86 on ARM/ARM for Windows and those two technologies, along with Fluent Design, will merge into a brand new… insert category title here… some time next year.

        Basically, Microsoft may finally be in reach of its goal of bringing full-fledged Windows 10 to something the size of a cell phone and with call/text capabilities. Strongly appears pen/inking will factor heavily into this revitalization as well. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see this be some flavor of “phone” with an optional dock setup or something of a form factor not dissimilar to what the axed Surface Mini was going to be. Whether it will be 10 S or 10 Pro (or 10 S by default and +$50 for 10 Pro), zero clue.

    • jessterman21
    • 2 years ago

    Too much courage for my taste.

    • DreadCthulhu
    • 2 years ago

    Was looking interesting until I saw the no headphone jack part. That is just a deal killer for me.

      • MrJP
      • 2 years ago

      That and the $700 price.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 2 years ago

    So is this like a Pixel 2 or what?

      • Sargent Duck
      • 2 years ago

      I like the phone, but I’m not excited about the lack of a headphone jack. I will gladly pay the extra $.50 for a headphone jack.

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