After months of speculation, rumors, and teasers, the man who co-created Android, Andy Rubin, officially announced his next big project this morning: the Essential Phone. This Android 7.1 Nougat device has a very audacious name; Rubin seems to think his phone will be an “essential” part of the lives of anyone who owns it. It’s clearly targeting the audience who wants high-end devices like the iPhone 7 Plus and the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus.
It’s still way too early to issue a final verdict on the Essential, mainly because we have yet to get one in our hands. However, the company has revealed a lot about its hardware and software specs and at this early stage we can make some initial observations about which features we like about the phone, and which features we aren’t so fond of. By the way, this article does not cover the company’s other announced product, the Essential Home, its planned smart hub-connected speaker.
Things we like about the Essential Phone
It has a near bezel-free display
Ditching the bezel on phones is the new trend in high-end handsets, and the Essential Phone certainly comes very close to doing away with it entirely. It has an edge-to-edge display on the sides, and there’s no bezel on the top. Indeed, the screen wraps around the phone’s 8 MP front-facing selfie camera lens. There’s still some bezel on the bottom, but the look of front of this phone will certainly be a unique one. The company says the Essential Phone will have a 5.71-inch 19:10 aspect ratio display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,312, along with Gorilla Glass 5 to protect it from scratches. We approve.
See also: Xiaomi Mi MIX review
It’s made of tough materials
If you feel you need to buy a case to protect your smartphone, the Essential Phone may save you from purchasing one. The company says the handset will use titanium and ceramic materials, which are certainly among the toughest materials used in smartphones today. Plus, Essential claims that it has dropped the phone down on solid concrete and the phone came out unscathed. That would not be the case if a device made of aluminium would have made that same trip.
Making a phone that has higher-end materials than what you can get from an iPhone or a Galaxy device is OK by us.
It supports a modular accessory design
Essential looks like it believes in the modular accessory trend that Motorola jumped into with its Moto Mods for the Moto Z phones in 2016. The Essential Phone will have two magnetic connectors on the back for its accessories, which will include a charging dock and, more importantly, a 360-degree camera that you can get with any pre-orders for the Essential Phone for an extra $50. The company plans to allow third parties to make their own Essential accessories that will use these magnetic connectors, combined with wireless data transfer features. If the phone is a big sales hit, it shouldn’t be long before we see more of these accessories for sale.
It has high-end hardware specs
If you are going to get a phone with a no-contract price as high as the Essential (more on that later) it should have some pretty solid hardware inside. Essential says the phone will be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform, along with 4 GB of RAM and, most importantly, a roomy 128 GB of onboard storage. It will also have a dual camera with a main 13 MP sensor, and a second monochrome sensor that will reportedly help the phone take excellent pictures, even in low light conditions. It will also have an 8 MP front-facing camera that can record 4K video, a 3,040 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back and no annoying logos anywhere.
Other things we like about the Essential
We are encouraged by the fact that Essential says the phone will have a stock version of Android Nougat out of the box with no bloatware. Hopefully that also means the phone will get regular, timely OS and security updates. We also like the variety of colors that will be available for the phone: Black Moon and Pure White are available now, while Stellar Grey and Ocean Depths are coming soon.
Essential also claims the phone will support all carriers with its wireless cellular technology. Some unlocked phones don’t support CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint, so we’re happy to see the Essential Phone will be able to work on all four major U.S. carriers.
Things we don’t like about the Essential Phone
No 3.5 mm headphone jack
This phone is continuing the trend of ditching the good old-fashioned headphone jack to make the Essential a thinner phone. We still don’t think it’s a good idea to get rid of this feature, at least for now, but it looks like more phone makers are trying their best to make headphone jacks obsolete in favor of Bluetooth wireless headphones (to their credit, Essential will include a dongle for the phone’s USB Type-C port that will support wired headphones with every one of its phones).
Still, removing the headphone jack at this point seems like a solution no one is asking for.
No waterproofing features
For a phone that is made of some high-end materials, it’s odd that it appears to have little resistance to water. Samsung has made waterproofing the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus one of its big selling points, but there’s no such feature that’s been announced for the Essential Phone.
The high price tag
At an unlocked no-contract price of $699, the Essential Phone will not be for everyone’s wallet. We suspect that if the company had decided to cut down the onboard storage on the phone to “just” 64 GB instead of 128 GB, they could have shaved off at least $100 off this price, and perhaps sold some more units. While it’s great that the phone will have some high-end hardware, it may struggle to gain acceptance from outside the early tech adopter crowd with this high price tag.
Other things we don’t like (or don’t know yet) about the Essential Phone
The phone doesn’t appear to support Qi or PMA wireless charging out of the box, like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. The company is however offering the Essential Phone Dock to go along with the phone, though it connects via the phone’s accessory pins and doesn’t actually use wireless charging technology. It’s entirely possible that the phone could get a wireless charging modular accessory in the future, though.
There’s also no microSD card slot, which means if you max out the phone’s 128 GB hard drive, you won’t be able to add any more storage.
Again, we can’t make a final verdict on the Essential Phone before we get one to try out for ourselves. Our initial impressions on Andy Rubin’s debut device from his new company shows a willingness to try new things, but we also feel it lacks a few features that many smartphone buyers expect from high-end handsets.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to get the phone in our hands. The company is already accepting pre-orders for US buyers, and as we stated it has a price of $699. You can get its 360-degree camera accessory for $50 more. There’s no word yet on when the first units will ship to customers.
What do you think of the Essential Phone? Has Andy Rubin made the perfect phone for you, or do you want to wait for the second generation of phones from his new company? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!