If the future of tech starts with the phone, then Andy Rubin’s new company Essential started in the right place. But at first glance the Essential Phone looks more like another bleeding-edge Android phone than something completely new.
The founder of Android created his own company, and that company’s first product is a phone. In fact, it’s called the “Phone.” It runs Android, but it’s also the key piece in a dream suite of smart home and modular devices that Essential plans to release over the next year and beyond.
At $699, the Essential Phone is a premium handset. It’s also got a crazy amount of screen, removing the bezel almost completely and even wrapping the 5.71-inch display around the front camera.
The specs sound competitive with other top-end phones on the market, including the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8. It has dual cameras, the popular and powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and a titanium and ceramic-bodied design.
It has magnetic mods
Much like the Moto Z, a small magnetic connector on the back works with a future collection of add-on accessories.
The first is a 360 camera, which Essential claims is the smallest for a phone. It definitely looks smaller than the the Samsung Gear 360, but promises to shoot 3,840×1,920 at 30 frames per second with two 12-megapixel f/1.8 lens 210-degree cameras and four microphones.
Unlike the Moto Z, the Essential’s mods seem to attach nearly invisibly. The 360 camera snaps on next to the rear camera at the top of the device with two pins. Motorola uses a larger strip of exposed pins on the bottom of its modular phones.
There’s also a contactless charging dock, which is sold separately. The phone comes with a 27-watt fast-charging USB-C adapter in-box.
It’s made of titanium
Essential’s sleek launch page promises that the phone’s ceramic and titanium body will be extremely durable. The slab is minimalist and logo-free, and with its fingerprint sensor on the back it looks like the Google Pixel mixed with the Galaxy S8’s all-screen look.
Yes, there’s a dual camera (or a 360 one)
It’s become standard to throw a dual camera onto high-end phones now. The Essential Phone promises to have the slimmest design, and a combination monochrome/RGB camera with an intense focus on low-light performance.
How is this different from other Android phones, really?
Rubin’s other mission — the larger one — is for a connected, ambient operating system called Ambient OS that knits together home, phone, and other things. This Ambient OS isn’t clearly explained yet, but should be home-focused, and will live on the Essential Home to connect smart devices using Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant.
However, it’s all a little unclear whether Essential’s phone is an essential part of that Ambient OS equation, and how. It’s first and foremost a premium Android phone, but it could end up tapping into Ambient OS. We also don’t know what other customized software is running on Essential’s phone beyond Android. The cut-around-the-front camera display seems to be unique, and could be customized to fit certain notifications at the top.
The Phone comes in “black moon” and “pure white” for now, with “stellar grey” (grey) and “ocean depths” (muted green) soon.
Notable downsides: no water resistance, no headphone jack
The Essential Phone PH-1 (the phone’s official model name) uses USB-C but ditches the headphone jack, like the iPhone 7. However, no mention of any water resistance means this phone may want to stay away from serious splashes.
Essential does throw a USB-C headphone adapter in the box, at least.
Cost and specs
The PH-1 costs $699 to preorder (equivalent to £545 or $AU940, or $749 (equivalent £580 or $AU1,000) for the phone plus the 360 camera, which is normally a $200 add-on. It’s only being sold online in the US for now.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (2.4 GHz)
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB storage
- Titanium body, ceramic back
- Gorilla Glass 5 covered display
- 5.71-inch 2560×1312 19:10 LCD
- 185 grams
- Dual 13MP camera (RGB and Monochrome), f/1.85 lens, 4K video
- Front 8MP camera, f/2.20 lens, 4K video
- 3,040 mAh battery
- Not water resistant
- USB-C (no headphone jack)