Millions of people around the world use Android devices. But few of them probably know the person who created Android—or that for the last few years he’s been quietly working on a brand new flagship Android phone. Well, today’s the day that Andy Rubin—the father of Android—introduced Essential: quite possibly the mother of all Android phones!
As Rubin states in a blog article on Essential’s website, he started the company to bring “passion and craftsmanship” back to the phone category—and to create a device that doesn’t force you to fight with technology to use it. The result is a set of principles that guide Essential:
- Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
- We will always play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
- Premium materials and true craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few.
- Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
- Technology should assist you so that you can get on with enjoying your life.
- Simple is always better.
With that mind, let’s have a look at how some of these principles apply to the Essential phone.
Premium Materials and True Craftsmanship
The first thing that is immediately apparent about Essential is the display. It’s a 5.71-inch edge-to-edge full display with a 2560-by-1312 QHD resolution. To put that into perspective, the larger of Apple’s devices, the iPhone 7 Plus, has a 5.5-inch display with a 1920-by-1080 resolution. And the newest Samsung Galaxy S8 models (lauded for its screen) have a 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch display with a 2960-by-1440 resolution. Suffice it to say, it’s impressive—and easily hangs with, or outperforms, the most popular devices in the category. But, while the phone has a much larger display, the device, itself, is not that big.
The physical phone is only about 5.5-inches high, 2.8-inches wide, and 0.31-inches thick. And it weighs less than 6.5 ounces. Comparatively, the iPhone 7 Plus with a smaller 5.5-inch display comes in at 6.23-inches high, 3.07-inches wide, and 0.29-inches thick. So the Essential phone has a screen larger than iPhone 7 Plus but is built into a form factor that’s closer in size to the smaller iPhone 7—ensuring you get an incredible screen in something that can fit comfortably in one hand.
The other noticeable feature is the build quality. It features a titanium body with Gorilla Glass 5—compared to the aluminum used on nearly all other smartphones. As Essential points out, titanium is harder, stronger, and more resilient than alumnium—so it doesn’t scratch, dent, or bend (they also say it’s why you won’t find phone cases on their site). They even posted drop test results (that they conducted on concrete) to show how Essential holds up against an iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8.
And of course, the thing most people care about in their phone—the camera—looks pretty incredible, too. It sports a 13MP Dual RGB + Mono camera with “image fusion technology” with a f/1.85 lens, and a Hybrid Auto Focus that combines Contrast, Phase Detect, and IR Laser Assist Focus (…whew!). So what the heck does any of that mean? The Essential phone uses two lenses similar to iPhone 7 Plus or the Huawei P10. But instead of using the second lens to take a particular style of photo like a telephoto or bokeh (Portrait mode on iPhone 7 Plus), the second sensor takes in more light—up to 200% more than traditional phone cameras. So your pictures should look richer in color and detail, and those horrible pictures you take of friends at night should also look fantastic. And with a built-in Mono camera, Essential offers a true ‘monochrome’ mode for incredible black and white or other monochromatic shots.
If that weren’t enough, the phone captures 4K video at 30fps, 1080p video at 60fps, or 720p video at 120fps (for some slick slo-mo). And even the front 8MP camera is capable of shooting 4K video—just in case you want to improve your selfies. But if you want to have an even better video experience, Essential is also introducing the world’s smallest 360° personal camera: an accessory that attaches to your Essential phone capable of shooting 360° videos at a resolution 3840-by-1920 (UHD or Ultra hi-def) at 30fps.
We won’t force you to have anything on them
Essential believes your phone is your personal property. And because of that, you (the consumer) shouldn’t be forced to advertise you own one. So there are no logos of any kind on the phone—that includes carrier branded logos that you find on nearly all Android devices. It also sounds like your Essential phone won’t be loaded with a ton of apps and things you didn’t download (known as Bloatware) as is also the case with so many Android devices you get from carriers—but is something familiar to iPhone users. This also assumes that Essential is running a stock version of Android: the purest version without the excess skins and other things found on nearly all other Android devices that change the way your phone looks and operates.
Devices… should evolve with you/assist you
As all smartphone owners know, their brand new device becomes (seemingly) outdated within one year—replaced by a newer version with even newer features. Essential looks, in part, to combat this with their magnetic connector: a built-in feature that gives you the ability to connect a variety of devices, like chargers, accessories (like the 360° camera), and more. And because the connector allows wireless data transfer, there could even be a variety of ways you could backup your phone without having to plug it in to a computer. With the magnetic connector, Essential claims you won’t have to worry about buying dongles, chargers, or mandated accessories each time your phone gets upgraded.
The big question around how your device evolves with you will come with how Essential handles updates. Unlike on iPhone—where updates frequently come without interference from carriers—Android users have become accustomed to updates that either come very slowly or don’t come at all (for a variety of reasons). This is something Google is aware of and helping to change based on recent announcements at their annual I/O developers conference. If Essential can keep users up-to-date with frequent system updates, that’ll be a big win for them and their users.
Other things you care about
So outside of all of that, what else should you know about the phone? First, it’s running some nice hardware with a Qualcomm 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage standard. It features USB Type-C port for charging—including fast charging—as well as wireless charging. But it won’t have a headphone jack (yeah, yeah I know). Buuuttttt, it does feature Bluetooth 5.0 LE—so it can connect to multiple wireless headphones at the same time, and comes with a headphone dongle in the box. Plus with that magnetic connector, there may be other intriguing ways to connect your headphones we’re not aware of yet.
All of this will run you $699.00 and is launching first in the U.S. Comparatively, here’s a look at what Essential’s biggest competition has to offer:
• iPhone 7 Plus with 128GB of storage (and also no headphone jack) – $749.
• Samsung Galaxy S8 also runs around $749, but only has 64GB in the U.S. (128GB is only available in Asia). To get more storage in the S8, you’ll need to buy a microSD card—which is obviously more money.
• Google Pixel XL with 128GB of storage – $849
The big question which has yet to be answered is how Essential will go to market? Will they need carriers? Will they face the same issues Google has with manufacturing enough Pixel devices to meet demand? And how will it stack up in everyday use against phones with strong user bases like iPhone and Samsung? All those answers will come in time. But for now, Essential looks like a very strong phone from the person who arguably knows Android—and the smartphone market—better than anyone. And for those reasons alone, it demands our attention.