Andy Rubin co-created Android, the smartphone operating system that powers 2 billion devices around the world. After leaving Google, he launcheda new project: The Essential PH-1. It’s an Android smartphone, unsurprisingly, but one with an edge-to-edge screen, innovative accessories, and high-end materials that set it apartfrom the crowd. Read our Essential Phone review to hear our thoughts on the smartphone.
The Xiaomi Mi Mixarguably got the edge-to-edgescreen trend rolling, but the Essential PH-1 may have one of the most impressive implementationsyet. The 5.71-inch, QHD (2,560 x 1,312 pixels) screen — which Essential calls the Full Display — extends from thebottom of the phone’s thin bezel to the top. And unusually, the screen curves around the phone’s selfie camera, obscuring part of the Android status bar.
The PH-1 is compact and light, clocking in at a weight of less than 185 grams and a thickness of 7.8mm. It’s durable, too, thanks to a combination of titanium, ceramic material, and Gorilla Glass 5. But those design choices necessitated compromise — just like the iPhone 7and HTC U11, the PH-1 doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone socket.
“Headphone jacks are pretty big components and they don’t play nice with all-screen Phone architectures,” said an Essential engineer in a Reddit Q&A. “We studied it very seriously, but fitting a headphone jack into our Phone required tradeoffs we were uncomfortable with. We’d have grow a huge “chin” in the display and reduce the battery capacity by 10 percent, or we’d need a huge headphone bump! We decided it was more important to have a beautiful full-screen display in a thin device with solid battery life. Then we made sure we to build ya’ll [sic] a high-quality DAC in a tiny adapter that can elegantly live on your headphones. Dave”
Under the PH-1’s hood lies a QualcommSnapdragon 835 processor, an Adreno 540 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage. The two camera lenses on the phone’s rear, a 13-megapixel dual RGB color lens with hybrid autofocus (combining contrast, phase detect, and IR laser assist) and a second f/1.85 monochrome lens, can shoot videos at 4K 30fps (or 1080p 60fps/720p 120fps) and capture200 percent more light than theaverage sensor. And the 8-megapixel, f/2.2 selfie camera can record video at 4K resolution.
The PH-1’s other highlights include four microphones in a three-dimensional arrangement that filters out background noise, a 3,040mAh battery with rapid charging technology, a barometer, a USB Type-C port, and a rear fingerprint sensor that Essential claims is the “fastest available technology.”
You’ll find a 3,040mAh battery in the Essential Phone which should be enough to power the phone through a day of heavy use. And luckily the phone supports fast-charging so it replenishes the battery quickly.
The Essential Phone ships with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, but can be updated to Android 8.1 Oreo. We expect to see an Android P update for the Essential Phone shortly after its launched, and the company said it’s likely the phone will also receive an Android Q update in 2019.
When it comes to special features, Essential phone is joined by a Moto Mod-style range of modular accessories, which attach using a combination of magnetic pins and a 60GHz wireless USB adapter on the device’s back. A couple of modules (which Essential calls “Click Connectors”) have been announced so far: A 360-degree camera, and a dock that charges the phone when it’s not in use.
The Essential Phone features a dual camera module with a 13-megapixel lenses. Both lenses have an f/1.85 aperture. The primary lens on the Essential Phone shoots in color while the secondary lens shoots in black and white. You’ll find an 8-megapixel shooter on the front of the phone.
When the Essential Phone was first released, many were underwhelmed with its camera. However, Essential has released a number of camera updates over the past year that vastly improve its performance.
In addition to the built-in camera modules on the Essential Phone, there’s also the Essential Camera, which the company claims is the “world’s smallest” 360-degree camera. It attaches to magnets at the top of the phone’s body, allowing it to poke its “head” over the top of the phone. The camera comes in at just 35 grams, and has two 12-megapixel lenses that can shoot 4K resolution, 30 fps video, as well as four microphones that capture sound in 3D. Following a tease thatsupport for livestreaming would soon also be included, the Essential Camera has now made good on its promise.
After a rocky start, the Essential Phone began shipping on August 25, 2017. And while some early buyers paid $700 for the handset, Essential quickly lowered the price to $500 and temporarily offered a $200 credit for the Essential Store for those early purchasers.
All four major U.S. carriers support the Essential Phone. Sprint is the only carrier that carries the phone and accessories in-store.
For those who don’t live in the United States, the Essential Phone is available on the company’s website for customers in Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Essential is also planning to release a smart speaker with an intelligent assistant — the Essential Home. It’s similar to Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, the main difference being acircular screen that shows exactly what tasks the Essential Home is performing.
Essential Home’s round “auto-display” can be activated with a tap, a glance, or a question. Just like Amazon’s Echo speakers, Microsoft’s Cortana Assistant, and Google Home, it lets you control music, set timers, and more. There’s no word on a release date at this time, but it has been promised that itwill work with smart home platforms like SmartThings, HomeKit, and Nest.
Essential Home runs a new operating system calledAmbient OS, which Essential describes as a “proactive life manager.” It will notify you when you need to leave early to make an important meeting, or if you appear to have forgotten about an upcoming appointment. And it will secure your data by storing it locally, on your in-home network, rather than on a remote server like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.
Updated onJuly 19, 2018: Revised and condensed copy, and added Android Q info.