That beautiful piece of mobile technology above the Essential Phone. Brought to you from one of the co-creators of Android, Andy Rubin. It’s sleek, it’s beautiful, it’s durable, and it’s…. Just not what we need in a newly announced flagship phone. When I originally decided that I would write a bit about the Essential Phone, I thought I was going to go on and on about it being completely awesome and stuff. But after discussing it more with a friend and taking a better look at the specs versus current flagships, my mind changed. And now, I am kind of disappointed.
Essential Phone Basics
The Essential Phone is model number Essential PH-1 and it will run Android Nougat 7.1 The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and a Kryo 280 octa-core CPU. The GPU is an Adreno 540. It will boast 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on board. The screen is a 5.7″ 2560×1312 QHD 10 finger multitouch. The shooters on the Essential Phone PH-1 are a rear 13MP Dual RGB+Mono and a front-facing 8MP. Capable of capturing 4K at 30FPS. The battery is an unassuming 3040mAh. You can read the full specifications here.
What Sets the Essential Phone Apart from Others
Well, for the most part it’s two things: build quality, and the cutout for the front camera. Seriously, that’s about it. This video from the Essential website shows the device during a drop test. The lack of breaking aside, watch the surface of the phone as it reflects everything around it and take the beauty of it in before I proceed.
As you can tell, the Essential Phone PH-1 definitely gets the build right. According to the website the phone is crafted from titanium and ceramic. Unlike aluminum which most phones are crafted from, titanium doesn’t give in so easily to scratching, denting and bending. If you look at the Essential website, it will show the results of corner drop tests and the differences between different build materials for different phones.
The Essential Phone also went with a ceramic backing instead of the glass like backing we see on iPhones and other Android flagships. It’s another move designed to combat the constant breakage and scratching on the backs of phones that happen to easily if you do not have a case. Metal phones are bad for getting nicks and scratches in the back, and let’s be honest, how many iPhone users do you know with cracked backs? The Essential Phone will be a lot harder to make replicate those types of blemishes which is definitely a good thing.
I haven’t gotten to hold one of these devices yet, but from what I know of the build material, the Essential Phone is one that should feel strong, powerful, and durable in your hands. It will look sleek, look new, look the part, and it will feel the part too. But what about the major part of a phone that really matters: performance?
Where the Essential Phone Falls Off the Hype Train
The Essential has mainly gained its hype through its form factor and build quality, the funky cutout around the front camera (which I absolutely love) and because of its creator. Andy Rubin is not just a name that people know because he worked for Google and Android. He’s known because, to a lot of people, he IS Android. So when Andy Rubin says he is putting out an Android phone, people in the community pay attention.
But this is where the Essential Phone falls off the hype train. Compared to other flagships and upcoming phones like the OnePlus 5, the Essential Phone PH-1 just doesn’t have it. It doesn’t have that oomph factor that makes it truly something, especially given the price. Now, to be fair, at $699 I don’t think it’s a bad price. The build materials give it just enough extra flair to warrant a price that is up there with what you pay outright for a new iPhone. But what about specs? What about what matters most to an Android enthusiast? Well, for that, let’s compare the Essential Phone PH-1 to the upcoming OnePlus 5 and the newest Samsung Galaxy S8+.
[table id=1 /]
The deck is stacked against the Essential Phone in comparison with others. And I could add more to this table if I really wanted to take the time to do so. As far as price, everything is what I would expect when you factor all the parts that make a phone what it is together. Samsung is going to be on the pricey side because they are the only real Android competitor to Apple. Which sucks, because I don’t like Samsung devices. But statistically, they sell the most. OnePlus has been stunning the world since they released their first phone, and the OnePlus 5 is sure to not disappoint. And at almost half the cost of the Essential Phone. The OnePlus also packs a more powerful punch to it. The specs listed in the table above are what most Android enthusiasts are going to look at. The Essential Phone just becomes a bit of a let down in that category.
What’s the Takeaway on the Essential Phone
I’m not here to try to discredit Andy Rubin and the Essential Phone. I do truly believe it is a good device, sleek-looking, and more than likely, it will perform well for most normal Android users. But here’s the thing: Myself and my circle are not what you would call the “normal” Android user base. We’re power users, super users, and we don’t take our devices at face value when they are capable of much more.
While it is nice to see a manufacturer put something a little more professional and sleek-looking like the Essential Phone, what Android doesn’t need is another company trying to mimic the iPhone to draw customers. Android is not iOS and Android devices are not iPhones. Google already went this route with the Pixel line. And while I think the Pixel is a great device, we can’t dumb down to think that from a design standpoint, this was the closest that Google has come yet to an iPhone. The same applies to the Essential Phone.
My final verdict on the Essential Phone is that it is a nice looking device, it is a capable device, and it is a durable device. But it’s nothing special. It doesn’t make me do a dance to think about having it in my hands, and it doesn’t appeal to me as something tht really stands out from the crowd. Nobody is really doing that right now (and that’s a subject for another blog post.) Maybe in due time we’ll see better things, but in the meantime: Stop the train, I want to get off.