Essential Phone Review
1. Introduction and Design
The creator of Android, Andy Rubin, was instrumental in changing the world of technology as we know it. The Android ecosystem alone has catapulted advances in technology few might have imagined. However, for all the benefits gained over the past decade, it also fomented what Mr. Rubin called a "weird new world."
It was that “weird new world” that gave Mr. Rubin an epiphany, and prompted him to create a new series of products that take the “weird” out of that new world. In furtherance of that goal, he created Essential. The result is the company’s first product, the Essential phone, which can best be described as “simple.”
There is more to the Essential PH-1 (PH-one, phone, we see what they did there) than mere simplicity, but it is a good place to start. The beginning of such journeys usually reveal areas that need some improvement and refined development, and that is the case here.
In the box:
- Essential phone
- Quick charge adapter
- Braided USB Type-C to Type-C cable
- Braided USB Type-C to 3.5mm audio jack adapter
- SIM tool
Not the smoothest execution
We acquired the Essential Phone through the company’s online reservation and order system. On the day Essential notified us that orders could be made in mid-August, we confirmed the order, rendered payment, and waited. Then we waited some more.
Two weeks later, the phone finally shipped, direct from its point of manufacture in China. We reserved and ordered the 360-camera too, but that transaction was handled separately. We will have a full review of that modular piece in the very near future.
In broad strokes, those logistics were handled okay, but the long period of time between order processing, payment, and shipping was nowhere near anything that could be described as ideal in 2017. The lack of proactive communication was no treat either. Yes, this can be chalked up to new-company-growing-pains, but the bell-curve for such errors has shrunk dramatically. Essential used its mulligan.
Beautiful, sleek, smooth, and slippery
There is a lot to talk about this device’s design. As you have no doubt read or seen already, the Essential phone is a beautifully stunning piece of hardware. The build quality is the stand-out feature, and it arguably surpasses every other flagship on the market today in that area.
The Essential phone is a monolithic slab, simple in nature, yet elegant in execution. There are no discernibly tactile seams anywhere except where the buttons are set on the side, and where the fingerprint sensor resides on the back.
iPhone 7, but pack a display that is a full inch larger. Use of such premium materials fits one of the tenants of Andy Rubin’s vision.
These compact dimensions do not translate to a compact weight, however. The Essential is a substantial smartphone in the hand, weighing in nearly two full ounces heavier than the aforementioned iPhone, and about an ounce-and-a-half more than a Samsung Galaxy S8. Those do not look like big numbers, but to put it in context, the Essential phone weighs just 0.3 ounces (10 grams) less than a Samsung Galaxy Note8, a device that is physically about 20-percent bigger. The point being, the feel of the Essential in the hand is immediately evident. That is not a bad thing, Essential crammed a ton of hardware in a svelte form factor, and the sensation exudes premium build quality.
That sensation also exudes a sense of super slipperiness. Thankfully, the smaller size makes it easier to use the Essential one-handed, as long as you are grasping it.
The volume rocker and power/lock buttons are sufficiently tactile, but we do wish the latter had some texture so it could be more easily differentiated from the former. The flat edges make the Essential easy to pick up, and no camera bump means nothing is rockin’-and-rollin’ when you set it down.
Everything in the physical experience of the Essential phone feels smooth. The SIM tray is along the bottom of the device, along with the USB-C port. What is glaringly missing is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Now, we know this issue has probably been beaten to dust, but frankly, the Essential phone misses on a fundamental, and essential element of the smartphone experience. For as good as Bluetooth is getting, some people simply do not want to be bothered with A) Having another accessory to charge, or B) Having to deal with a separate USB-C/3.5mm dongle (no matter how nice it looks) to use their trusty corded earphones.
In fact, from the current state of Essential’s web-site, there is no means for buying a replacement 3.5mm adapter should you lose the one that comes with the device. Again, that could be argued as an “essential” item to have available. Other features that have found themselves as somewhat in-demand, at least in the American market, is wireless charging and some type of water and dust proofing. Alas, those features are absent from the Essential phone as well.
Pleasant to behold, but not very bright
The hard-edged brick design of the Essential phone means you are presented with all of the display, no curved edges for the LCD panel. Save for the small chin on the bottom, and the cutout for the front facing camera, there are virtually no bezels to be found on this device.
That makes the 5.7-inch display appear deceptively small given the physical size of the Essential phone. As far as the divot for the front facing camera, unless you remain obsessed with its placement, you begin overlooking it almost immediately upon using the device. The 19:10 aspect ratio with 2560 x 1312 resolution is something new, but owed to the design which basically extends the display all the way to the top of the device where a forehead-bezel would be found on other smartphones.
The upper corners of the display are rounded, a-la the LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8. The bottom corners are too, albeit more sharply. The asymmetrical arrangement does not detract from viewability or usability. The limited screen-brightness does, however, and in bright outdoor conditions, the display just cannot punch out enough visibility.