A dual camera affair that fails to deliver

Granted, it is possible that some of our criticisms up to this point are not ubiquitous across all the Essential phones delivered to-date. However, the qualms we are expressing about the user experience are nothing compared to the concerns we have with the Essential phone’s cameras.

The Essential phone is equipped with two 13-megapixel cameras, with auto and laser assisted focus. One of those is a monochrome sensor which, by itself, can take black-and-white photos. When color pictures are being taken, the monochrome sensor shares its image data and fuses it with the color data so that the resulting picture is of the best possible quality. That is the intent, anyway.

Indoor pictures, whether in color, or black-and-white, look acceptable given decent lighting conditions. However, zooming in and examining things close-up reveal inconsistent detail at best, and perhaps inconsistent focusing. One of the reasons why cats make ideal subjects for photos (other than being the reason why the internet was invented), is all the detail that can be found (or not) when zooming in on their fur, eyes, ears, or nose. In every instance, the detail seems to be lost to some degree, and the image “fusing” between the two cameras does not display any net-benefit compared to a reliable single-sensor smartphone.

Outdoors, in daylight conditions, the cameras fare much better. The performance is a lot more consistent, though color images still appear a bit soft in detail compared to the types of pictures we have grown accustomed to seeing from devices like the HTC U11, the Samsung Galaxy series, the LG G6 and V30, and Apple’s iPhone. The black-and-white outdoor images do a bit better in living up to the sharpness touted with such black-and-white photos.

Low-light images, something that Essential touts as an optimized feature, are merely adequate. Pictures taken after sunset, in the waning moments of dusk, take a seat well behind the imagery captured by banner bearers like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Where the Note benefits from a larger f1.7 aperture, and adjusts to a slower shutter speed and lower ISO, the Essential phone with a slightly smaller f1.85 aperture keeps a much faster shutter speed and cranks up the ISO. The result is darker and grainier.

Some of fuzziness could be chalked up to the fact there is not any type stabilization, but another culprit is the camera app itself. Essential’s only personal touch in the landscape of stock Android is with the camera interface. While having a camera itself is “essential” in a modern smartphone, the interface barely passes for handling the basics, and performance-wise, it does not even handle the fundamentals all that well.

This is not about the lack of manual controls (there are none). Indeed, had Essential included them in some fashion, they surely would have locked-up and crashed the interface. The camera launches reasonably fast, but the odds of catching that perfect moment at the perfect time are against you. In the transaction of taking a picture, it is the focus that takes the longest, but the inconsistency impedes the camera from immediately taking a picture after you command it to.

In every area where this ultra-simple camera interface should lend itself to being fast, it does the exact opposite. Want to switch quickly between color and monochrome? Good luck. Sometimes it only takes a second, sometimes it chokes on itself and crashes. Want to take a couple rapid-fire pictures in succession? No way, Jose. The fastest we could get this thing to take one picture after another was about 2 seconds. Want the app to save your setting of HDR mode for all your pictures? Can’t do it. Are you observing some beautiful scenery that would be perfect for a panorama shot? Not today. How about setting a lower resolution to save storage space or share faster on social media? Negative, Ghostrider.

Such a pity, the Essential phone seems to have the tools to grab some excellent photos; but it needs a lot more work. Simple controls are fine, but “simple” also needs to operate smoothly – smooth equals fast, and right now, the Essential’s cameras are neither. All that said, we think using a monochrome sensor instead of a wide-angle lens for the secondary camera, while not for everyone, is a nice touch – some photos simply look great in black-and-white.

The 8-megapixel front facing camera is, fortunately, a much smoother operator, able to take pictures quickly and has facial tracking. However, if you like to take selfies a lot, the interface will not remember, and you will have to select the front camera every time you launch the app.

You may have seen some observations elsewhere in the tech-blogosphere about pre-retail units receiving several updates, apparently aimed at addressing camera performance issues. Our Essential phone received one update before we could even finish setting it up, but that has been it thus far. It is a certainty that some of these gripes could be addressed through software updates, but it might best be fixed through a forklift replacement with an interface that is just a little more comprehensive. Either way, given the Essential phone’s price point, the camera performance is not acceptable.

Video recording

Video with the Essential phone is comparatively very good. Again, simplicity rules the roost, and lack of image stabilization means you need to keep a steady hand, but the videos look fine. The re-focusing on objects at varying distances is decently quick and playback does not yield any stutters we could see. The interface makes it easy to switch between 4K (captured at 30fps), or HD (captured at 30 or 60fps).


Excellent, with a loud-enough speaker

The Essential phone does well as a media consumption device. The size of the phone and the screen-to-body ratio do not yield a lot of space for anything other than a bottom firing speaker. Thankfully, the single speaker gets plenty loud. There are limits to the fidelity of the sound it pumps out, but there is no distortion.

While the LCD display does not deliver the saturation of color that AMOLED panels present, the Essential phone has no problem being a competent media consumption device. The squared, compact form factor makes holding the Essential phone easy while enjoying content on a large display.



1. jellmoo

Posts: 2541; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Oh sweet baby corn, a 4???

34. combatmedic870

Posts: 983; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

whoa....a 4

2. pixel_ftw

Posts: 83; Member since: Jun 19, 2017


3. Tech-shake

Posts: 213; Member since: Nov 14, 2016

I have never agreed with phonearena reviews previously, but I am totally on board with this phone. The essential phone misses the essentials of a decent phones nowadays!

116. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

I have watched multiple reviews, everyone mention that the main camera picture quality is average and a recent camera update made it better. Not sure about the hate though. Maybe the pricing or the high expectation. I would buy a XiaoMi Mix or this when it's more accessible.

5. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

I know this phone is inferior compared to the iPhone 7/8 series and Galaxy S8/Note8, but I don't think it deserves a lowly 4. Maybe 6.5 IMO

8. jellmoo

Posts: 2541; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

With those specs and running stock Android it suffers from stutters and performance issues, I'd say a 4 is warranted, especially at that price. What they should do is revisit itin a few months to see if Software Updates fix that and the camera app.

42. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

To be fair that low of a score should be given to phones with lots of hardware issues. Yes I fully agree that they should revisit this one with the updates.

29. g2a5b0e unregistered

How can you rate the device when you've never used it before?

43. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Hence the "maybe", and haven't you heard of something they call "educated guess"?

46. g2a5b0e unregistered

Of course I have, but it doesn't make any sense to rate or even guess what you might rate a device prior to using it. Do you do that with movies too?

37. cocoy

Posts: 455; Member since: Oct 30, 2015

I agree that the "4" rating is very low maybe 6.5 or 7 but giving 4 is way much lower and maybe bias for the company and the phone itself.

6. thetruthhasbeenspoken

Posts: 82; Member since: May 02, 2017

4 really? The bias is real

24. libra89

Posts: 2265; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Considering it's faults for the high price tag, it is justified. No excuse for a $700 phone to not only have stutters in performance but also a meh camera. There are SO many phones that do better for equal or less money.

7. maherk

Posts: 6749; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

No wireless charging is now a con? Lmao And it costs 700 dollars, it is considered cheap when compared to other flagships. Also ip certificate is also a con? And what does costumer service has to do with reviewing a phone? Apart from the average camera, this is another terrible and biased review by PA. And for all the Apple trolls who always criticize us when we complain about PA's bias, remember how we always say that something will become a thing in PA's book once Apple "innovate" it? Well take a look at this review and you'll get it why we say that. Next year when the iPhone 9 also gets OLED screen, PA will find no reason to defend LCD screens no more and will use it as a con every time a phone isn't equipped with AMOLED displays.

39. ph00ny

Posts: 2014; Member since: May 26, 2011

I think you're on point. Also the screen cutout up top wasn't mentioned in the con. Not sure if that's due to iphone x having a huge one or because it's tiny one for the ffc

63. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

It's con when other phone can have it at same price. 'average' is polite way to say its a crap especially at the price where you always expect near perfect camera performance.

9. Rocket

Posts: 636; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

4? really i dont think thats right.

10. black.inco unregistered

I have very little words, other than if the phone was named differently it would have probably gotten a higher score.

14. PhoneInQuestion

Posts: 496; Member since: Aug 20, 2017

Conveniently give this phone a '4' after the iPhone 8/8+ and X are announced...

12. HansP

Posts: 542; Member since: Oct 16, 2011

This reeks of a deliberately bad "review". The phone you had was broken and you kept the review going. Did you break it yourself, one has to wonder?

13. MaryPoopins

Posts: 324; Member since: Jan 15, 2015

4? *grabs popcorn*

16. PhoneInQuestion

Posts: 496; Member since: Aug 20, 2017

I'd give this a 6.5 for the email phishing debacle. '4' is stretching it, but, I'm not likely buying a phone from someone who can't handle emails without screwing everyone over.

17. jonathanfiuwx

Posts: 179; Member since: Mar 10, 2017

all of what you described sounds like a software update is needed to fix the bugs

18. YeahYeah

Posts: 249; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

Since when No wireless charging is a con... Oh i remember, since iphone x.. Joke site

61. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

Since S8 can have it at same price.

119. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1345; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

LOL. it Figures

19. lallolu

Posts: 731; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

The software is the problem of this phone. It needs serious work. Hopefully, they are up to the task.

20. Nicoglx

Posts: 15; Member since: Aug 23, 2017

I have never seen a PA review with any comments about customer serivce. There's something strange about this review. Android Authority gave it an 8.

26. libra89

Posts: 2265; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

To be fair, I'm guessing that Phone Arena did not have access to a review unit so they had to order one, which explains this section.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

  • Display 5.7" 1312 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2450 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 3040 mAh

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