Andy Rubin Reveals His Essential Phone

Posted on May 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 23 Comments

This morning, Android creator Andy Rubin’s new company, Essential, has gone public and revealing its first smartphone and the beginning of a surrounding ecosystem of products and services.

I’m going to be writing a bit about the background of this company and its offerings later today. For now, let’s focus on the actual products, especially the stunning Essential PH-1 handset.

The smartphone is familiar on the face of things. It’s a flagship Android smartphone with an edge-to-edge display and the expected high-end specs. That doesn’t sound so innovative. But as is often the case, it’s the little things that matter most. And with Essential, this new company has really thought through the details.

Consider the price: The Essential PH-1, as its unceremonially called, costs $799, or about $70 less than a comparable iPhone 7 Plus. This is important, as Essential is new and unproven, and while this isn’t the mammoth price gap provided by, say, 2015’s Google Nexus 6P and 5X, it’s appreciated.

The materials are premium, but new. Where the rest of the market is utilizing some combination of aluminum and glass these days, Essentials instead turned to titanium and, for the back, ceramic. Titanium is much harder than aluminum and will not dent, like aluminum does, Essential says.

And ceramic is both beautiful and durable, and it enables the firm to offer some stunning color choices, including Black Moon, Stellar Gray, Pure White, and Ocean Depths.

Those materials also solve a classic smartphone dilemma: Essential will not even sell a protective case for this device because, it says, such a thing is not needed. So instead of wrapping your beautiful new bauble inside of a bulky case that obscures the thing that attracted you to it in the first place, you can simply use the phone normally and enjoy its good looks every day.

The display features an incredible design that extends across as much of the face as is possible, and while it lacks the wraparound design of the Samsung Galaxy S8+, it still manages to occupy even more of the device’s face.

For example, the screen extends all the way to the top of the handset, with just a small camera dimple extending down into the middle. This is a great design, because the camera neatly bisects the Android status bar, which has icons and other information on the top left and top right of the screen, so it’s not wasting any space. This is, suddenly, clearly the best way to do this.

On the bottom of the device, the screen extends to about as far as does the Galaxy S8+’s display, creating an elegant look. The fingerprint reader is on the back, where it belongs, and not blocking the camera as it does on the S8+.

That screen is incredible, with a resolution fo 2560 x 1312 (QHD) and an unusual 19:10 aspect ratio. It’s 5.71-inches, but like the Samsung Galaxy S8+, I suspect the tallness of the display will counter the size; this won’t be a gigantic and bulky device like the iPhone 7 Plus.

The specs are high-end: A Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, Adreno 540 graphics, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of internal storage. The radios are as compatible as can be and will work on every US carrier, plus most international carriers as well. Expansion occurs via USB-C, of course, and while there is no headphone port, Essential bundles an adapter in a box because they’re not cruel.

The Essential PH-1 features a unique dual-camera design on the rear, with both color and monochrome sensors that the company says will result incredible low-light picture quality and, for those who need it, real black-and-white photography capabilities. The two rear cameras are both 13 MP with f/1.85 lenses, while the front-face selfie camera offers 8 MP with a f/2.20 fixed hyperfocal lens for still photos and 4K video.

And then there are the accessories, of which there are just a few to start. Two of them rely on a Moto Mods-like magnetic connector on the back of the PH-1 that I think is genius. (I’ve never understood why Moto’s products aren’t more popular.)

Essential will sell a Phone Dock that charges the handset via the magnetic connector: You just lay the phone down on the dock and it charges.

There’s also an inexpensive 360-degree camera that’s even more expensive if you pre-order it with the phone: You can get this $200 device for $50 right now if you’d like.

Finally, Essentials is teasing an Echo Dot-like appliance, but with a screen. Dubbed the Essential Home, it’s yet another home assistant, running its own OS—so it’s not Google Assistant, which I think is a mistake—and … yeah. OK, they didn’t get everything right.

There’s no word on the pricing for the accessories. Worse, there’s no word on availability of any of this stuff: As of today, potential customers in the US can sort of pre-order the handset (and the 360-degree camera at a discount), but you’re not really pre-ordering per se, just registering your interest. So it’s not clear when any of this stuff is actually happening.

There’s also a much bigger story about the “why” behind Essential and, I have to say, I’m intrigued. I’ll be writing more about this, and why I think this company may actually have a chance, later today.


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