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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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Andy Rubin Reveals His Essential Phone”

  1. Daekar

    Titanium CAN be harder than aluminum, and some aluminum alloys are harder than others. Both metals can be quite soft too. And ceramic on the back is all well and good, but... well, have they ever SEEN ceramic before? Impact resistance is not what it's known for. And that's not even addressing the screen. No case protruding to protect the screen is I-left-my-brain-at-home stupid.


    All of this is brainless hype. You want to impress me? Make a phone out of composite plastics (you know, plastics make it possible?) and include a little lip around the screen that protects it from face-down drops. Durable? Check. No problem with wireless charging? Check. Ends up being smaller because you don't need a case? Check.

  2. sportflier

    I just went to the website and the price is posted as $699.

  3. Narg

    I'd get a case anyway, because the added depth makes the phone feel better in the hand to me.


    Oh, and no headphone? Forget it. Computers are about I/O, removing I/O removes it's capability. No thanks.

  4. brettscoast

    Good post Paul

    This does sound intriguing and I am sure will peak interest in adroid users especially if this thing comes out at a reasonable price point as you mentioned and we have a nice clean software image with minimal crapware installed on it.

  5. Chris_Kez

    Looks like a nice device, but it doesn't seem like anything that Samsung, HTC, Motorola or any other established phone manufacturer couldn't do. There are way too many unanswered questions at this point, but I'm not optimistic that Essential will still be a thing in three years.

  6. gwydionjhr

    So everyone is just assuming this is going to be running Google Android, and not AOSP?  Wouldn't it be difficult for the Essential Home device to be privacy centric and run Google Android?

  7. jjaegers

    Ah the irony of the name... Essential PH1... for just $799... when are these phone prices going to come down?  How can they make something like the Moto G5Plus for $200 and then something like this for $800... you can't tell me this thing is worth 4 times the cost of a Moto G5Plus... I think these companies have gotten to a point where they can only feel high end if they charge crazy iPhone type prices for their products.

    • Jeff Jones

      In reply to jjaegers:

      I wish they would come down too. We know it's possible due to phones like you mentioned or the OnePlus line of phones.

      However, most of these guys are probably following the same reasoning as Intel does with it's top of the line CPUs. An i7 is basically the same material and man hours as an i5, but by creating artificial performance tiers they can charge more. So they are trying to balance R&D costs with what people are willing to pay for.

  8. chaad_losan

    give me a carbon fiber phone.

  9. Darmok N Jalad

    I prefer to add another layer of protection for my phone. Not ridiculous, super-thick bulk, but something soft to absorb the initial blow.

    While I can appreciate an attractive design, that is not going to be my purchase motivation. It will be features and functionality. If it's all about looks, there will always be another fancy design to pull you away. Just look how long it took to get over the S8.

  10. obarthelemy

    It's a nice phone, but with a bit of hype and over-hype

    • I'll believe the bit about not needing a case after a few drop tests. I don't mind scuff marks, I do mind breakage; cases protect not only the exterior, but dampen shocks to protects the internals, and the screen. The materials look good and smart.
    • I agree that a SMALL bezel is better than no bezel for durability reasons, and better than lotsa bezel à la Apple for a whole lot of reasons.
    • I like audio jacks, they save me from buying, carrying, charging a pair of BT headphones and/or a fragile dongle. Alas, it seems I'll have to get used to that.
    • I'm not sure how the dual-camera design is unique, Huawei had that same color+monochrome setup 2 or 3 years ago ?
    • Expansion slots/sockets/etc are worthless until they follow an industry standard that support lotsa phones, lotsa modules, for a long time. I can see some use cases for modules, I can't see any use case for proprietary modules on a single phone, with very few modules, and a probably very short lifespan. Hardware is more expensive to create than software, yet they keep trying to create a hardware ecosystem for just 1 or 2 phones. We've been here before: few modules, bad modules, expensive modules... discontinued. Standard up or leave it alone.
  11. Nic

    I'm not sure that 4GB RAM is premium, I would expect 6GB for that to be the case on Android. And no SD support? Ugh. That makes the 128GB of storage a bit on the tight side.

  12. Bats

    It's a nice phone, however I don't see this phone succeeding in any way, unless Rubin decides to spend money on marketing, celebrity endorsements, and making sure it's available to use on all major carriers. Not just that, but it also has to be "Nexus" like. 

    The standard of all phones, in terms of technology and design are the Samsung Galaxies. Despite the Galaxies' greatness it has an achilles heel....it's Touchwiz interface. Yes, yes...it's much better and has greatly improved, but nothing beats a "minimalist" experience.

    The one great thing, I see about this phone is that it further advances the trend with bevel-less displays. From a "style" standpoint it's "cool" looking and from a tech standpoint, evolution is always good.

  13. SvenJ

    no headphone port, Essential bundles an adapter Is there someone who doesn't?

    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. That sounds less expensive if you pre-order it with the phone.

  14. torsampo

    The materials alone have me interested. If I could use this with Google Fi, i'd preorder today!

  15. mortarm

    >Essential will not even sell a protective case...

    Hopefully 3rd-party company's will step in.

    >There’s also an inexpensive 360-degree camera that’s even more expensive if you pre-order it with the phone...

    Wow, who could pass up a deal like that!

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