Rubin’s Essential Phone Is Released – The Good and the Bad (Mostly Good)
August 28, 2017
The Essential Phone is the first phone spearheaded by Android co-creator Andy Rubin, and after a delay and some missed targets it’s now shipping. Reviewers swooned for the Essential Phone’s design, which they characterize as “truly beautiful” and “unique.” The Verge writes that it’s “the most appealing … of any phone [this] year,” and CNET calls it “gorgeous.” The Essential Phone’s titanium body and ceramic back is “sturdy” without feeling unwieldy, according to some reviewers. Others weren’t taken with its glossiness — Business Insider writes that it’s “practically begging for scratches and fingerprint smudges.” Some outlets lamented the Essential Phone’s lack of dedicated headphone jack and memory card reader, but they gave Essential props for including a USB Type-C audio adapter and 128GB of built-in storage. The Essential Phone’s lack of waterproofing came up in reviews. Publications contrasted it with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Apple iPhone 7, both of which can survive dips in shallow pools. But reviewers expressed confidence in the Essential Phone’s ability to withstand drops and scratches. “Titanium makes the phone more rigid and less susceptible to cracking the phone when you drop it,” The Verge writes, “[and] the ceramic is meant to be very scratch-resistant and allows certain radio signals through.” The Essential’s 5.7-inch LCD display, which has a 2,560 x 1,312 pixel resolution, got high marks for its 19:10 aspect ratio. The “chin,” the circular cutout around the front camera, isn’t as bad as some initially thought. TechCrunch notes the cutout doesn’t interfere with day-to-day tasks. “When apps — take, say, Netflix — go full screen, the regions next to the camera go dark, effectively shrinking the size of the display to what it’d look like with a more standard top bezel.” The Verge praised the screen’s viewing angles, calling its aspect ratio the “sweet spot for Android.” Some outlets, like Business Insider, were a little more critical, noting that the Essential Phone’s display “[wasn’t] quite as sharp as [phones like] the Galaxy S8.” And not every third-party app works around the camera cutout, according to CNET. Reviews were generally positive on the Essential Phone’s cameras. TechCrunch writes that the dual rear camera, which consists of one 13MP monochrome and one 13MP full-color, “seem[ed] strong — particularly outdoors,” and that photos come out generally “more detailed” on the Essential Phone than on the Galaxy S8. But some outlets were disappointed by rear camera’s dimness and dull colors, and the time the Essential Phone takes to process photos. CNET marked off points for the Essential Phone’s lack of burst mode, HDR (high dynamic range), and portrait mode. Many of these modes are reportedly arriving in a software update later on. The Verge wasn’t impressed with its low-light performance, which it colorfully describes as “a dumpster fire but worse because you can at least see fire in the dark.” Reviewers were full of praise for the Essential Phone’s hardware and specifications, which they called “snappy.” Business Insider notes that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor “handled everything swimmingly.” Despite the sheer power under the hood, the Essential Phone has pretty good battery life. The Verge writes that it was able to get “a full day” with “fairly heavy use.” Outlets highlighted the Essential Phone’s USB-based modular accessory connector, which uses a system of metal pins, high-frequency wireless, and magnets. Reviewers hailed its potential, but weren’t convinced that Essential will be able to deliver on its promises. “They’re promising new accessories ‘every few months,’ but they aren’t saying much concrete about what they’ll be,” TechCrunch writes. The sole accessory available for the Essential Phone at launch is a $200 360-degree camera, which reportedly works well. Outlets praised the ease of use. “It’s extremely easy to attach,” CNET writes. Others were impressed by its diminutive size. The Verge said “it’s nice that the camera itself is so small and pocketable that I don’t have to remember to charge up yet another thing at night.” Reviewers came away with positive impressions of the Essential Phone’s software, which they called a bloat-free Android experience “[that’s] about as close as you can get without buying a Google Pixel.” Business Insider notes that the only non-Google apps that come with the phone are the camera app and a Sprint app. Most reviewers were pleasantly surprised by Essential’s debut effort.
Others were a little more reserved in their praise. “So far, the Essential Phone feels like a solid foundation for Andy Rubin’s grander vision — one of a unified ecosystem with a catalog of add-on accessories [but] buying it now is betting on that vision, whatever that means to you.” The takeaway seems to be: If you decide to plop down $700 on the Essential Phone, you’ll get a beautiful device with lots of potential. It won’t be as polished as the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7, but it might get better over time. It’s a bit of a gamble.
Figure 1: The "Beautiful" Essential