The Essential Phone is probably the most interesting phone I’ve used in a while. It’s the first phone (and product) to come out of Andy Rubin’s (the “father of Android”) new company, Essential but the phone isn’t anything that’s overtly over-the-top.

Sure it might have a beautiful display with a 19:10 aspect ratio but other Android flagship phones have similar displays but with an 18:9 aspect ratio. I feel like the Essential Phone is missing something but over the ten or so days I’ve used the device, I still can’t put my finger on it.

Design & Hardware

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The Essential Phone’s body is made from Corning Gorilla Glass combined with titanium and ceramic. The 5.7-inch “Full Display” is beautiful and well-lit, colours are accurate and it takes a bit getting used to the front-facing camera notch. The screen has a 19:10 aspect ratio and resolution of 2560 x 1312.

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It’s definitely a really nice phone to look and hold in your hands. It feels like you’re just holding a solid piece of metal and glass, and it is slightly heavier than other flagships on the market. Unlike other flagships, the Essential Phone is not water-resistant, which is a big trend for a lot (if not most) smartphones nowadays.

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The back of the device is where you’ll find the fingerprint sensor along with the dual camera setup (one RGB and one Monochrome) and connectors for some add-ons like Essential’s 360 Camera attachment. You’ll also find a 3,040 mAh battery with Fast charging support, I did notice that the phone almost got uncomfortably hot while the device was charging. The phone did last all day but the battery drained quickly while on standby (i.e while not in use).

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There is no headphone jack but there is a USB Type-C port where you can use the included adapter. The phone is being powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, and in my experience, it’s been fairly quick with no slow-down issues.

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In Canada, the Essential Phone is available exclusively through Telus for $1,050 CAD outright. With the Canadian dollar, as it is, it can be sometimes hard to justify the cost of a phone that starts at $1000. There are so many flagship Android smartphones on the market, each trying to differentiate from one another but it’s hard to when they’re all similarly specced. Why would a consumer spend a $1000 or more on a phone, when there’s a phone like the Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 or LG G6 that offers the same specs and might have more features I’m interested in but for slightly cheaper.

If you’re in the US, the Essential Phone is available unlocked from Essential’s site for $699 USD.

Software

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The Essential Phone is running Android 7.1.1, which brings features like the Google Assistant and more. For the most part, the Essential Phone is running stock Android, so you’ll get a similar experience to what’s found on the Google Pixel.

I’m glad that Essential opted not to put their own skin on top of Android and instead make small tweaks like adding their own apps pre-installed. Most of the apps on the phone are the stock Google apps.

Since the Essential Phone has such a unique display, it’ll take some time for app developers to adjust their apps to the Essential Phone’s unique aspect ratio. I did have some issues, where the status bar of some apps was either missing or acting weird.

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Camera

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The Essential Phone has a dual-camera setup which consists of a 13-megapixel RGB + Mono camera with image fusion technology and a 13-megapixel True Monochrome lens. There’s also IP Laser Assist Focus, Hybrid Autofocus and a f/1.95 aperture. You’ll be able to up to 4K video at 30fps as well as slow-motion video.

I know when the Essential Phone initially released, the photos taken with the phone weren’t all that great, especially in low-light. But after a few software fixes, photos are much more crisp and colourful. They might not be on the same level as the Galaxy Note8 or iPhone 8 Plus but the camera will do the job.

Since the Essential Phone has the dual-camera setup (one RGB and one Mono), you’re able to take photos with just the Monochrome lens, to take some black and white photos. The photos taken in the Mono mode look good and you’re able to see a lot of details even if there’s no colour.

I was able to test out Essential’s 360 camera attachment. It can shoot 360 videos in 4K and 2K. The videos captured using the attachment looked good but what bugged me most was how long it took for the 360 camera attachment to boot up. There was a good minute before I was actually able to start recording with the 360 camera.

The 4K 360 videos looks good but the photos taken with the camera attachment look alright.

Another thing is that Essential’s camera app is very simple and easy to use. To switch between modes, all you have to do is swipe either left or right just above the on-screen shutter button.

One problem that I had with it was that when I wanted to turn on the camera’s HDR, the flash would automatically turn on. So it requires an extra step to turn on HDR and turning off the flash when you do. You should also be able to keep HDR turned on, even if you exit the camera app and come back later.

Final Thoughts

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Overall, the Essential Phone is a great effort from Andy Rubin’s new company. It shows that they’re capable of making a solid phone and there’s still room for improvement.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to recommend the Essential Phone, especially since there are some many other flagship Android smartphones out there that either has the same feature or more and can be had at a lower cost.

The smartphone market is very saturated so it’s hard to stand out among the iPhones and Galaxies that dominate that market.

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Premium design and build
  • Stock Android
  • Good camera
  • Great performance

Cons

  • Expensive considering other flagships on the market
  • No headphone jack
  • Back of device is a fingerprint magnet
  • Not water resistant
  • 360 Camera attachment take forever to load

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