There is a new smartphone on the market–not a new iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, but something different entirely. The Essential Phone, or the Essential PH-1, is a brand new Android smartphone. What this means is while it is its own independent brand, it falls under the same umbrella as Samsung Galaxies or Google Pixels and runs much of the same software (Android, under Google, is the software response to Apple’s popular software iOS).
The company, Essential Products, was established by Android co-founder Andy Rubin in 2015. The phone was designed with minimalism in mind. It runs basic, stock Android software and was meant to contain only the “essential” features of a phone. There is no logo on the back; there isn’t even a company name anywhere. Ironically the phone does not contain a feature which many deem essential: the headphone jack. It seems the company does not feel the same way about its importance. At the same time, the phone itself has a very premium look.
The phone has an excellent display, perhaps even ahead of its peers. The only cutouts to the screen are at the top where the front-facing “selfie” camera is and at the bottom where there is a small area below the display. The goal was to make users “feel like they’re basically just holding a display” according to tech news and review site Android Authority’s Joshua Vergara.
The hardware seems to be of a very high quality. It has a simple box design, much like a stretched version of the iPhone 4’s shape. Lined with titanium around the edges rather than the smartphone standard aluminum, it should provide extra drop protection. While the glossy finish on the back may appear to be glass, it is actually polished ceramic. This material is harder to scratch than glass, but easier to break due to its brittle nature. It has a fingerprint scanner on the back in roughly the same place the Apple logo would be on your iPhone. While useful, the location can be somewhat awkward to reach for users. Also on the back of the phone is a dual lens camera and two magnetic holes for attachable parts like the future 360-degree camera from Essential.
The normal camera is arguably the weakest feature on this phone. There is a standard red/green/blue lens as well as a monochrome one. What this means is that the phone can take black and white pictures on the monochrome lens, something your iPhone can do already with a filter. Along with black and white is an HDR mode which attempts to increase the resolution of the pictures but sometimes results in the odd effect of random parts of the picture being sharper than others. However, the front-facing camera can shoot video with 4K resolution. This ability is impressive, especially for a brand new line of phones entering the market.
This phone works well for someone who wants only the minimum from their phone. Although for some it might seem like not enough, it has what it needs and does its job. However, there may be better options out there even for minimalists. At a $699 price tag, the Essential Phone could be more of an investment than buying an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy from a couple years back. Older phones might be a better option for someone who doesn’t care about the edge-to-edge screens and fingerprint scanners of 2017. While it may not be for some, the Essential Phone is a fresh breath of simplicity in an ever-complicating tech world.