It’s not often a brand new player enters the smartphone scene. With a handful of well-established names dominating sales, it can be a tough market to break into – but Essential Products is looking to do just that with the Essential Phone.
More than a mere startup, Essential is headed by Android creator Andy Rubin – a man who presumably knows what goes into making a great smartphone.
The result is a flagship-baiting superphone with gorgeous good looks and a few camera tricks that could make it a real contender. Oh, and let’s not forget some modular shenanigans, too.
Now that the Essential Phone is now official, we can dig down into the nitty gritty and find out what it’s got to challenge the mighty iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S8.
IT’S GIVEN SCREEN BEZELS THE BOOT
Phones with front-filling screens are all the rage right now, thanks to LG and Samsung. Essential looks set to continue the trend, but with a more unique approach that’ll help it stand out from the crowd.
Rather than squeeze a front-facing camera in at the top of the phone, the screen actually wraps around it. That central spot isn’t usually used at all by Android’s top notification bar, so it won’t get in the way when you’re on the home screen. When you’re gaming, or watching videos, though? We’ll have to wait and see whether things shrink down to compensate for the gap.
There’s still a bezel at the bottom of the phone, but that should give you something to grip while you’re actually using it.
The 5.7in display has a skinny 19:10 aspect ratio, and a retina-busting QHD, 2560×1312 resolution. It’s not quite as high as the Galaxy S8’s 2960×1440 OLED, and according to the spec sheet, Essential will be using an LTPS LCD panel, so image quality is still something of a mystery. There’s no mention of HDR video support, either, but the 500nit brightness should be more than enough to see what’s onscreen clearly when you’re outside.
IT CAN TAKE A BEATING
Take a look around the Essential Phone and you won’t spot any ugly logos. It’ll be a minimal monolith of a smartphone, one made from a combination of titanium and ceramic that can survive an accidental meeting with the pavement.
Unlike aluminium-framed phones (we’re looking at you, iPhone and Galaxy), the Essential Phone shouldn’t scratch or blemish in a drop test.
At 7.8mm thick, it won’t feel like a brick in your pocket, but it’ll survive damage that would leave other phones looking bruised and battered.
Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 will be protecting that screen up front, so you can bet it’ll be equally as tough as the rear.
The Essential Phone won’t be arriving on its lonesome – it’ll be joined by a whole host of modular accessories that (according to company head honcho Andy Rubin) “keep your phone cord-free, future-proof, and always up-to-date”.
Right now, this includes a miniature 360° camera capable of 4K video recording at 30fps, and the Essential Phone Dock for wireless charging.
It’s all thanks to the Click cordless connector, which sits on the back of the phone so you don’t have to mess around with powering down just to switch out accessories – like you did on the LG G5.
Other accessories are still a mystery, but clearly Essential reckons it’ll be a major reason to pick up a phone come launch day. With no headphone jack on board (just a dongle in the box), maybe that should be high on the list of modular upgrades.
IT’S GOT FLAGSHIP SPECS
What 2017 phone would be complete without some top-end hardware? The Essential Phone is no different, packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU and 4GB of RAM to keep Android ticking over smoothly. With one of Android’s original creators running the show, we’re betting that there won’t be an awful skin or theme running over the top to slow things down, either.
128GB of built-in storage is easily enough for all your photos, music and apps. Or at least you’d better hope it is, because there’s no mention of microSD card expansion.
The fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, a rear fingerprint sensor with “the fastest recognition technology available” and NFC for contactless payments are all on board, too.
Finally, the 3040mAh battery promises fast charging and all-day use, but how long it actually lasts in practice will have to wait until the Essential Phone goes on sale.
IT’S GOT TWO CAMERAS
That sticky-outy 8MP camera up front might demand your attention, but you won’t want to forget about the rear-facing camera either. Or rather, rear-facing cameras. There’s two, you see – a 13MP colour sensor and a second 13MP monochrome one.
The idea is that the mono sensor can capture much more light than the colour one, fleshing out your photos with more detail than you’d expect from a smartphone snapper once the two are combined. There’ll be a true mono mode, too, for taking arty black and white shots.
It’s a similar setup to Huawei’s P10, so we’ll have to wait and see which one comes out on top.
You get f/1.85 aperture lenses, and a hybrid autofocus system that uses laser, contrast and phase-detect AF. Will that be faster than the dual-pixel AF you get in the Galaxy S8? We’re itching to put them in a face-off after launch.
The Essential phone will shoot 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p clips at 60fps, and has four mics for directional audio recording. That should put it up there with the best the phone world has to offer.
IT’LL ARRIVE IN THE US FIRST
Essential will be launching in North America ahead of any other country, and promises to have all the radios needed for every major mobile carrier. Eventually it will roll out to the rest of the world, but there’s no fixed point as to when that will be. Hopefully with all the right network bands already in place, it won’t be long until everyone can get in line for one.
We don’t know when, but we do know how much you’ll pay for one once it does arrive: $699 in the US. Expect that to translate to around R10,000, if we see it here, but pricing will be subject to whoever brings it in being nasty or nice to buyers. Live in the US? You can reserve one right now on the Essential website.