Here it is, then — the smartphone from Andy Rubin, the father of the Android operating system.
Called Essential Phone and made by Essential, Rubin’s startup, the new device is a thing of sheer and utter beauty, and I’m quickly falling in love with it. Priced at $US700, it’s making a very tempting case to take its place in my hands and pockets as my next smartphone.
The Phone is a latest member of what I like to call the “stock Android club.” It joins the likes of Google’s Pixel and the OnePlus 5 in running the basic, unadulterated version of the operating system.
Thats a good thing, because stock Android is the best Android, and there aren’t enough devices out there than run it. Instead, there are too many otherwise well-designed phones, like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, whose versions of Android include bloated layers of software and a bunch of unwanted apps.
It feels like, with the Essential Phone, the Father of Android is trying to make a statement to the smartphone industry. It’s possible, he seems to be saying to rivals, to make a great, premium smartphone with top-of-the-line specs and materials without having to hike prices and without having to mess with Android.
I’ll have a full review of the Essential Phone later, after I’ve had more time to test it. For now, here are my initial hands-on impressions:
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The Phone's design is somewhat generic, but it's tasteful, and the device's titanium body and ceramic back give it a premium look and feel.
The phone has a 5.71-inch IPS display, which delivers beautifully rich and inky colours. With a resolution of 2560 x 1312 pixels, it's sharp, too. It's not quite as sharp as the Galaxy S8's display, but you won't really notice the difference.
Can you spot what's missing? It doesn't have a single logo. That omission just adds to the Phone's classy and pristine design.
The downside of that is that the back is practically begging for scratches and fingerprint smudges.
You'll find there the device's fingerprint scanner, its dual-lens camera system, and two magnetic, metallic dots that are used to connect add-ons, like a 360-degree camera.
Both of the device's built-in back cameras have 13-megapixel sensors, but one of the cameras takes shots in full colour, while the other shoots only in black and white.
The Phone's fingerprint sensor is OK. It isn't as fast as the one on the OnePlus 5, but so far I've found that it's faster and more accurate than the Galaxy S8's.
I'll be testing it further for a full review later on. But here's a shot taken of our usual test scene.
When you take a picture, both the colour and monochrome sensors capture an image at the same time. The Phone combines them to create a photo with great contrast and clarity.
On the bottom you'll find a USB-C port for charging and data transfers and a speaker grill. What you won't find is a headphone jack, which is unfortunate.
Unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S8, the Phone isn't water-resistant. I'll leave that up to you whether or not that's a drawback.
You also can't expand the Phone's storage with a memory card. However, its 128GB of built-in storage should be plenty for most people.
If you want to listen to music with wired headphones, Essential includes in the Phone's box a USB-C headphone adaptor that has a tasteful fabric exterior.
The device has sharper edges than you'd find on the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S8. Those sharp edges give it an ultra-classy look, but also make it less comfortable to hold.
Having both the power and volume buttons on the same side could be awkward for some people and might lead them to accidentally push the wrong button.
You'll find a diminutive Android notification light at the top of the phone near the speaker grill for the earphone.
Notice how the app wraps around the device's camera and sensor 'notch.'
For the most part, the Phone's version of Android and its default apps make the most of its edge-to-edge-to-edge display.
Notice how the Android app drawer fills up the screen.
That means you won't find the added layer of software that you'd see on a Samsung or LG phone.
When it comes to Android phones, I always prefer the look and feel of stock Android. Thankfully, the Phone's version of Android is a close as you can get without buying a Google Pixel. The main difference is that it doesn't have the launcher you'll find on the Pixel phones, because Google reserves that for its own devices.
Running on Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 835 processor, the Phone feels snappy. It handled everything I threw at it swimmingly.
The camera app is extremely simple. The only settings you can configure are the shutter sound, which you can turn on or off, and whether to save the location of the photo with the image.
Apps that aren't designed to wrap around the Phone's camera notch display a black bar at the top of its screen. They make the device look like a regular phone with a top bezel.
Here's what Google's Chrome app looks like on the Phone. Note that it hasn't yet been optimised for the Phone's screen.
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