After testing the Essential Phone for the last week, I can confirm my initial impression: It’s a superb device.
In fact, I could easily see myself buying a Phone for my next smartphone.
The Phone is the first product from Essential, a startup founded and led by Andy Rubin, the “Father of Android.” Its price, design, operating system, and camera all make it first rate.
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. As might be expected for the first gadget from a brand-new company, the Phone has a few kinks that need to be ironed out. Among its big shortcomings: It lacks a headphone jack.
Check out my thoughts about the Essential Phone:
The Phone's square edges, ceramic back and titanium frame give it a premium feel. Its design makes the Phone heavier and less comfortable to hold than Apple's iPhone 7 or Samsung's Galaxy S8. But it also makes the device more substantial. Picking up the Phone is an occasion. The iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S8, by contrast, feel like mere objects that are just doing their jobs.
The Phone feels like the beautiful expensive watch or piece of jewellery you reserve for fancy dress-up events, but that you avoid wearing on a daily basis for fear of damage or loss.
But in actuality, the Phone is designed to be used every day. It doesn't cost more than other premium phones, and it retains its beauty with regular use.
I've been treating the Phone the same way I treat my iPhone, but there's no sign of scratches on its ceramic back or screen. It's only been a week, but so far, Essential's claims about the scratch resistance of the Phone's ceramic back appear valid. You just have to wipe the fingerprints off its glossy surface from time to time.
The Phone's front camera is located in a 'notch' at the top of its screen. Although it's noticeable, the notch didn't bother me at all.
However, many apps haven't been designed to work around the feature. Those apps can't display content in the screen space on either side of the notch.
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Some apps simply fill in that screen space with their overall colour theme. Other apps turn the screen space on either side of the notch black. That makes it look like the Phone has a much larger top bezel than it actually has, which is unfortunate.
Essential told me that it's encouraging top developers to redesign their apps to make use of the screen space on either side of the notch. So your favourite apps may eventually be updated to support it.
Somehow, despite the border at the bottom of its screen, the Phone makes the Galaxy S8 look like an older smartphone with traditionally sized bezels. And it makes the bezels on the iPhone look positively huge and the iPhone's design ancient.
The Phone has a gorgeous 5.71-inch IPS display that offers inky blacks and colours that pop. The display is sharper and far superior to that on the iPhone 7, and its performance nears that of Samsung's best-in-class AMOLED display on the S8.
The S8's display still bests the Phone's, because it's slightly sharper and produces deeper blacks. That's due to its screen technology; parts of an AMOLED display will actually turn off when displaying dark scenes.
The Phone is powered by top-of-the-line components, including Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor and four gigabytes of RAM. As a result, the device glides with ease through day-to-day usage and has no problem with games or other power-hungry apps.
Its battery life is also outstanding. I was able to use the Phone for a day and a half on a single charge.
The device doesn't come with a microSD slot for expandable storage. But you get 128 GB of built-in storage. That should be plenty for most people, especially now that so many large files, like songs and photos, can be saved in the cloud.
I'm thrilled that the Phone runs the stock version of Android. All too often, smartphone makers add an extra layer of software, sometimes called launchers or 'skins,' to give their phones a signature look. And all too often those fall flat.
The stock, unadulterated version of Android is far better designed than any smartphone makers' launcher. And the Phone is proof that stock Android looks fantastic on an ultra-premium device.
The other problem with the Android launchers used by smartphone makers like Samsung and LG is the launchers tend to drag down the performance of the phones, because of the extra 'stuff' the phones need to run. By contrast, the Phone's performance is boosted by running the unmodified version of the operating system.
Essential's dedication to sticking with the basics extends to pre-installed apps; you won't find many extra ones on its devices. The only ones the Phone comes with are one for Tidal's premium music streaming service and Essential's own camera app, which is optimised for the device's dual-lens camera system. If you buy the Phone from Sprint, you'll also get the carrier's app pre-installed. Thankfully, you can easily uninstall the Tidal and Sprint apps.
As is the case with other Android smartphones, the Phone is unlikely to get the latest updates to the operating system as soon as they are released. But Rubin is promising the device will get them soon after. Here's hoping the Phone will get them more quickly than they have been coming to devices like Samsung' Galaxy S series or LG's G phones.
If you're wary of buying a new company's first device, you'd do well to pay attention to Essential's following phones. If the Phone is anything to go by, Essential's next phones should be spectacular.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Phone's camera. In my camera shootout, the Phone put up a superb fight against the Galaxy S8, the current leader. But the Phone's camera has one area where it still has a lot of work to do -- taking shots in low-light situations.
The one glaring feature the Phone is missing is a headphone jack.
My feeling is that unless a phone is too thin to support one, it should have a headphone jack. Essential device is plenty thick enough and could easily have included one.
Essential does includes with the Phone an adaptor that allows users to plug a headphone into the device's USB-C port. It's similar to what Apple came up with for the similarly jack-less iPhone 7. But it's an inelegant solution for such an elegant device.
Another shortcoming in my book: The phone has its power and volume control buttons on the same side. At times, I've accidentally hit one button when I meant to press the other. That's a problem Essential could have avoided by placing each set of buttons on its own side of the phone.
The Phone is supposed to support fast charging via USB-C. However I found that it preferred to charge at normal speeds instead. Hopefully, Essential can iron out that kink with a future software update.
And the Phone's camera app also needs some work. It's slow to focus and take pictures.
Essential did roll out two updates, each of which contained improvements to the camera app, while I was testing the Phone. Hopefully that's an indication the company is committed to continuing to improve the app and its device.