Essential Phone Review

Essential Phone Review
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Essential Phone PH-1















  • Edge-to-edge screen
  • Incredible build quality
  • Excellent performance
  • Very good battery life
  • Clean Android


  • Camera needs a lot of work
  • No headphone jack or water resistance
  • Module system unproven
  • A total fingerprint magnet
  • Expensive
Essential Phone Review – Introducing the world’s smallest 360° personal camera.

The Essential Phone is expertly crafted using titanium and ceramic, has an edge-to-edge Full Display and captures stunning images (even in low light) with the world’s thinnest dual camera system ever built for a phone.

main competitors: LG G6Samsung Galaxy S8 | Sony Xperia XZ Premium | HTC U11 | OnePlus 5


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Announced2017, May
Dimensions141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8 mm (5.57 x 2.80 x 0.31 in)
Weight185 g (6.53 oz)
BuildTitanium frame
DisplayLTPS IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size5.71 inches (~84.9% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution1312 x 2560 pixels (~504 ppi pixel density)
Corning Gorilla Glass 5
OSAndroid 7.1 (Nougat)
ChipsetQualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835
CPUOcta-core (4x2.45 GHz Kryo & 4x1.9 GHz Kryo)
GPUAdreno 540
Card slotNo
Internal Memory128 GB, 4 GB RAM
Primary CameraDual 13 MP, f/1.9, phase detection & laser autofocus, LED flash
Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panorama
Video[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Secondary Camera8 MP, f/2.2, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
LoudspeakerYes, with stereo speakers
Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
WLANWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth5.0, A2DP, EDR, LE
USBType-C 1.0 reversible connector
SensorsFingerprint (rear-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
BatteryNon-removable Li-Ion 3040 mAh battery

I had such high hopes for the Essential phone that there’s almost no way the PH-1 could have lived up to them. This isn’t just a reflection of my own unreasonable internal hype though; as truly impressive as the PH-1 can be, it lags behind the competition in some areas. That’s the difficult part about offering people a blank slate of a smartphone. Sure, it can assume whatever role the user wants it to. Since it doesn’t offer many flashy features of its own, though, the phone has to get all the basics right. In its current state, the PH-1 doesn’t.

Still, it’s heartening to see Essential build a phone that otherwise gets so much right on its first attempt. Andy Rubin seems to hold the usual conventions of smartphone making in contempt, so who knows when we’ll see another Essential phone. That’s too bad. After such an impressive first outing, I honestly can’t wait to see his team try again.

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The Essential Phone is an artifact from a future that doesn’t yet exist. Like every cultural artifact, it has a rich and compelling history that’s only hinted at by its physical form — even though it’s a history of a future that may not come to pass. You can appreciate artifacts for what they are: an object of human craft like a well-turned vase (the Phone is made of ceramic, after all).

And yet: There’s no way to judge whether it fits nicely into Rubin’s vision for a connected home, since we’re still months away from really knowing what that will look like. Looking at the wireless module connector and guessing whether it will matter is like looking at an ancient altar and trying to guess what arcane rituals it was truly meant for.

The Essential Phone is doing so much right: elegant design, big screen, long battery life, and clean software. And on top of all that, it has ambitions to do even more with those modules. If you asked Android users what they wanted in the abstract, I suspect a great many of them would describe this exact device. But while the camera is pretty good, it doesn’t live up to the high bar the rest of the phone market has set.

Sometimes artifacts are better to behold than they are to use.

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And that’s kind of where the Essential really finds itself in a weird place – for $699, it seems like you’re paying for beautifully crafted hardware, with very little value in the software, aside from the fact that it’s there. Again, this is a polarizing thought because Android purists will view what is lacking as value in and of itself, but that’s just another reason why the Essential Phone is so interestingly frustrating.

The Essential is locked in a tug of war between its software and hardware, both polar opposites of each other. Every bit of the hardware – the pleasing screen, the high-quality build, great specs, and the dual camera – effectively reels you in. However, what is supposed to drive it all – the software – fails to truly take advantage of that excitement. You’re given freedom to customize the Essential with third-party apps and, in the future, the phone’s promise of modularity. But without that effort put in, what initially seems delectable, eventually reveals itself as decidedly vanilla.

Vanilla isn’t a bad flavor, but there’s a reason why it’s tucked in the corner of the ice cream cooler.

Full Review

A recurring theme of my tour of Playground Global was a frank sense of realism about the whole Essential Phone launch. Essential has a clear goal: make a clean, bother-free, high-end phone that’s user-centric, and make money off of the margins selling the hardware. It isn’t interested in designing a custom software experience or building ecosystem lock-in with extra services and subscriptions that make you feel like the product rather than the customer.

The Essential Phone’s hardware is simply stunning, there’s no way around it. Titanium and ceramic are both beautiful and brawny, while its tiny bezels are just downright amazing to experience. You get all of the specs you need — minus waterproofing and a headphone jack — plus great additions like true worldwide network support and 128GB of storage. Performance and battery life are in line with its $699 price. It isn’t all industry leading, though, with a display that has good-not-great brightness and cameras that land well short of the flagship competition with no guaranteed path of improvement.

It also has a bit of an aura around it that feels as though it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop to make it a complete product. Despite having ambitions of future artificial intelligence-driven software, there is absolutely nothing in Essential’s current build of Android 7.1.1 that shows any unique software prowess or even a tiny bit of thoughtful customization for a better experience. The same goes for its rear-mounted accessory pins, which have exciting potential in the future but today sit completely idle as its 360-degree camera attachment has no release date, its desktop dock hasn’t even been seen and there are no known plans for other accessories.

It’s truly refreshing to see a new company come out of the gate swinging with new ideas, and Essential has managed to execute on its vision surprisingly well. The Essential Phone is good, perhaps even great, but aside from solid hardware and clean software it doesn’t bring anything particularly special to draw in customers. Its biggest strength isn’t what it has, but what it doesn’t: there’s no bloatware, superfluous features, unnecessary hardware or even branding to get in the way of using it.

Restraint is refreshing, and something that isn’t exercised by the competition nearly enough — but it’s a tough selling point in this hyper-competitive market full of established companies selling great phones that best the Essential Phone in multiple areas.

Full Review

The Essential Phone is impressive in many ways. At the same time, it’s a bit of a let down – though most things under this level of hype suffer a similar fate.

Hype aside, the PH-1 seems to have a solid grasp on the bare essentials of what a flagship Android smartphone should be. But other new options, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG V30 totally outclass it in terms of value and feature set.

If its lack of headphone jack, waterproofing, expandable storage and wireless charging aren’t deal breakers for you, the Essential Phone is a solid choice today that only stands to grow into an even more essential product. But for others, it’s hard to recommend outright unless its price falls.

Full Review

I can’t recommend the Essential Phone with a clean conscience. Despite having two extra months to work on it, the phone I’m holding still feels unfinished in too many ways, and too many of the reasons you’d buy an Essential Phone — a wide variety of modular accessories, quick Android updates, seamless interaction with all your smart home devices — are based on promises the company has made.

(Speaking of which, Essential tells us the phone should get updated to Android Oreo within the next couple of months.)

But we’ve already seen too many broken promises from this company. And worse: Promises broken with no explanation. At the time of writing, Essential hasn’t even acknowledged the shipping delays. The company’s website still brags about the dual camera’s low-light performance and the fact that the phone can survive being dropped without so much as a scuff.

Heck, it took a privacy scandal, with the potential for serious identity theft, before Essential apologized to its first wave of customers at all. Yes, it’s a small 100-person company that lost its heads of marketing and PR in July, but the hubris still feels astounding.

Essential has secured $300 million in funding, so I’m not too worried the company will disappear overnight and leave buyers out in the cold. It’s not the Nextbit Robin. But I’m not really sure I’d take a chance on this company’s first phone, either. Essential reminds me more of OnePlus, which eventually began making excellent phones, but owners of the original dealt with a variety of hardware and software quirks.

There are just so many better choices right now if you’re attracted to the Essential, including the Motorola Z2 Force (which also boast modular accessories and wide carrier compatibility), the OnePlus 5 ($639.99 at, the HTC U11 ($649.00 at, and of course Google’s Pixel, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the iPhone. But you also might simply want to wait, since we’re expecting a new iPhone next week and a new Pixel in October, as well as the LG V30 and beautiful Nokia 8.

All that said, I still like the Essential Phone’s standout design, and it’s functional. If you do buy one with low expectations — an above-average phone with great performance and decent battery life — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just swap out that camera app straight away.

Full Review

The Essential phone is a beautifully crafted piece of technology. Despite the bugs, the device feels really, really good in the hand. The phone’s design works. The screen’s design works too, regardless of concerns one might have had with the front facing cameraplacement. Unfortunately, that is where the allure begins, and ends.

The beautiful ceramic backplate is a fingerprint magnet of monumental proportions. The display has that annoying twitch of not always being responsive. Lightning fast performance runs into simply weird hiccups that escape explanation given the silicon inside, and the stock UI outside.

We have probably said enough about the cameras, but even if that is not your primary feature concern, you should probably avoid the Essential phone anyway. The same monochrome photo features can be found on equally attractive hardware, like the Honor 9, or last year’s Honor 8, each of which can be purchased for a fraction of the price, and a fraction of the headache.

Between the disjointed customer experience, funky logistics of broken shipping deadlines, and half-baked execution of some of the software, the Essential PH-1 commands a $699 price tag on good looks alone. Based on that, every other flagship, be it the HTC U11, LG V30, any of the Samsung Galaxies, even last year’s Google Pixel, are a better value with no real sacrifices, and offer practical gains in features.

For a device whose mission was to handle the “essentials,” it gets some of the “basics” right, and misses some of the “fundamentals” altogether. The Essential phone is beautiful though, unfortunately, beauty is only skin deep.

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