Andy Rubin was one of the co-founders of Android, Inc., the company behind the software that has since become the most popular operating system in the world. Rubin's latest brainchild is the Essential Phone, a smartphone that seems to echo the industry's larger trends while at the same time promising an iconoclastic approach.
At first glance, the phone is impressive, and more or less fits in with its top-of-the-line competitors. Its 5.7-inch virtually bezel-free display, with 2,560 x 1,312 pixel resolution, takes an obvious cue from the Samsung Galaxy S8 series. Unlike those phones, which have performed poorly in drop tests, the Essential Phone is made out of titanium and ceramic that Essential insists can survive a fall better than its aluminum and glass counterparts.
The Essential Phone has capable internals, including the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of built-in storage. It has an 8 GB front (selfie) camera and a 13 MP dual-lens rear shooter. In this instance, the dual-lens camera combines RGB and monochrome cameras, as seen in Huawei phones like the P10.
The Essential Phone also has the groundwork for a modular accessory ecosystem. There is a magnetic strip at the upper back of the phone with wireless data transfer. Alongside the phone, Essential has announced a pocket-sized 360-degree camera (sold separately) that magnetically snaps onto the phone – similar to the modularity seen in the Moto Z. There's also a magnetic charging dock accessory.
A closer look does reveal some omissions. The phone not water resistant; it's also missing the 3.5 mm headphone jack. Also missing is any logo or branding: "Devices are your personal property. We won't force you to have anything on them you don't want to have," Rubin wrote in a blog post.
Apart from this assertion, Rubin has identified a number of other Essential goals, which include "Devices shouldn't become outdated every year. They should evolve with you," and "Simple is always better." These represent a refreshing alternative to the bells-and-whistles approach to premium (though without upgradeable components like processor and display, the "outdated" part is never going to completely go away), and simplicity is one of the factors that made us appreciate Google's Pixel and Pixel XL phones so much.
The Essential Phone will run Android, but the version of the operating system has yet to be announced. Considering Essential's priorities, we assume it will probably run the latest version, but it will be interesting to see how the OS is skinned or altered to suit the Essential vision.
The Essential Phone can be reserved now on the company's website for US$699. Black and white color variants are available now, with gray and teal options expected later on. For a limited time, the 360-degree camera accessory is available for $50 (a $150 discount from its $200 full retail price).