The Essential Phone also named the Essential PH-1, is the new kid on the block. Much of the hype surrounding the phone’s launch is tied to Andy Rubin; the company’s founder who is also the creator of the Android mobile operating system. But the Essential PH-1 is shipping in a particularly challenging period: The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is here; the LG V30 launches next week; the highly-anticipated iPhone is mere weeks away, and Google’s successor to the critically acclaimed Pixel is also on the way. Can the creator of Android build the perfect Android phone and chip away from Samsung and Apple’s loyal fan base? In our Essential Phone review, we found the PH-1 comes close; but parts of it still feel like a work in progress.
What We Like?
- Gorgeous bezel-less design
- Crisp, high-resolution screen
- Pure Android, fast updates
- Excellent performance
- Intuitive modular system
What We Don’t?
- No headphone jack
- No IP-rated water resistance
Highlights of Essential Phone Review:
- Among the striking features in Essential phone review, are an edge-to-edge 5.7-inch QHD display that goes even further than the Galaxy S8‘s screen, and a modular design.
The handset comes with a titanium and ceramic build which will apparently hold up better during drops than handsets from the big manufacturers. You will know more details in Essential phone review.
- The edge-to-edge display leaves minimal bezels on the side and top of the phone’s front, with a small bezel at the bottom and a cutout for the front facing the camera at the top.
- Essential made sure to be part of the pack when it comes to dual lens setups. For their first smartphone, a combination of RGB and monochrome sensors are utilized to bring what should be highly detailed photos. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera is an 8MP shooter that is actually capable of 4K video recording.
- More from Essential phone review, it’s most interesting ideas about cameras concern the two magnetic ports on the back of the Phone. They form a magnetic accessory port, onto which you can, in theory, stick anything. In practice, you can add the 360-degree camera attachment.
- Like Motorola’s Moto Z smartphone series, the Essential PH-1 is also a modular phone. It’s why there are two silver pins on the back of the phone.
- The rest of the standard phone elements are hit and miss. There’s one speaker on the bottom, which is loud enough but easy to muffle with your palm. The fingerprint sensor is on the back, in the middle where you can comfortably reach it. The earpiece speaker is an almost invisible slit that you don’t even notice until the charging light appears through it.
- There is no standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which is basically a trend now. But at least it ships with a USB-C dongle (though not USB-C headphones). Trends are damned; I’m going to continue to be a curmudgeon about it, if only because once this week I left both the dongle and my Bluetooth headphones at the office so that I couldn’t listen to music or podcasts the next day.
- Dimensions: 141.5mm x 71.1mm x 7.8mm
- Weight: 185 grams
- Screen: 5.71-inch, 19:10 aspect ratio, 2560 x 1312 pixels
- Camera: 13-megapixel Dual RGB + Mono, f/1.85 lens, Phase Detect and IR Laser Assist Focus
- Selfie camera: 8-megapixel
- Battery: 3,040mAh
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 128GB
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- Wireless accessory connector: 60GHz, 6Gbps USB
Design And Build:
The movement of minimalism, renouncing all of one’s possessions in favor of a life without a ton of lightness; is strong with the Essential; as easily seen at first look and in the first hold. The Essential phone review unfolds the ravishing yet all unique design of this class of art.
The blocky design of the phone forgoes overture and fancy curves in favor of an easy to hold, easy build. And with the heft afforded the device; thanks to the titanium frame and ceramic shell; there is no questioning the premium nature of this device. Though the highly glossy materials make the phone easily overrun with fingerprints; especially in the dark edition; the sheen and symmetry definitely help keep the phone eye-catching without trying too hard.
The symmetrical quality comes down to the lack of bits and pieces strewn about the body. A dual camera lens sits directly opposite the modular connector pins, but underneath that; it’s just the fingerprint reader and basically nothing else. Essential wanted to make a phone without branding whatsoever, and it has definitely succeeded ; this might be one of the cleanest phones we’ve ever seen, design-wise.
And the biggest reason for that design is because the whole phone was made with the screen in mind. Not only did Essential want the screen to be the focal point, but they also wanted users to feel like they’re basically just holding a screen.
They’ve achieved this with a Quad HD 19:10 aspect ratio screen that lies throughout the preponderance of the front; cut by only a decent chin and a small douche at the top for the front facing camera. The feeling of having all this screen available is pretty great and hasn’t gotten old yet – it is definitely one of the biggest draws of the Essential.
There are a few quirks to the display. However – elements have to reach all the way to the top and sometimes it doesn’t quite blend in. This is most noticeable with the heads-up notifications that have a lot of white space until it reaches below the camera. In other cases, it’s likely just a matter of time before applications update to accommodate – one such example is in Snapchat, where the Text tool is basically impossible to tap on at the top when it’s tucked behind the notification area.
Interface And Reliability:
Whether you’re coming from a previous Android phone; or perhaps an iPhone, the learning curve for the Essential Phone is essentially nonexistent.
The PH-1 runs a stock version of Android Nougat 7.1.1 and is said to be introducing Android Oreo to its users by the end of 2017. But focusing on the now, stock Android Nougat puts the new company in a favorable position for those who enjoy an experience free of bloatware and user interface tweaks. All of that time saved by not having to remove preinstalled apps lets you quickly build up your app arsenal and even load a custom launcher if you please.
Given that, the Essential Phone has roots in stock Android; all of its tricks are at your disposal the moment it comes out of the box. Two simultaneous presses of the power button boots into the camera; holding the on-screen home button cues up Google Assistant; and lastly, the phone comes loaded with only the essential apps. Seriously, it comes with just a few handfuls of Google-made apps, and that’s it.
Overall, using the screen for jumping around the spartan software has been great, thanks to plenty of other essentials that have been kept in mind. The Snapdragon 835 keeps the phone up to date, and it includes 4GB of RAM. Although there is no microSD card, 128 GB of internal storage is standard across the board. If this phone is trying to redefine what is considered essential to users, I wouldn’t be upset if this detail became the norm.
Every other connection and capability is part of the package here, including a phone speaker that might seem questionable given the screen’s top portion. Unlike the Xiaomi Mi MIX that tried to replace the speaker with bone induction, an actual phone speaker is tucked into a tiny slit in the top bezel. And it works well enough for calls, providing good-enough sound and volume.
In our experience, the camera performs as advertised and couldn’t be more simple to attach. Once snapped on, it can record in 2K or 4K resolution. The PH-1 powers the accessory, while the data streams over a Wi-Fi connection created between the two devices. At times, the connection feed looks fuzzy, but the recorded footage doesn’t reflect much or any aliasing.
The 360 camera is currently available for $179 through Essential’s online shop; but is it worth it? If you’re dying to get some use with the accessory port, then yes. It performs admirably, and so long as you mind the battery pitfall it can cause, then it’s about as cheap as 360-degree cameras get.
Given the slow rollout of its first accessory, we have reservations about the Essential Phone’s accessory port, those two holes aligned with the rear camera array. We’re told that Essential will frequently be introducing new accessories (not mods, likely in a bid to avoid comparison with Motorola’s Moto Mods), but considering the difficulty of following through with such an ambitious promise, only time will tell if Essential’s roadmap for expandable accessories stays a steady path.
Movies, Music, and Games:
When it comes to smartphones, more of something is usually better. That is unless it’s bezels, but that’s uniquely not much of an issue for the Essential Phone.
Essential phone review implies, comparing the size with other smartphones; it packs the larger screen and it hugs the top edge of the screen in such a way; that it will either enhance or hurt the immersive experience of games and movies. And the bit of good news and bad news is that it does neither. While most of the apps built into the phone make use of the extended aspect ratio, almost all of the apps we tried from the Google Play Store cut off the top sliver of the screen, making the experience fairly traditional looking.
Unlike the LG G6, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Samsung Galaxy S8 and more, the Essential Phone contains no options to zoom into an app to make it scale to its aspect ratio. It’s likely this could be fixed in the future, but not without risk of chopping out vital information for many apps. This means that, for now, movies and games will look as they do on traditional displays.
Of course, if you want to listen to what you’re viewing or listening to; you’ll need to connect the USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor; as Essential has lopped off the legacy port that many still consider being essential, no pun intended. Take this how you will, but in our experience; connecting a dongle is always more of a pain than it is an encouraging sign of forwarding progress from a technical perspective.
In our Essential phone review, initially, we saw poor battery life with the PH-1. The phone frequently was around 17 percent or less around 6 p.m.; which is not satisfactory. After some digging, I found the culprit was Nokia Home Cam; a companion app to my Nokia security camera. It was draining the battery far more than anything else, so I uninstalled it.
Battery life has since improved significantly. The Essential Phone has a 3,040mAh battery capacity, and it lasts no more than a day. Starting at 8 a.m., with medium to heavy usage including browsing the web, taking lots of photos, watching a few YouTube videos, and playing a game, the battery reached 30 percent by 6 p.m. Thankfully; the phone supports fast-charging, so it doesn’t take long to get fully recharged.
While testing the phone for Essential phone review, we found a dual-camera setup round the back; that uses two 13-megapixel sensors where the second lens is used as a monochrome sensor – the same thing found on Huawei’s P9 and P10. That monochrome sensor takes in more light than a traditional option and combines with the 13-megapixel standard sensor to improve low-light performance. The front-facing shooter is a modest 8-megapixel offering, but on the plus side, it is apparently capable of shooting 4K video.
Warranty And Pricing:
Essential offers a limited warranty, where the company will replace or refund the cost of the phone if it suffers any manufacturing defects one year from the date of purchase. It does not cover damage from accidental drops or water damage.
The Essential Phone comes unlocked and is compatible with all U.S. carriers, but it will set you back $700 (for 128GB of storage). The only carrier that’s selling the device is Sprint.
Our Point Of View:
According to our Essential phone review, it 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 – expertly 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.
To wrap up, Essential phone review; yes, plenty. While the Essential Phone performs well in certain categories, it doesn’t have all the features you may expect in a phone of its price. There is no IP-rated waterproofing, for starters, nor do the cameras feature optical image stabilization. Phones from Samsung and LG offer MicroSD card slots and headphone jacks, but you’ll find neither here.