There’s a new kid on the smartphone block. Andy Rubin, a co-founder of Android, founded Essential and created the Essential Phone. Essential’s corporate philosophy is quite different from most tech companies. According to Rubin’s blog post on their website:
- Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
- We will always play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
- Premium materials and true craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few.
- Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
- Technology should help assist you so that you can get on with enjoying your life.
- Simple is always better.
Essential’s ethos seems to be almost anti-Apple and anti-Samsung at the same time. This has led to the Essential Phone (it’s literally just called Phone). It’s a new modular smartphone that has just about every high end feature that you can throw at a flagship phone in 2017. It does seem to fit the trend these days, it comes with an edge to edge screen design with very minimal bezels. In fact, the only thing at the top of the device is the front facing camera and even that is enveloped by the screen. Minimal seems to be modus operandi for the Essential Phone. There are no logos on the entire phone either. While most other flagships are made with aluminum and glass, Essential has chosen ceramic and titanium. That seems intentional as they literally point out on the website that, “Titanium is harder, stronger, and more resilient than aluminum”. While it will (naturally) run Android, it isn’t clear if it’ll be a stock Android or a skinned version. Based on Andy Rubin’s blog post, screenshots on the website, and the overall ethos of the company, it seems more former. Spec-wise, it has all of the trappings of a modern 2017 flagship phone: Snapdragon 835 processor, with 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Like the iPhone and LG G6, the Essential phone also uses a dual camera setup but instead of using the second lens as a telephoto lens, it’s being used as a monochrome sensor. This sensor can take in more light for better low light shots. The front facing camera is an 8-megapixel shooter that can also shoot in 4K.
One of the standout features is the modularity. We’ve seen attempts at modular phones before from LG G5 (which failed spectacularly) and Motorola, who admittedly has a more realistic and successful attempt. In fact, Motorola just announced new Moto Mods which includes a game controller. Essential has accessories that will connect to the phone via two magnetic pogo pins on the back. So far, the only accessories announced are a 360 camera and a dock.
On paper, the Essential Phone appears to be an excellent smartphone. It has top tier specs, a beautiful minimalist design, and the founder of Android as the head. However, Essential is going to have to somehow stand out against the likes of Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and even Google itself. Furthermore, they will have to convince the wider public that modular phones are the future when companies have failed in the past. Regardless, 2017 looks like it is heating up even more in the smartphone wars.