The essential phone is probably the most beautiful phone of 2017. Well crafted with titanium and ceramic, edge-to-edge screen, no camera bump, no logo on the body. It really felt like a piece of art, when I first pulled it out of the box.
While 2017 was certainly the year where smartphone manufacturers weighed on aesthetics, the essential phone fell short to make a good impression on other aspects that really matter. The first product of a tiny company that aims to take on the big companies. Not bad at all for a first attempt, however, there’s still plenty of work to do.
About this Essential Phone review
They’ve added several software updates (camera, security patches) after they launched the phone back in August since it was a real disappointment compared to its competitors. This review is based on the value the Essential Phone brings to the smartphone market after the updates and the new price cut, which has totally changed my perspective.
Unit reviewed: Essential Phone PH-1, 128 GB, Black Moon color.
Just two months after its release, the Essential Phone got a $200 price drop. Now it costs $500 and even saw a greater price cut for Cyber Monday $399 for the phone and the 360-degree camera, its only accessory. Without a doubt that was definitely the best smartphone deal of the year.
The Essential Phone is just gorgeous. The squared design with smooth edges makes the phone easy to hold. Built out with polished titanium on the sides and a shiny ceramic on the back, the phone feels sturdy and stylish at the same time. That combination makes the phone a little bit heavier than a phone in its size should be.
The 5.7 inches IPS display occupies nearly all the space available in the front, except on top there’s a cut-out that houses the front-facing camera similar to the iPhone X notch, and there’s a slight chin on the bottom. If it was not for that chin, the phone would give you the sensation of holding a screen. There’s no physical home button, you use the on-screen button to navigate.
There’s a dual-camera system with horizontal alignment on the back without adding any thickness to the phone, and two contact pins for the modular system (360-degree camera). The fingerprint sensor is in the middle right below the camera on the rear of the device, which is very accessible.
Essential Phone Cameras
The phone comes with a dual-13 MP camera on the back, with f/1.85 lenses for RGB and monochrome. The front-facing camera with an 8 MP seems to be okay. It takes pretty decent selfies, but nothing to be amazed at. Believe it or not, you can shoot 4K videos with the front camera.
You don’t get anything special from the camera software, it gives you just the basics. No optical image stabilization, no white balance, no portrait mode, no nothing. Just point and shoot. The camera was slow to process and load photos and sometimes crashed. Overall the camera was just terrible.
Essential has been working aggressively on the camera software and released several updates, which greatly improved the camera. The latest version of the camera update brought stability fixes, faster loading and processing time, reduced JPEG compression which will improve image quality.
They added the much-needed Portrait mode and monochrome video in 60FPS. Now the camera opens much faster, you can shoot multiple photos without any issues. Portrait mode is just there, it doesn’t do any special job as the Pixels.
Despite all the updates they’ve been pushing out, the camera is still disappointing when compared to the competition. Hopefully, they will keep improving the camera and pushing more updates.
Essential Phone performance and software
Besides the camera software that was a huge flaw, the Essential Phone has pretty much the same spec sheet as any other high-end flagship. Maybe that’s why people don’t really get to talk about its performance. It handles all daily tasks, power-hungry apps, and games without any problem. With the updates, it runs a lot smoother than it was on day one.
The phone comes with 128GB of storage as the unique storage capacity, with no expandable storage. It’s something that’s very rare for Android phones, not to even mention iPhones. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, paired with 4GB of RAM, the phone’s performance so far has been great. Nothing to complain about.
Although it was launched without the latest Android version, the software is very clean, with no carrier bloatware. It’s pure stock Android, the same found in Google Pixel phones. One of the things that makes android phones get slower over time is bloatware. So, we expect none of this won’t happen, as long as it gets software updates on time.
With a 3,040 mAh battery life is great. I’ve been able to use the phone for a full day without the need to recharge it, and with some juice left for the next day. Thankfully it supports fast charging, it doesn’t take much time to fully charge it.
Essential Phone Specs
Android 7.1.1 Nougat
5.7-inch LCD display, 19:10 aspect ratio
2560 x 1312 resolution
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
4 GB RAM
128 GB storage (Non-expandable)
Dual 13-MP cameras, RGB + monochrome
8MP front-facing camera with f/2.2 lens
3,040 mAh battery (Non-removable)
USB-C with fast charging
Modular accessory pins
No water resistance
No wireless charging
Colors: Black Moon, Pure White, Stellar Grey, Ocean Depths
Essential’s vision is way different from many other smartphone companies. It offers pure stock android, free bloatware, unlocked to any major carrier, and no ecosystem lock-up. After the updates and the price cut, it’s all worth it.
At $499, you’ll get a phone that feels and looks unique, with build quality and construction, decent battery life, and great performance. At that point, you’re competing against the OnePlus 5 and the OnePlus 5T, which have a better camera but less appealing design.
Their cameras are not that great, if you’re looking for an excellent camera with great features, I’d suggest you consider other options like the Pixels or one of the latest iPhones. You may as well wait for any upcoming updates, they’ve significantly improved the camera.
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Essential Phone PH-1
The Essential Phone is a beautiful not fully backed piece of technology. It's a good start, it can be great.