Today we got our first look at the Essential Phone, which is to say the first phone by Andy Rubin's company, Essential. If the name Andy Rubin is not familiar to you, he is the brainchild of the original Android phone. Mr. Rubin, who has been out of the cellphone business for years, talks about his reasons for creating the Essential Phone in this mission statement on the company's site.
The first thing that strikes me when I look at photos of the Essential Phone is how close they have gotten to making its entire front face essentially one giant screen - with the notable, and kind of jarring, exceptions of the front-facing camera and bottom chin. This makes me wonder about the iPhone rumors stating that Apple's newest flagship will be completely bezel-less and how that will work with their front facing camera and home button. The more I look at the cutout for the front facing camera on this phone, the more I hate it. It makes me wonder if their is any way for a hardware company to somehow bury the camera under a screen without sacrificing the quality of either component. Still, it's hard to argue that the industrial design of this phone is anything short of spectacular. This is as close as we've seen to a truly bezel-less phone, and the fact that there are no gaudy logos on the front or back of the phone gives it a truly unique feel.
There's no doubt that this will be one of the highest end phones when it ships. It has a state of the art, Qualcomm 835 processor under the hood, that is bolstered by 4GB of ram and 128 GB of storage. It's built of of a mix of titanium and ceramic, which they make point out of mentioning is stronger than the aluminum shells their biggest competitors use. They even have a slow motion video of a drop test to show how tough this thing is. They say that they have build the thinnest dual camera system ever into this phone, which will also feature a 13-megapixel lens. The front-facing camera will be 8-megapixels and will be able to capture video in 4k.
The big pitch of the Essential Phone is that you will be able to add components to upgrade the camera or speakers via a magnetic port on the back. This port can also be used with a cordless charging dock Essential is offering. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack, which seems kind of batty for a company that wants users to be able to customize their experience with the phone. Why take away a feature that people seem to want. They are really pitching their 360+ camera accessory with this thing, but I'm not sure there are enough people out there who are craving taking 360 degree videos to justify the camera being a distinguishing feature.
Essential is rolling out the Essential Phone in the US first, preorders are up now at a starting price of $699, with no carrier plans or ways to subsidize the price. It's going to be a tough sell for a cell phone craving audience who is either used to being on a carrier or buying mid to high end phones that are more reasonably priced off-contract. I think that the Essential Phone is a beautiful piece of technology, and I love seeing new competition in a market that is currently being dominated by Apple, Samsung, and Google. While I'm not sold on the modular nature of the Essential Phone, I love the spirit of individuality that the company is pushing for.