Samsung sits somewhat comfortably at the top of the Android smartphone market, but a new challenger has appeared.
That's the Essential, a 5.7-inch smartphone with a magnetic modular design and a breathtaking attractive aesthetic, which starts at $699 and is available for pre-order now.
Why is the Essential getting so much attention? It's not because of its internal specs (Snapdragon 835 CPU, 4GB RAM, dual 13-megapixel cameras, 128GB storage or its OS (pure, stock Android). It's because this phone is coming from Andy Rubin, the Android creator whose first name is in that platform's title.
Essential Phone Specs
|Display (pixels)||5.71 inches (2560 x 1312)|
|Camera (Back)||13MP dual RGB and Monochrome cameras|
|Biometric Scanning||Fingerprint reader|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|Size||5.6 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches|
|Weight||Less than 6.5 ounces|
|Colors||Black Moon, Pure White, Stellar Grey, Ocean Depths|
|Wi-Fi||802.11a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0 LE|
What looks cool about the Essential
The Essential's first attention-grabber is its design, which looks to impress with a titanium body, ceramic back and a nearly bezel-less screen. While the Galaxy S8 (and supposedly iPhone 8) impress with a mostly-screen front, this phone's 2,560 x 1,312-pixel display goes so far up that the front-facing selfie-cam is positioned in the middle of its top.
On its back, the Essential takes a cue from the iPhone's minimalist attitude that fewer icons is better, by using zero words or pictograms. Its back is far from empty, though, sporting an easy-to-find fingerprint scanner that stands alone. The Galaxy S8's sensor sits too close to its rear camera.
Currently available for pre-order in Black Moon and Pure White, the Essential will later be sold in Stellar Grey and Ocean Depths (a dark green).
The biggest deal about the Essential is the pair of tiny dots on the top right corner of its back. Those magnetic connectors allow for modular accessories, similar to what we saw in the Moto Z. Rubin told Wired that this proprietary connection is the Essential's means of future-proofing the handset, so add-ons always work with future devices.
The first of these snap-on tools is a 360-degree camera that will ship with the Essential in a combo pack that will cost $749 for those who order now, and $898 later. There will also be a charging dock sold separately. By itself, the Essential will cost $699.
A Different Take on Dual Cams
The Essential phone also sports a dual-camera system, similar to what Huawei's P9 and P10 offer. This phone uses its second lens as a monochrome sensor that can take in more light. That means better low-light photography, something that most smartphone users wish they could have.
What you don't get is true optical zoom or bokeh effect, which the iPhone 7 Plus offers via its dual cameras
During an interview on May 30, Rubin announced that the Essential will ship within 30 days, meaning it will leave factories in June and likely be delivered to early adopters in early July.
What doesn't look so cool about the Essential
There isn't much to dislike about The Essential, but the absence of a headphone jack will annoy some. Samsung managed to include the 3.5mm analog port in its super-thin, water-resistant S8 and S8+, so why can't The Essential? We're guessing Rubin & Co. find wired headphones to be non-essential. The phone does at least include a Type-C to 3.5mm adapter.
Also, Essential Products (the company releasing the handset) isn't saying which version of Android the handset will get. We wouldn't hold our breath for Android O to show up on it right out of the gate, as that will likely be reserved for Google's own Pixel 2.
One more thing: the Essential isn't alone
The company's other new product is Home, a smart home assistant that looks to be part Nest and part Google Home. Pricing and availability is unknown, but it will allow you to control lighting, play music, learn when you need to leave to make it to appointments and set timers.
In that May 30 interview, Rubin also revealed that the Home and the Essential will feature a new smart assistant. Seemingly unafraid of competition, he noted that he's willing to allow the Essential devices to support Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana and even Siri (if that's even possible).