When the Essential Phone was first launched, it was priced at $699; a slightly cheaper price than other Android flagships but still a premium price for a device from a brand-new, billion dollar startup. Soon after it launched though, t received several big price cuts bringing the phone down to $499. I actually managed to pick up the 128GB model and 360-degree camera attachment for a total of $400. Technically, if you want to get into specifics, I bought the Essential Phone for $289. For such a relatively inexpensive price, the Essential Phone deserves to be revisited to see if it is worth your hard-earned money here in 2018.
From a design standpoint, the phone checks all the right boxes. There’s a premium ceramic back and titanium frame, an edge-to-edge display with hardly any bezels whatsoever, and no logos whatsoever to speak of. The phone feels really nice in the hands. It doesn’t feel too big nor too small. What you won’t find though is microSD card slot. You’re not going to find a headphone jack or water resistance rating. Three features that many of you might consider to be essential. I do want to make note of the notification light at the very tippy top of the phone. You surprisingly don’t see the notification lights in a lot of smartphones these days, as most opt in for Always On displays. But personally, I like this LED light.
The display consists of a QHD 18;9 LCD panel with a QHD resolution that provides for a pretty good viewing experience. What makes this display so special though is the razor thin bezels. The display features a cut-out for the front-facing camera that is slightly annoying. I’m a pretty easy guy to please but you will notice content shift down a little bit from the top to make room for this camera cut-out. And when watching YouTube videos or opening up certain apps, the top portion becomes blacked out or just one solid color instead of trying to position content around the camera cut-out. You can’t zoom in or crop YouTube videos on this phone like you can on many other 18:9 Android smartphones. The color vibrancy and contrast are solid but they do fall short against other Android devices with AMOLED displays.
In addition to the price cuts, Essential has been updating the software left and right. They’ve done a pretty good job with this. The most recent update has been Build NMJ88C and it enables fingerprint gesture so you can swipe the fingerprint scanner down to reveal the notification panel. It improves the overall performance, fixes some bugs, and improves touch scrolling, which has been a pretty big complaint from a lot of reviewers. I will say I was very impressed upon first impressions when I found absolutely no bloatware installed. There are only 20 apps and they are all Google apps, which is exactly what I like to see. The only other phone that is this clean is probably a Pixel smartphone and you have to pay quite a bit more for that device.
The Snapdragon 835 chipset with 4GB of RAM helps keep this phone very competitive in the performance department. The camera app though is probably the slowest on here, which is a bummer. It takes a long time for the shutter button to register. Now once again, Essential has pushed several updates over the past few months to improve the sub-par performance from what I’ve read. Since I purchased this phone within the past month, I haven’t actually experienced it before the update. For example, you now have portrait mode and you can stream 360-degree live streaming for YouTube with the camera attachment. All these images that you see here were captured, of course, from the Essential Phone. They don’t look that bad. It really does look like the low light performance has improved tremendously over the last few months based off of the test footage that I’ve seen online. Does the image quality compare to higher end flagship smartphones or the OnePlus 5T, which retails for $500? No, not quite. Even with the update, the image quality is still subpar. But it has gotten better and that’s kind of the point of this video.
The 3,040 mAh battery provides for all day battery life under regular use and the bottom-facing speaker is there. It’s not great but it’s on par with others in the price category. So battery life and speaker quality are solid.
In conclusion, the Essential Phone is worth $500 if you can pick it up with the 4K camera mod. If you believe in Andy Rubin’s Essential company, you’ll want one of the cleanest smartphones around and you absolutely love the edge-to-edge display and you don’t mind if people comment “Hey, is that an iPhone X?”, then this phone becomes all the more tempting. But the Essential Phone isn’t the only device in this price category. There’s no denying the appeal of the OnePlus 5T, which also retails for $500. It has 6GB of RAM, a larger 18:9 AMOLED display, and a marginally better camera. There’s no denying the fact that the Essential Phone had a rough launch because it was launched by a startup from the co-founder of Android and it just promised so much. What I like about it is that it has exciting hardware. It has frequent updates and a lot of room for growth via its upcoming accessories such as a Smart Home gadget and docking station that are in the works and should be launched very shortly if things go according to plan. With an Android 8.0 update right around the corner, the Essential Phone should not be so easily dismissed.