Essential Phone Review : one of the best bezel-less mobiles

Essential Phone was one of the highly anticipated devices of 2017 but was hit with numerous issues including a customer data leak, device availability and a trade secret lawsuit. Recently, Andy Rubin, the man responsible for Essential has taken a leave of absence following the reports of his inappropriate relationship during his stint at Google became public. The phone also faced various criticism for its touch issues and the below-par performance of its camera. The constant negative media coverage that the company grabbed in the first few months affected their sales as it was reported that only 5000 units were sold through Sprint in the first month. The company, however, hasn’t confirmed the number of units sold. Finally, the company has grabbed the spotlight for right reason as the phone’s price was slashed to $499. Last month, the company’s president Niccolo de Massi announced that the phone’s price has been cut to $499.

essential phone review

“Our small, but mighty, team is listening to your feedback and working to deliver products that put consumer experience above all else. We look forward to you joining us on this journey,” Massi said on his blogpost.

Many took it to social media including Reddit and have praised the company’s latest move to sell more devices. Sprint, the company’s partner in the US has a special program where one can get hold off the phone for as low as $145This is a too sweet deal for a phone having flagship specs and a top-notch design. Here is my review of the Essential Phone. 

Design – Notch blends in

Of course, not many might like the notch but after few days of use, one wouldn’t notice it. The phone is made up of a combination of titanium and ceramic and it is supposed to be stronger than typical aluminum builds. In our day to day use, we didn’t notice any scratches and the phone seems to hold up so far.

Although, the company announced four colors at the launch, only Black Moon and Pure White are available to purchase as of this moment. Ocean Depths and Stellar Grey are set to arrive before the end of the year as per the company’s twitter handle.

The phone packs in a 5.7-inch-IPS display which does the job it’s supposed to but with many manufacturers including Apple heading towards OLED or AMOLED displays, we for one hope that Essential works on its display for the PH-2.

Like many of its rivals, the phone misses out on the 3.5mm audio jack which is considered as an essential feature by many. The company doesn’t include a USB – C headphone either but rather includes an audio connector.

The volume and power buttons are on the right side of the phone and the back contains the dual 13MP camera. The front-facing camera is on the notch and is an 8MP shooter.

Although the company didn’t mention the IP ratings at the launch, it was later revealed that the phone is an IP54 graded. One would have hoped for an IP68 rating, an essential feature in modern flagships.

Performance – Improved by several notches but much more desire

With close to stock android and flagship specs powering it, Essential Phone performs well as expected with little lags. Multitasking isn’t an issue even on Oreo beta that the company has released recently.

However, one of the complaints that most users seem to report on social media is the cell reception.

essential phone review

It’s been stated that at least in the US, the phone has a poor reception as compared to its rivals. The essential team initially didn’t believe it was the case until users flooded the team with numerous queries on one of their Reddit AMA’s.

At Vancouver and its suburbs where we tested the phone, we didn’t face much of the issue with signal reception and we found it comparable to other phones that we had for use.

Speaking of Oreo beta, it’s expected that the official roll-out will be done soon. According to Essential, they have stated that the update would be out before the end of the year. Currently, there are few bugs with respect to the beta which the team has acknowledged including compatibility with Android Auto and lower battery performance. According to the Essential team, the second version of Oreo beta is expected to be released in the upcoming days.

Battery – The phone was made to last

Not often one would see battery life being a selling point of the device. We had no problems in seeing this phone last long with close to six hours of screen time on one occasion. Most often, depending on phone calls made during the day, the phone would still have 30 percent left at bedtime.

Five hours of SOT with more than one and half hours of call time

Although it’s too early to report on Oreo beta, the battery life for one has decreased by at least 15 percent. But again, it’s in beta for a reason.

Camera – If only it was better

At this point, you would have heard about the camera performance of this phone more than anything and there’s a reason for it.

When the phone began to sell initially in the US, it was sold for $700 and that was a flagship price. One would expect little other than perfection for the premium price. In the current era where most flagship phones are producing close to DSLR level shots, the Essential camera was just not there when putting in direct competition with its rivals.

The camera’s best-selling point is its monochrome shots. The dual camera setup at the back has one monochrome camera, unlike most smartphones which has a wide or telephoto one. The shots produced through the monochrome mode leaves the regular shots to be pale in comparison.

Credit, where its due, the team at Essential are releasing constant updates to the camera and the level, has improved from a D to B+ levels.

Lots of users have done a workaround with the camera by porting in Google Camera to improve phone’s camera performance and the difference was supposedly improved by day and night.

Portrait mode was added in the latest update along with reduced JPEG compression that has improved the image quality.

Essential – Hopefully not the last notch

In the year which can termed as ‘Year of Smartphones’ where the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and LG released their best phones till date, Essential along with Razer were the new kids on the block. Both Essential and Razer are the breadth of fresh air that was needed despite their rivals releasing solid phones throughout the year.

essential phone review

Ironically both these phones despite targeting different audience has the same flaw in camera performance. If they were released a year or two back, things wouldn’t have been this bad as picked out by the media for their camera.

However, with Essential, things have been improving with constant updates. Also, not often one would see a company constantly doing their AMA’s and pushing for perfection and Essential has to be given props to their efforts for everything they have done so far with their first product.

Essential has a had a rough landing so far but it has to be seen where the company proceeds with their next device. The team has indicated that the second-generation phone is in the works and one should hope that the company fixes everything that they learned with this phone. The camera would be a good place to start and also pricing has to be sensible and similar to what the phone is being sold for now. Cell reception is an essential feature that has to be improved. Despite wider interest from people across the world, Essential’s availability is currently limited to North America and one would hope that wider availability is on the cards soon.

At its current price, the phone is competing against the newly launched OnePlus 5T, LG G6, and Moto Z2 Play. The battle between 5T and Essential Phone would be a tight one. While the camera performance of Essential will leave a lot to be desired, release cycle of OnePlus will leave may in a spot of bother.

Picture Credits – StoriesIO


Bala Yogesh

Freelance journalist in Vancouver. Focus on international students, tech, immigration and sports.

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