Essential Phone Review
For a brand with no history of earning smartphones, the Essential Phone is an intriguing first attempt.
It’s going for the long game by offering a telephone that, in theory, doesn’t have to be tossed aside, trashed or exchanged in after only a year of usage. Part of that comes from its timeless design that signifies that it belongs in tomorrow as far as it does today. Another fork of that stems from Essential’s plan to bring many modular accessories to the phone, thus expanding its capabilities as the months go by.
Right away, the PH-1, as it is officially called, makes clear that it isn’t “just another Android smartphone”. But in its efforts to stand out as something essential for the innovation-starved audience, the offering here could not be more refreshing — or divisive.
It is a confident melding of glass and ceramic which looks rather basic in what it is trying to attempt, but it is hiding a few tricks up its sleeve. For those who have small hands, the amount of screen that Essential has packed into the compact bundle is astounding.
Speaking of the nearly bezel-free screen, it is one of the phone’s big conversation-sparking features. Its pairing of design and applications also rivals Google’s own smartphones. But for something which claims to be “essential” at start, it supposes a hell of a lot about its viewers: that for every desirable feature the PH-1 contains, which there are surely a few, you won’t notice that it is missing many must-have capabilities.
Things like waterproofing, expandable storage, wireless charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack are essential to many, but nowhere to be found here. Oh, and its modular accessories? You will just have to trust that the company is committed to bringing more down the line, as its introduction 360-degree camera accessory took longer than expected to release.
For all that the Essential Phone does right, it is rather short on reasons to back up its high $699 price tag (no UK price confirmed now) compared to seriously intimidating competition it set itself up against: the iPhone 8, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Google Pixel two, just to mention a few.
However, due to its brilliant, classic design, lots of power, and the promise of modular accessories, the important Telephone is an Android phone that will only get better with time. In other words, if you are patient enough to watch it grow.
If its launch colors are not your favorite, you’ll be delighted to know that Crucial recently announced three new alternatives for people who don’t need to settle. Ocean Depths, a slick melding of teal and bronze, is now available. Stellar Gray, boasting an all-grey appearance, debuts on February 20. Lastly, Copper Black goes on sale February 22, with the original color’s black body lined with aluminum.
If you’ve been saving up for all these cool colors, bear in mind that they will price $599 each, which is a $100 premium over the white and black options that were first available.
Surprisingly, Essential has announced yet another new colour, Halo Gray, that is exclusive to Amazon in the US for $449. Unlike the other options, this one has a matte finish, and since it is exclusive to the online retailer, it comes stocked with Amazon Alexa because its default voice assistant.
The vital Phone originally debuted in america starting at $699 unlocked. If you’re a Sprint customer (or a prospective one) and qualify, you can get an extra $260 off the phone, which puts the price within reach of people who usually can not manage a high-end unlocked device.
Now Vital has also dropped the price of the telephone to only $499, making it far more affordable than it was at launch.
Essential has confirmed the PH-1 will come to UK later in 2017, though it has missed the date now. If we’re going off of conversions alone, that puts it at #535, but given that Essential has funding by major US companies, like Sprint and Amazon, it’s tough to say if the identical price applies globally.
The vital Telephone is a feat of engineering in that it somehow manages to fit a 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,312 display into a chassis that is not much larger. Stacked up against the Google Pixel XL, the it’s roughly the same size in the hand, but there is much more screen here.
Essential has taken bezel reduction to a new level. You’ll find a rather small bezel “chin” on the bottom of the phone, but the display nearly spills over the top of it, where you will find the selfie camera. This feat is even more impressive because the LCD screen wraps around the front-facing camera rather than pushing it to the bottom such as Xiaomi Mi Mix. That phone’s “nostril camera”, as Critical’s Andy Rubin calls it, makes for awkward selfies.
Essential opted to get a titanium frame, which it claims offers much higher durability (and heft) compared to the oft-used aluminum we see in several smartphones. This means, theoretically, it shouldn’t break or bend under circumstances wherein most phones do. On the phone’s exterior, Essential covered up it in ultra-glossy ceramic, which looks fantastic and feels cool to the touch, but is oh-so inviting to your own fingerprints.
Around the phone’s borders, Essential has cleverly implemented a grippy material that doubles as its antenna passthrough. While you won’t find a 3.5mm headphone jack on this phone (Essential provides a USB-C to 3.5millimeter converter in the box), the usual range of volume rocker, power button and USB-C charging interface make their appearance here. The tactile buttons are easy to discover and have a nice click to them.
The backside of this telephone is as flat as the front and is so devoid of any markings that there is not even an Essential logo anywhere on the device. It’s a method of Vital saying “this isn’t our phone, it is your phone.” On our way up, there is a fingerprint sensor in an easy-to-reach place, flanked on its top by a dual-lens camera, flash and Essential’s accessory connector ports, the latter of which we’ll touch on below.
Vital’s “Pure White” colour variant is also now available, bringing the options to two: black and white. We’re still waiting on the third and fourth colors, “Stellar Grey” and “Ocean Depths”, but until then, at least there is an option available that doesn’t show so many fingerprints.
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Essential Phone Review
Summary From a design perspective, Vital's PH-1 is a bold first move. It delivers a stock Android experience and resembles no other device on the market, but thus far, the business has come up short on its promises.