Essential Phone Review Roundup: Excellent Build Quality and Display, Mediocre Camera

After a couple of months of delay, Andy Rubin’s Essential confirmed that it would start shipping the Essential Phone to customers who pre-ordered it from later this week. Now, with the phone also hitting Sprint stores, the first batch of Essential Phone reviews are also out.

The Essential Phone is unlikely to sell in millions of units, with only hardcore Android enthusiasts being interested in it. The steep price of the handset alone is going to be a huge deterrent for many and will drive away many potential customers.

Nonetheless, the Essential Phone is a very interesting phone. Not only is its design very unique, Essential promises a Pixel-esque like update policy for the handset. So, is it any good? Let’s see what the reviews say.

Do note that most of the reviews of the Essential Phone have only been published after using the device for around 72 hours.

Android Central

The publication notes that the Titanium chassis and the ceramic back of the Essential Phone give it a very solid feeling in the handset. The materials used also ensure that the handset will easily survive daily use without a case without getting scuffed up or scratched.

The highlight of the Essential Phone is its 5.7-inch LCD display at the front. Here’s what the publication had to say about it:

At 5.7 inches diagonally and a 2560×1312 resolution (505 ppi) it’s right in line with the rest of the industry. It’s clear, crisp and has excellent viewing angles — but at roughly 500 nits max brightness it falls short of the competition in direct sunlight.

It praises the software experience of the device as well which is as close to stock Android as possible — even more so than what OnePlus and Moto offer with their devices. The performance of the device was also top notch but that was a given considering its specs (Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM). The phone did lock up three times but that can likely be attributed to the device running a non-final software build.

As for the rear 13MP cameras, while they are decent, they don’t stand a chance against the likes of Google Pixel and Galaxy S8. The lack of OIS and larger pixels definitely hurt the camera’s performance, especially in low-light. The barebones camera app is no good either.

It’s truly refreshing to see a new company come out of the gate swinging with new ideas, and Essential has managed to execute on its vision surprisingly well. The Essential Phone is good, perhaps even great, but aside from solid hardware and clean software it doesn’t bring anything particularly special to draw in customers. Its biggest strength isn’t what it has, but what it doesn’t: there’s no bloatware, superfluous features, unnecessary hardware or even branding to get in the way of using it.

Review: Android Central

Android Authority

The publication praises the build quality of the Essential Phone and its ability to easily survive day-to-day falls without showing any signs of dents or scratch. They also praise its display which is without a doubt the highlight of the device.

The display is, naturally, one of the main draws and so far has been performing really well. The intriguing design aspect where the notification bar goes all the way up to the very top of the device requires a little bit of creativity on the part of app developers. Some applications take to it just fine while others (like Facebook) don’t move their top bars all the way up.

The review also praises the performance of the device and notes that the USB-C adapter bundled with the phone is capable of powering premium headphones as well.

Below is what the publication says in the end for the Essential Phone:

The Essential Phone feels like a phone trying to cater to many people at once, all of whom have different definitions of the word. Essential could mean everyday specifications and features that no one can live without; or, these visions of modularity, easy to harness 360 media, and a screen that won’t quit could become essentials.

Review: Android Authority

The Verge

The publication praises the build quality and design of the Essential Phone and even says that it has the most appealing hardware design of any smartphone released in the last year. The tall 19:10 aspect ratio display of the handset is easier to use than the 18:9 aspect ratio display found on the likes of the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8 as it makes it easier to reach the top of the status bar.

As a display, it’s great. It has wide viewing angles, is totally viewable in sunlight, and of course it has approximately two kajillion pixels like all modern smartphones.

Lots of phones feel like they’re derivative copies of other phones, but the Essential Phone genuinely feels like its own thing. There’s an old joke that all phones now are “big black slabs” that simply aspire to look like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Near as I can tell, Essential decided to just up and own that joke.

The dual-camera setup of the phone improved considerably with a last minute OTA update that even introduced a manual HDR mode. However, despite these improvements, the camera performance of the Essential Phone is nowhere near the likes of the Pixel XL.

I’ve tested it up against the Pixel XL after the software update in low light and in our office and my take is that the Pixel is much, much faster at taking shots and has an edge in quality. We often talk about the top tier of smartphone cameras being a matter of taste more than a matter of quality — and the Essential Phone hasn’t quite earned its way into that class yet.

In the end, while the Essential Phone is great in many aspects, its camera performance and lack of waterproofing make it a tough buy.

The Essential Phone is doing so much right: elegant design, big screen, long battery life, and clean software. And on top of all that, it has ambitions to do even more with those modules. If you asked Android users what they wanted in the abstract, I suspect a great many of them would describe this exact device. But while the camera is pretty good, it doesn’t live up to the high bar the rest of the phone market has set.

Review: The Verge

So, what do you think about the Essential Phone based on the above reviews? Do you plan on buying the phone despite its high price and mediocre camera?