Smart Phones have become ubiquitous in modern society. Everyone has a phone and uses it for various tasks that range from calling, web surfing, and photography, to music and video playback. But even with so many people using phones, and so many options available on the market today, most of these devices blend together. They all have a rectangular design with a screen on the front and a camera on the back. While this choice works, it leaves little to the imagination. It is in this department where Essential are mixing things up with the Essential Phone. While not as groundbreaking as I would have liked, the Essential Phone sits as one of the best Smart Phones currently on the market.
At first glance, the Essential phone looks like something special. Although the rectangular design is simple, it is still stunning to look at. The metallic body and nearly edge-to-edge screen make the phone eye-catching, especially when turned on. The sheer level of screen real estate available in the small body is astounding. The top of the phone has a small notch for the camera and the bottom of the phone has a slight bezel, but beyond that, it is all screen and a stunning screen at that.
The 185 gram weight makes the Essential phone a bit weightier than many phones hitting the market this year. But with that weight comes a feeling of solid build quality. Essential put time into the construction and the Titanium enclosure shows in the heft of the device. While it may not be for everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed the feel of the Essential Phone, and am a fan of sacrificing lightless for solid build quality.
The 5.7 inch 2,560 x 1,312 display in the body that is only 5.57 x 2.80 inches is a true feat of engineering prowess. The Google Pixel XL is roughly the same size physically, but the Essential Phone wins out on the amount of screen you have to work with.
The screen may not be the brightest display on the market at only 500 nits, and there are many displays that outshine the Essential Phone, but the display is stunning beyond this fact. Text, photos, and video all look lifelike, without having the oversaturated feel that many AMOLED displays have. Even in direct sunlight things are easy to read, making it one of the better screens I have used this year.
While all these things sound good so far, there are a few design choices that I am baffled by. Firstly, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the Essential Phone. While I understand this is not new for modern smartphones, it is still disappointing to see, especially when the form factor would not be hurt by having the jack. Secondly, there is no wireless charging or IP67/IP68 water resistance. While wireless charging is still a luxury, most modern phones offer some level of Water Resistance, so it is an odd move to leave it off this flagship level device, especially one that checks so many of the boxes beyond this.
One thing that is fantastic in the Essential Phone is the battery. Even with heavy use, the 3,040mAh never had issues making it through a full day. This would include watching video, chatting and using social media, and email. For most people, there should not be an issue making it to your bedside table, but should you need a top-up Essential has included Quick Charge to push your phone back up to almost 100 per cent in around an hour.
Touching back on the notch at the top of the screen, it does cut into some of the screen real estate, and while most of the time you barely notice it—most apps that rarely use that area of the screen—some third-party apps have issues with the notch. All Google apps tested worked without issue, although if an app is not supported you will be greeted by a black bar on one side of the screen. While a notch on the screen is not an ideal situation, the trade-off is worth an otherwise fantastic visual experience.
Moving to the back of the phone, the camera on offer is the essence of what I would call a mixed bag. The dual camera setup—one colour sensor and one monochrome sensor—offer some of the better, more capable lenses at a f/1.86 aperture, but the software that runs everything holds back the potential of the phone.
The camera app that was in the review unit we tested felt sluggish, and overall half-baked. Yes, it works well with the 360 add-on camera that is on offer for the Essential Phone, but taking a quick selfie or capturing a quick image on Instagram felt slow. Changing settings felt like a challenge in frustration, and the stuttering in some aspects of the app is frankly unacceptable for a release device. Although, it is clear Essential working on these issues and will hopefully iron out most of these issues moving forward.
Now, with all that said, the shots taken from the camera were not bad. Nothing to write home about, and if you are coming from a Google Pixel or an iPhone you will be disappointed, but if you are just looking to take some fun selfies or shots of things on the street while you are out with friends, you should have no real issues.
The 13-megapixel back-facing f/1.86 aperture main lens does an adequate job in most lighting situations. It manages some good shots, even in low light. As mentioned before, it will not compete with what is on offer with the latest and greatest iPhone, but it should be more than enough for everyday use. The same can be said for the front-facing 8-megapixel camera which did a great job for selfies and video chat and should be more than capable of most people’s needs.
Essential—like Motorola—are looking to make the modular phone a reality. Right now the only module on offer is the 360 camera, but it works really well. The pogo pins on the back make for an easy solution to get any accessory connected with ease. While I would like to see more from these accessories—as the possibilities as seen with the Moto Z are exciting—it is a great start, and proof you can build an innovative smartphone while allowing for an expanded ecosystem.
Software-wise, the Essential Phone is running a close-to-stock version of Android. There are a few specialty pieces of software to work with the screen, along with the camera app (as discussed previously) but for the most part, if you like stock Android, you will enjoy what Essential has in store.
Under the hood the Essential Phone comes equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 with 4GB Ram. In testing all games run smooth as butter. Even intensive games such as Mortal Kombat or Middle-Earth: Shadow of War run as you would expect from flagship level hardware. Apps such as Gmail, Chrome, and Facebook all run as you would expect, and even with a series of apps open did not show any noticeable slowdown. The Essential Phone is a well-crafted flagship, and in testing it shows this with a fast and fluid user experience.
At the end of the day, the Essential Phone is a step into a more exciting smartphone future. This, the MiMix, and the iPhone X are all attempts to shake up the stagnant design landscape that smartphones have landed in. While not perfect, some of the ideas with the Essential Phone are fantastic. It is a spark of innovation that gives a peek at the potential future of phones. If Essential can work on the software issues and work better with third-party apps, the Essential Phone could be one of the most exciting offerings of 2017.
A retail loaner version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Barttlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!
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