Why it matters to you
An Android phone from the co-creator of Android itself promises to stand out from the crowd.
Andy Rubin co-created Android, the smartphone operating system that powers 2 billion devices around the world. Now, after leaving Google, he has launched a new project: The Essential PH-1. It’s an Android smartphone, unsurprisingly, but one with an edge-to-edge screen, innovative accessories, and high-end materials that set it apart from the crowd.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Essential PH-1.
Release and price
The Essential PH-1 and its accessories will be sold in North America initially. The phone passed through the FCC on June 23, but seems to have been delayed. Business Insider reports that Essential missed its self-imposed launch window.
An Essential spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The release date may be up in the air, but we do know the phone — which comes in black, gray, white, and “ocean” — will cost $700, and that you’ll have to reserve one through Essential’s own website. The 360-degree camera will cost $200 separately, but only $50 when purchased with the phone.
The PH-1 will come to Canada as an exclusive on the Telus network. The company confirmed the news in a press release, saying those interested will be able to pre-order the device starting in July. There’s currently a pre-registration site up, where customers may receive special offers concerning the highly anticipated phone and its accessories over the coming weeks.
All four major U.S. carriers will support the Essentials Phone when it launches later this year. But only Sprint will eventually sell it directly, and others aren’t willing to commit to a baseline level of service.
- Sprint will go beyond simply supporting the Essential PH-1. Its retail stores will be the place one needs to visit to get some hands-on time with the device, after Essential’s president, Niccolo de Masi, confirmed an exclusive partnership with the network in an interview with USA Today. Sprint hasn’t stated how much it will charge for the phone, but the device will be part of a major advertising campaign ahead of its final launch, and prominently displayed in the carrier’s stores. The date hasn’t been confirmed yet. Describing the deal with Sprint as, “strategic,” and calling it, “the network of the future,” Essential hasn’t talked about whether the PH-1 will eventually be available through other networks, or how long the exclusive Sprint deal will last.
- Verizon said that it “can’t promise the same experience and quality of service as devices that have been tested and approved for use” on the carrier’s network.
- T-Mobile implied that some network-dependent features wouldn’t be available. “We’re excited for Andy Rubin and his team (the device looks amazing), and welcome customers purchasing Essential to bring it to the fastest and most advanced 4G LTE network in the country through our BYOD program,” a spokesperson said. “We’ll have more to share closer to general availability in terms of what advanced network features might be available in Essential.”
The Essential Phone
Under the PH-1’s hood lies a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, an Adreno 540 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage. The two camera lenses on the phone’s rear, a 13-megapixel dual RGB color lens with hybrid autofocus (combining contrast, phase detect, and IR laser assist) and a second f/1.85 monochrome lens, can shoot videos at 4K 30fps (or 1080p 60fps/720p 120fps) and capture 200 percent more light than the average sensor. And the 8-megapixel, f/2.2 selfie camera can record video at 4K resolution.
Although the recently-published FCC documents don’t reveal anything major in the way of unknown features, they do mention the presence of Bluetooth 5.0. The new version of the wireless standard debuted in Samsung’s Galaxy S8 released this past spring, and supports data transfers twice as fast as the previous 4.2 version, while working at significantly greater distances. However, you’ll likely have to wait until 2018 before Bluetooth 5.0 speakers, headphones, and the like actually hit the market to take advantage of the added benefits.
The PH-1’s other highlights include four microphones in a three-dimensional arrangement that filters out background noise, a 3,040mAh battery with rapid charging technology, a barometer, a USB Type-C port, and a rear fingerprint sensor that Essential claims is the “fastest available technology.”
The PH-1 is compatible with every major carrier in the U.S., thanks to an abundance of radios and wireless chips. At a minimum, it’ll be able to place calls, send texts, and use wireless data on Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, U.S. Cellular, and others.
The Xiaomi Mi Mix arguably got the edge-to-edge screen trend rolling, but the Essential PH-1 may have one of the most impressive implementations yet. The 5.71-inch, QHD (2,560 x 1,312 pixels) screen — which Essential calls the Full Display — extends from the bottom of the phone’s thin bezel to the top. And unusually, the screen curves around the phone’s selfie camera, obscuring part of the Android status bar.
The PH-1 is compact and light, clocking in at a weight of less than 185 grams and a thickness of 7.8mm. It’s durable, too, thanks to a combination of titanium, ceramic material, and Gorilla Glass 5. But those design choices necessitated compromise — just like the iPhone 7 and HTC U11, the PH-1 doesn’t sport a 3.5mm headphone socket.
The Essential phone is joined by a Moto Mod-style range of modular accessories, which attach using a combination of magnetic pins and a 60GHz wireless USB adapter on the device’s back. Two modules have been announced so far: A 360-degree camera, and a dock that charges the phone when it’s not in use.
The Essential Camera, which Essential claims is the “world’s smallest” 360-degree camera, attaches to magnets at the top of the phone’s body, allowing it to poke its “head” over the top of the phone. It weighs just 35 grams, and has two 12-megapixel lenses that can shoot 4K resolution, 30fps video, as well as four microphones that capture sound in 3D. Support for live-streaming will be included, too. We also now have a look at what the footage from that camera looks like, which you can see in the video below. The video itself basically shows a courtside view of game 2 of the NBA finals.
Essential will release a smart speaker with an intelligent assistant — Essential Home — alongside the PH-1. It’s similar to Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, the main difference being a circular screen that shows exactly what tasks the Essential Home is performing.
Essential Home’s round “auto-display” can be activated with a tap, a glance, or a question. Just like Amazon’s Echo speakers, Microsoft’s Cortana Assistant, and Google Home, it lets you control music, set timers, and more. And when it ships later this year, it will work with smart home platforms like SmartThings, HomeKit, and Nest.
Essential Home runs a new operating system called Ambient OS, which Essential describes as a “proactive life manager.” It will notify you when you need to leave early to make an important meeting, or if you appear to have forgotten about an upcoming appointment. And it will secure your data by storing it locally, on your in-home network, rather than on a remote server like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.
We’ll keep you updated on the Essential PH-1’s release here.
Update: Added in news that Essential has missed its self-imposed ship date for the PH-1.