Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone is an immensely impressive debut Android phone, but can it beat Google’s incoming Pixel 2 phones?

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone is an immensely impressive debut Android phone, but can it beat Google's incoming Pixel 2 phones?

Andy Rubin's firm, Essential, just announced its debut smartphone; the Essential PH-1, though everyone's calling it "the Essential Phone".

"Who is Andy Rubin?" You may ask. Well, he's actually considered by many to be the "father" of the Android platform, he co-created it, made a bunch of cash, and then left it in Google's capable hands, heading to greener pastures which culminated in his founding of Essential and this brand new phone. Which, incidentally, is also based on the Android platform he helped produce.

The Essential Phone has begun shipping to pre-order customers, with the company confirming the fact in a Tweet. Essential began taking pre-orders just over a week ago and customers received notifications via email that their devices would be shipping within a week of those initial orders. The Tweet confirms Essential is following up on those plans.

"We're beginning to ship Essential Phone! Please look out for an e-mail today with tracking info. We appreciate everyone's patience!"

And there's good reason to believe the Essential PH-1 might give Google's own Pixel brand, the successor to the Nexus series, a run for its money. How is that? Allow me to explain...

I've used the Google Pixel XL for 12 months straight, save for when I tested other handsets. I really dig the Google Pixel and figured I'd probably be getting the Google Pixel 2 as soon as it came out.

Why? Simple, I like Android, I like getting updates as soon as they're ready, and I hate bloatware. Prior to the Pixel, I used Nexus phones. In this respect, I guess I am something of a Google purist.

But Andy Rubin just threw a massive spanner into the mix. The Essential Phone has been rumored for awhile, but since it dropped there has been a huge amount of hype around the handset and I think the reason for this is threefold:

  • The Essential Phone will get Android updates for two years. 
  • The Essential Phone has great specs and it looks brilliant.
  • The Essential Phone will likely cost less than the Google Pixel 2 (and it ships with 128GB of storage as standard).

The first reason is the most important here, as no one else in the space – save for Google – is doing it. Samsung doesn't, neither does LG, OnePlus, Sony or Huawei.

In addition to this, when you consider the price of the iPhone 8, and compare it to the Essential Phone, with an emphasis on how the two phones look and the specs they include, the decision, at least, in my opinion, becomes a no brainer.

The Essential Phone is a very innovative piece of kit. It focuses on design, usability, and performance. And then there's the display, which is similar to Apple's iPhone X, though the Essential Phone retails for a good chunk of change less.

I know there has been some criticisms made about the Essential Phone's camera, but given the price and the pitch of the handset, I think I would be able to overlook this, given just how much care and attention has been focussed on the design, development and applications of the handset on a whole.

Android fragmentation is now an accepted fact of life inside the Android space and, usually, the only way around it was with a phone made by Google. With the Essential Phone, however, you now have another option. And I'd argue it is a far more attractive option too.

Google has also confirmed, now that Android Oreo is official, that it has been working closely with a number of its partners, including Essential, to get Android Oreo out to handsets before the close of 2017.

Android Oreo should be hitting the Essential Phone very soon as well. Google issued the following statement about when Android users can expect Oreo on their phones:

"We're pushing the sources to Android Open Source Project (AOSP) for everyone to access today. Pixel and Nexus 5X/6P builds have entered carrier testing, and we expect to start rolling out in phases soon, alongside Pixel C and Nexus Player. We've also been working closely with our partners, and by the end of this year, hardware makers including Essential, General Mobile, HMD Global Home of Nokia Phones, Huawei, HTC, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung, Sharp and Sony are scheduled to launch or upgrade devices to Android 8.0 Oreo."

Currently, only about 15% of ALL Android phones are running Android Nougat. This figure is stupidly low given just how many Android phones there are in circulation and shows that, despite massive developments in Android's functionality, the issue of fragmentation shows no signs of abating.

The main issue for this is spread; most Android phone makers have too many phones to manage efficiently – it would take too much time and too much resource to create builds of the latest software for all the handset variations.

Essential could make a lot of friends in this context by ensuring its phone – it's only phone – gets updates in a timely, Nexus-style fashion. Nokia has said it wants to do something similar with its Android phones too, so it is nice to see some phone makers finally addressing the issue of fragmentation once and for all.

Like Tesla, Essential is building a business around one, quality product and it is ensuring it works and offers value because it knows this is what savvy shoppers actually want from a phone in 2017.

The idea that you can run a phone, knowing it will get updates for the entire time you own it, that looks good and functions well is not a new idea. This is what Apple built its iPhone business around, so it's no surprise that Essential is taking a leaf from its book.

The Essential Phone is also pretty unique-looking. It's not an iPhone clone, it strives to be different, both in its outer aesthetics and how it works. You get the impression that everything has been checked, checked, and then checked again.

There is no headphone jack (boo hoo), the fingerprint scanner is on the back, and while the camera was apparently a bit squiffy initially, a new update from Essential has fixed most of the problems, though word on the street suggests it's not quite as good as the Google Pixel's setup.

Essential is also being very strict on what gets onto the phone. Bloatware has been kept to an absolute minimum – and this applies even if you buy it via Sprint, which is kind of different and pretty cool.

This is what Google is trying to do with its Pixel phone – make it into an Android iPhone of sorts. And up to now, it was kind of doing it by itself, though it definitely has some competition in the form of the PH-1 now, so the next question is this: can Essential sell more phones than Google?

Potentially. The hype and reaction to the Essential Phone has been largely very positive. The price of the handset is also cheaper than what Google will likely retail its Pixel 2 at (the Essential Phone costs $699) and these factors, combined with the phone's excellent looks and design, could well place it in front of the Pixel 2 later this year.

The Essential Phone is now available to buy at Sprint. The handset will cost you $699 unlocked (and it'll work on Verizon) or, if you're looking to spread the cost, you can lease the phone for $29.17 over 18 months.

I know I am extremely tempted by the Essential Phone. It is easily one of the phones I am most excited about testing out. And with a release date scheduled for Q4 in the UK, it looks like I won't have to wait too long before getting my hands on one.

What About The Pixel 2?

I am, however, very interested in seeing what Google does with its Pixel line of phones in 2017/18. I was a big fan of the Pixel XL and I am keen to see how Google (and HTC, who's making it) develop the formula.

The Pixel 2 XL will feature the following new features, according to XDA:

  • New "Portrait Mode" feature in the Google Camera app. This feature focuses on the main person in frame and blurs out the background to produce an image in vein of a live portrait. This feature is said to be similar to the Portrait Mode found on the iPhone 7 Plus.
  • Revamped Pixel Launcher with the search bar at the bottom. This was accidentally shown off at this year's Google I/O, and 9to5Google was able to capture a video of it in action. Some of you may not like how it looks, but the beauty of Android is that you can always install another launcher.
  • New "Music Recognition" feature. According to the settings page for this feature, "when music is playing nearby, it will automatically show up on your lock screen." Even though Google Assistant itself doesn't yet have song recognition (though there's a workaround for that), it seems that Google will somehow be able to listen for songs in the background and recommend them to you on the lock screen. Those of you worried about privacy will probably want to keep this feature disabled.
  • Squeeze to launch Google Assistant. We already leaked the existence of this feature back in July, but Artem's tweets now corroborate this further.
  • Always on Ambient Display mode. We've covered this feature on multiple occasions, and given that it's actually live in AOSP and can even be enabled on existing Android Oreo devices, this is probably Google's worst-kept secret feature for the Pixel 2 series.

The Pixel 2 XL will also be cheaper than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. This is a big deal for me, as I do not want to pay $1000 for a phone. I'd want a PC or laptop for that kind of money.

Google will announce the Pixel XL 2 on October 4, so all will become clear then.

If you're adamant about an iPhone, though, there is another way of doing things – and this is something I have done in the past. Basically, now that Apple's NEW iPhones are here, you can pick up its outgoing handsets – the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s, for instance – for A LOT less money.

Apple is great with software support, and both handsets are still extremely capable, so if you want Apple, but don't want proper Apple prices, going the route of older hardware makes a lot of financial sense, simply because you get everything you need just at a fraction of the cost of the newest model.

It's sort of like buying a newly new car…

There are also some VERY tasty deals on Apple's excellent outgoing iPhones, now that the iPhone 8 and iPhone X are here, which savvy shoppers can really benefit from: 

iPhone 7 32GB: £27 Per Month (£110 Upfront) on O2

  • 3GB of data
  • Unlimited calls
  • Unlimited texts
  • 24 months

The arrival of the iPhone 8 means that you can now pick up one of its predecessors for less than ever. You can now get your hands on the iPhone 7 for just £27 per month when you pay £110 upfront at Mobiles.  

Get the deal here

iPhone 6 32GB - Now just £359

It's now cheaper than ever to buy an iPhone 6, which has been reduced by £100 on most sites. Mobiles have knocked off even more, meaning you can get a brand new 32GB model for just £359.

Get the deal here