Father of Android builds ultimate smartphone

by Haadi Bakar
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In a market dominated by big brands like Apple and Samsung, is there room for a new smartphone contender? Andy Rubin, the man who invented the Android OS, thinks he can take them on with the Essential Phone which his new company teased yesterday.

Also known as the Essential PH-1, the Essential Phone is a US$699 (B$966) Android smartphone with top-of-the-line specs that’s aimed to take on the iPhone and the Galaxy S8, but as a newcomer, and as this phone is only going to be marketed in the US for now, it’s going to take a while before Mr Rubin’s new phone can win consumers around the world over.

But if you’re one of those who are tired of the current offerings and want something fresh (but not another low-cost copycat), then the Essential is definitely worth checking out, if you can get your hands on it, that is.

The first thing that’s really striking about the Essential Phone is the 5.7-inch edge-to-edge screen, which occupies nearly the entire front surface of the handset, leaving just the chin below and a small cutout at the top for the 8-megapixel front-facing camera.

It certainly ticks the right boxes for what future smartphones should look like. The borders are so thin that it almost looks like the entire phone is one big display, at least when viewed at its front. Like the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8, however, the near borderless screen keeps the phone from going to phablet territory.

The rest of the phone exterior is glossy ceramic at the back and strong titanium on the sides. Most premium phones use mainly glass and aluminum to give that premium feel, but Essential says it opts for titanium and ceramic which can withstand drops.

The back of the phone has a very clean design, with no branding to be found. The only things that stand out are the round fingerprint scanner, the 13-megapixel dual lens camera and twin magnetic connectors.

The magnetic connectors can be used to connect with proprietary accessories, such as a 360-degree camera module and a charging dock. These accessories are magnetic and simply snap on the back of the phone.

The dual lens camera has a similar implementation to that of the Leica-engineered dual cameras of the Huawei P10, one colour and one monochrome. The idea is to deliver superior quality images especially in low light when both camera sensors work together. The camera is also capable of shooting 4K video.

There is no 3.5mm headphone jack to be found though, just a single USB Type C port at the bottom that’s flanked by a speaker grille and a Nano-Sim slot.

Inside the phone is what you’d expect from a typical Android flagship – a Qualcomm 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The Essential will ship with Android 7.0 Nougat.

This is Mr Rubin’s first phone under its technology investment company Playground, which he started after he left Google in 2014. The company also teased another product yesterday, Essential Home, a home assistant that’s aimed to be less intrusive than rivals Google Home and Amazon Echo.

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