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Essential’s late push makes 2018 look a little brighter

by Justin Herrick | February 18, 2018February 18, 2018 10:00 am PST

It’s no secret that I’ve been tough on Essential, the company Andy Rubin created with high aspirations. Yet, somehow a team largely comprised of industry veterans botched the launch and release of its only product. But the past is the past. Jump ahead five months and the Essential Phone is in a more stable place.

You’re still better off with another phone as your daily driver, but now I’m really excited to see where Essential goes next. The PH-2 could be a sleeper hit as long as Essential learned from its mistakes.

The year ahead has to be better, right?

Listing everything that Essential did wrong isn’t worth repeating. It boils down to Essential not realizing that creating a new brand in the mobile industry is borderline insane. Even if you have the best talent hand-picked from other companies with years of experience, you’re still fighting a gigantic battle against the biggest names.

Essential wasn’t aiming low out of the gate. As you may recall, the Android co-founder took the stage at the Code Conference in May 2017 to put Apple, Samsung, and Google on blast. Rubin talked a big game, but this guy earned the right to do so (despite also seeming out of touch during the interview).

The Essential Phone was first guaranteed to ship within thirty days of being announced. That didn’t happen. It was delayed several times before finally shipping near the end of the summer.

When people actually got their hands on the Essential Phone, the hardware blew everyone away with its minimalistic design, but the software was incredibly buggy. Aside from performance hiccups, the camera was similar to what you’d expect from a mid-range or entry-level phone. The Essential Phone started at $699, and it wasn’t worth anywhere close to that.

Reviews were out and consumers showed little interest in buying the Essential Phone, so Essential took off the gloves and got its hands dirty. The work to create a solid phone began.

Hardware can’t be fixed, and fortunately the Essential Phone isn’t a hideous piece of metal and glass. It’s honestly one of the most attractive mobile devices ever made. The look and feel of the phone stands out from everything else past and present.

The software that shipped out of the box was horrid. Although Essential used stock Android with minor additions, the Essential Phone had significant lag, jitter, and reception issues. Then, as mentioned before, the camera was disastrous. But Essential didn’t throw in the towel and give up. It buckled down on fixing what it could.

The newfound commitment to software quality is impressive. Essential has rolled out more software updates in a handful of months than companies like Samsung and LG do in an entire year. And these software updates have greatly improved the Essential Phone into $499 phone that’s a decent backup if you care about looks and demand a clean user interface.

Product life cycles don’t last long, especially in the mobile industry. Essential’s taken the PH-1 as far as it can go. The release of three limited edition colors and the arrival of Android 8.1 Oreo will likely mark the end of the road, but the PH-2 begins a new one.

Think about it like this. Since Essentiall pretty much nailed hardware from the outset, we know the next Essential Phone will be beautiful. The company’s been focusing entirely on software as late; it’s a lot of trial-and-error to squash bugs and optimize performance. Now, give Essential an upgraded processor and camera paired with a bug-free take on stock Android. We’re probably looking at a 2018 flagship that’s worth $699.

Essential should’ve asked for patience rather than immediate support. The Essential Phone didn’t debut under a positive light, but its troubles have taught the company what the PH-2 needs to be for Rubin and his team.

Consider me, a frequent critic of Essential, an intently interested consumer waiting for the PH-2 this year.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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