I don’t envy the person who has to buy an Android smartphone right now. There are a lot of great choices, making the decision really difficult.
There are devices that cost about or near $1,000, and there’s also a healthy line-up of smartphones that offer great design, solid specs and a price tag that isn’t near the four-figure mark.
It just comes down to what you want out of a phone and making that choice is easier said than done. I too have toed the line of indecision about which Android phone I would buy. But after getting through the mental hesitation, I came to a decision that actually surprised me as much as I think it’ll surprise you.
If I had to buy an Android phone right now, it would be the Essential Phone.
Coming to this decision was not easy, but I feel comfortable in my choice. I think for most Android users, the answer would be something like that Galaxy S9, Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 or OnePlus 5T. All of those are great devices, but each has a shortcoming that ultimately eliminated them for me.
I have the good fortune to play around with a lot of great smartphones that come through the office. During my Android device conundrum, I was actually using the first generation Pixel. It’s a great smartphone with a solid build and the very best Android software has to offer.
When using the Pixel, I couldn’t help but notice that for as great as it is, its design still leaves a lot to be desired. The aluminum body, while premium, feels antiquated by today’s standard of glass and metal. I often wondered how great the Pixel would have been if Google had taken more risks with the design. Unfortunately, it took a similar approach with the Pixel 2.
I was very close to selecting the Pixel, but it just didn’t meet every point in my criteria, specifically the design. The Essential Phone does. This was the next phone I started using in my Android experimentation to decide which one I would buy and it won me over right away. It covers all the bases for me: it has a stunning design, stock Android and a price that doesn’t break the bank.
Unlike Google, Essential didn’t take the safe route because when you want to break into the Android market, you have to stand out. Holding the Essential Phone, it feels like no other phone, not even the iPhone X—which I believe is the best designed and built smartphone around.
The titanium band is cool to the touch, strong and durable, holding together the fusion of glass and the ceramic back. It’s stronger, although not unbreakable, and overall just handles wear and tear better.
There’s a certain heft to the body, too; it feels substantial and worth a lot of money. The boxy sides also call back to a different time of the iPhone 4, offering something distinct from the rounded edges in every smartphone nowadays.
Moving over the gorgeous 5.7-inch LCD display, it will certainly catch any bystander’s attention. It reaches to the very top of the phone, stopping a few centimeters short of cascading over the edge. The only blemishes on an otherwise perfect display is the small notch and the enlarged bottom chin. However, these minor grievances proved to be inconsequential as I used the phone.
Then there’s the Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM that ensures everything is running smoothly, working hand in hand with my next major check point.
Using a phone with a skin on top of Android is not a deal breaker for me. But if I am buying a Android smartphone with my hard earned money, I prefer stock. It’s the reason why I considered the original Pixel and why the Essential Phone ultimately won out.
Andy Rubin, one of the fathers of Android, founded Essential and thus knows the importance of keeping extra software baggage off a phone. With the most powerful specs and recent software, any phone can handle a little extra software, but it won’t age gracefully. That’s one of the knocks on Samsung’s phones, which a year or two into their release cycles can suffer from terrible battery life and questionable performance.
Nearly a year into its lifespan, the Essential Phone is still running smoothly on Android 8.1. Better yet, Essential is one of the manufacturing partners Google is teaming up with to seed out the beta preview of Android P, which means the official update is likely coming to the device this fall.
The last major factor I considered is the price. When the Essential Phone was originally announced, it was sold for $699. For as much as I liked the device, I had a hard time paying that much for an Android phone that was not from Google or Samsung. A few months after sales of the device disappointed, Essential permanently knocked the price down to a very enticing $499.
At the new price point, the Essential Phone undercut key flagships by nearly half, making it a much better proposition. If you are lucky, you could even scoop it up for as low as $399 through Amazon. While I’m more than willing to shell out money for a great smartphone, I also see the merit in saving a few bucks.
I feel like I’m getting a great smartphone with the Essential Phone, that’s why it is my selection. I don’t have to pay top dollar like I would for the Galaxy S9 or Pixel 2 XL, and when stacked up against the similarly priced OnePlus 5T, I prefer the Essential Phone and everything it has to offer.
I’ve been waxing poetic about the Essential Phone for a while, so I think it’s about time I come clean. Not everything is perfect with it. The camera has been improved mightily since the original release, yet it still lags behind the competition. Although solid, the pictures you get from the dual lens 13MP camera won’t beat out the Pixel 2 XL, Galaxy S9 or the Huawei P20 Pro and its triple camera system.
Also, customer support for the Essential Phone isn’t great, according to multiple Essential Phone owners. Don’t expect to call Essential and receive the same warm welcome you get with Google. Then there are little annoyances like the oddly miniaturized power button, the missing headphone jack and lack of wireless charging.
Yet knowing all that I’m still rolling with the Essential Phone. I’ll take it knowing all of its shortcomings because it checks off every mark in my book.