Essential Phone, 5 months after – CNET


We wanted to see usually how distant a Essential Phone’s camera had come. So we array an strange launch Essential Phone opposite a mint one with lots of program updates.

Josh Miller/CNET

I consider it’s protected to say: The Essential Phone was a flop. Even ignoring a phone’s missed boat dates and broken continuance promises, it simply wasn’t rival during $700 (roughly £500, AU$900). Review after examination panned a camera, one of a many critical tools of a complicated phone. we called a camera app “a smoldering dumpster fire.”

But here’s a thing: The Essential Phone doesn’t cost $700 anymore. Just dual months after launch, Essential cut a cost to $500 (roughly £360 or AU$635) — and we’ve seen it as low as $400 on sale. Nearly as important, a phone’s camera has perceived a fusillade of program updates given day one. 

So we motionless to give Essential another shot. 


This elementary supply done for some good comparo photos. (The screens aren’t lined up, nonetheless a camera modules are.) 

Josh Miller/CNET

Weeks ago, we unwrapped a brand-new, lustrous white Essential Phone with a latest program updates, and motionless to examination it to my strange black-backed Essential Phone, that I’d purposefully never updated given my initial review. 

One phone with a phone’s strange launch software. One phone with loads of updates. Mano a mano. we done these phones my daily drivers, and used both of them to take an awful lot of cinema and video. we even gave Essential’s 360-degree camera connection another go.

So: Is a Essential Phone value shopping during $500? Here’s what we found. 

The camera is softened — nonetheless maybe not that many better

Eleven. That’s how many times Essential has updated a Camera app in a past 5 months. It’s considerable — even deliberation many of them repair things that should have been bound before a phone came out.

Regardless, I’m happy to contend that in these ways, a camera has legitimately improved:

  • Far reduction shiver loiter in good light. When we strike a shiver button, a camera captures a picture quite quicker with my updated Essential Phone than it does with my original. That means fewer missed print ops. 
  • Pictures no longer get deleted if we fire too fast or open a gallery while they’re still processing. Kind of important.
  • HDR images routine many faster. Originally, we would never use a HDR mode since it was so delayed and buggy. HDR images still aren’t great, nonetheless a underline is usable.
  • A primer bearing slider means we can fast scold when a camera thinks a stage should demeanour darker or lighter than it is in genuine life, that is flattering often.
  • A new mural mode lets we take photos of people with a good buttery credentials fuzz (bokeh). It’s not a best portrait mode we’ve used, nonetheless it’s considerable to have a mural mode during all on a phone this inexpensive. Plus, it has a nifty slider we can drag to change a abyss of field! 
pixel-vs-iphone-x-vs-essential-portrait-modeEnlarge Image

We shot these pics of CNET photographer Josh Miller with 3 opposite Portrait Mode-capable phones. The Essential’s camera creates his face demeanour a bit twisted here, nonetheless it can also be slimming from a right angle.

Patrick Holland/CNET

And yet, a camera is still my series one distrurbance when regulating an Essential Phone. Even after all those updates, it’s a bad performer in low light or anywhere rapid autofocus is key. I’m always a man struggling to take clear, nonblurry photos of my daughter (or my food) while my friends with iPhones, Galaxies and Pixels get a shot right away.

You competence be wondering: Isn’t it astray to ask that many from a now-$500 phone? Yes and no. Because when we put a Essential side by side with my personal $500 Motorola Moto Z2 Play, a Essential still couldn’t accommodate that bar.

Take a demeanour during this zoomed-out image: 

All you’ll substantially see here is that a Moto Z2 Play’s HDR print has fewer blown highlights (whites aren’t too bright) and some-more shade fact (blacks aren’t too dark).   

But wizz in tighten with these 100 percent crops, below…

essential-vs-moto-z2-play-crop-labeledEnlarge Image

Click to enlarge, afterwards demeanour during all a sound and splotchy artifacting around a Ford GoBike logo.

Sean Hollister/CNET

…and we can see a Z2 Play’s print has some-more fact and reduction noise, period. Essential’s camera is totally outclassed. 

Though my Z2 Play isn’t quite good during low-light situations, it’s certain as heck softened than a Essential there as well:

essential-vs-z2-play-low-light-100-crop-labeledEnlarge Image

Sean Hollister/CNET

My daughter looks like she’s got a hold of yellow jaundice in a Essential shot, nonetheless that’s not a indicate — a Z2 Play’s print has some-more detail, quite in her hair, if we click to enlarge.

How is a Essential Phone still losing to a sincerely inexpensive Motorola handset, even after 5 months and 11 updates? Here’s a tough truth: Over a past 5 months, a Essential Phone’s picture peculiarity hasn’t meaningfully improved. When we compared 50+ photos taken corresponding with my strange Essential Phone and a new one with updates, a cinema were hardly discernible even when we peeped pixels.

Can we tell a disproportion between these photos, for instance — aside from a slight viewpoint shift?

One has a somewhat colder (bluer) tone temperature, nonetheless that’s about it from this distance. 

And if we wizz in close, we found that a cinema shot on my entirely updated Essential Phone can even be worse in some tiny ways. Here’s an example:

There’s reduction sound — that is good — nonetheless also a bit reduction fact in a 100 percent crop. (Pay tighten courtesy to a edges of a yellow bow, and a faded pointer on a building behind it.)

But on average, we wouldn’t contend a photos and video we took with a updated Essential Phone looked worse. They looked flattering many a same, usually infrequently with a dwarfed bit some-more energetic operation and a tiny reduction noise. Looking during a pictures’ EXIF metadata, it was flattering transparent any camera, presented with a same scene, was creation a same decisions any time.

You can really take good photos with a Essential Phone, as we can with any complicated phone if we get propitious or work hard. (I like this photo a lot.) But it should be approach easier, even when your phone costs usually $500.

Good news: The 360 cam works now

“Sometimes it won’t bond to a phone. Sometimes it’ll mysteriously undo miduse. Sometimes a camera app will crash. Sometimes it’ll pile-up a whole phone.” 

That’s how we creatively described Essential’s 360-degree camera, a initial (and so distant only) product that uses a snap-on captivating appendage pier on a behind of a Essential Phone.


Fortunately, a 360-degree cam is many softened now. It’s roughly totally usable! Moments after we satisfyingly snap it into place, it’s prepared for movement — capturing round photos and video that let your Facebook or YouTube supporters probably step into your boots to knowledge a changed impulse of your life.


What 360-degree video can do for you.

Sean Hollister/CNET

I contend “almost” since a 360-cam is also a extensive battery hog. It pulls energy directly from a phone, and I’ve emptied 17 percent of my phone’s battery with a singular 10-minute recording. (On average, it seems to empty about 1 percent a minute, nonetheless I’ve really seen worse.) 

Plus, a camera seems to overheat and close down during a 15-minute mark, even in an air-conditioned room. It’s got a tiny fan inside that tries to keep it cool, nonetheless a fan turns off when we start recording to equivocate spoiling your audio.

Video peculiarity is indeed considerable given a camera module’s tiny distance — a 4K footage looks clearer and reduction loud than possibly a Moto 360 Camera add-on (for Motorola’s Moto Z phones) or a standalone Ricoh Theta V, quite indoors. 

Unfortunately, a Essential 360’s washed-out colors are a bit of a turn-off, and nonetheless any controls to adjust a bearing or asian a picture (if you’re not holding it ideally vertically, for example), it’s some-more of a fondle than a tool. 

Other quirks

Having spent a lot some-more time with a Essential Phone and surveying Reddit’s Essential group now, we should advise we there are a few additional quirks we didn’t code in my strange review.

T-Mobile: we can’t pronounce for everyone, nonetheless a lot of Redditors and my personal knowledge in a San Francisco Bay Area seem to agree — a Essential Phone appears to have quite worse accepting and download speeds than other T-Mobile concordant phones. we wouldn’t buy an Essential Phone for T-Mobile today.

Anecdotally, we infrequently find we have no operative information in places where other phones can still download email and roller a web. Slightly some-more scientifically, when we substituted SIMs between an iPhone 8 Plus, Moto Z2 Play and Essential PH-1 in a few specific locations around a bay, we saw slower T-Mobile speeds with Essential than with other handsets. (ATT and Verizon speeds were glorious regardless of phone.) 


Sean Hollister/CNET

Missed touches: A few times a day, I’ll daub a symbol on a Essential Phone’s shade and zero will happen. As best as we can tell, it’s function since a phone’s shade bezels are so thin, it’s easy for my palm or fingertips to incidentally brush a corner of a shade and upset a phone’s hold sensors. we don’t consider it’s a dealbreaker, nonetheless scarcely 100 Reddit users told me it was among their biggest complaints.

App crashes and app launch lag: Occasionally, I’ll daub on an app, and it won’t launch right away. It takes a beat. Or it’ll launch, nonetheless I’ll be greeted with a blank, non-responsive window instead of a operative app, and I’ll need to force-close it and open it again. It doesn’t start mostly adequate that we find it a large understanding in bland use — maybe once a day — nonetheless it’s positively a tiny annoying. 

In my Reddit survey, roughly a entertain of respondants pronounced they see app launch lag, and scarcely a third have had apps pile-up — nonetheless it doesn’t always start each day. Fewer than 100 respondants (roughly 14 percent) pronounced they saw those issues some-more than once a week, and fewer than 60 saw them daily.

Jittery scrolling: I’ve beheld this reduction and reduction as Essential pushes out updates, nonetheless I’d really contend it’s loyal that scrolling down webpages with a Essential Phone can infrequently start in tiny stops and starts instead of one well-spoken motion. It’s a tiny distracting, nonetheless many each phone does it to some degree. That’s because a Razer Phone’s shade looks so incredible

A full third of those who responded to my consult pronounced they’ve gifted jumpy scrolling on their Essential Phone, so it’s really not usually me, nonetheless it also sounds like it doesn’t worry everybody.

More fixes inbound?

When we spoke to Essential VP of Software Rebecca Zavin about these issues, she told me a company’s good wakeful and operative tough to residence them as shortly as possible, nonetheless doesn’t indispensably have definite fixes. For instance, nonetheless Zavin says Essential has accurate settings with T-Mobile engineers and will be pulling hundreds of fixes to a mobile radio when it upgrades phones to Android 8.1, she can’t pledge they’ll solve connectivity for any sold customer.

“We haven’t stopped posterior issues with touch, issues with performance, issues with throughput and camera peculiarity … nonetheless we can’t tell we there’s something entrance that’ll be a outrageous insubordinate change [for T-Mobile network connectivity],” she told me.  

For jumpy scrolling and missed touches, Zavin says an softened touchscreen filtering algorithm and a mutated palm rejecting intrigue are now in a works, and some-more camera improvements are on a approach as well. 

Zavin says that for Essential’s subsequent device, a association hopes to spike hold opening and camera peculiarity right out of a box.

When we ask her because her group during Essential is still pulling out refurbish after refurbish for a PH-1 instead of focusing efforts on a sequel, she says it’s not usually about this one phone: 

“My heart and essence is in this association … we trust in this device. This is what we do. It’s in a DNA to do a best we can and be invested in it, not to chuck things over a wall to a users. It’s code value for us. We’re perplexing to maximize opening and knowledge opposite a board, and we consider you’ll see that in all we build.”

The final word (for now)

In many ways, we feel a same about a Essential Phone as we did in my strange review. we like holding it. we like a tiny distance in my pocket. It’s still a remarkably large phone with glorious build quality, a top-tier processor and adequate battery that we always make it to bedtime nonetheless fear. 

That’s a clever display for any phone, many reduction one we can buy for $500, and it’s because we feel gentle lifting a examination measure somewhat to simulate a new price. When we demeanour during a Essential Phone as a discount instead of a flagship, it creates a lot some-more clarity than it did during launch.

But this still isn’t an easy phone to suggest to usually anyone — usually Android energy users looking for a bargain, ones who can pardon an iffy camera, and maybe ones who aren’t regulating T-Mobile. And during this point, we don’t consider that’ll change.

For everybody else, there’s a Moto X4 or softened nonetheless — if you’re on a GSM network — a OnePlus 5T.

Essential Phone review: Our full, updated test.

Best phones for 2018: The tip phones we can buy today.

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