Essential Phone re-review: Good program isn’t good adequate for many of us

When it was initial released, Essential’s entrance into a phone marketplace was a bit of a flop. Reviews for a PH-1 weren’t profoundly negative, yet a phone’s roughly $700 cost was humorously high deliberation a facilities and problems during a time. A bit over a year later, many of a early issues have been bound or improved, a phone is one of usually a handful to be updated to Android 9 Pie, and it’s dropped down as inexpensive as $250 for Amazon Prime Day — yet it’s closer to $330 now.

There’s a lot to like about a Essential Phone, generally when it comes to a earthy pattern and software. While a IP54 rating doesn’t strengthen conflicting pointless dips, a titanium and ceramic physique exudes a impression of peculiarity unequivocally few phones can rival. Although problems like a scrolling stutter/jitter and vigilance strength issues clearly can’t be fixed, a PH-1 has a stellar refurbish history. A extreme rebate in cost can change dealbreakers like that into compromises for many.

AP’s Jackson Hayes gives his impressions of a Essential Phone.

Android enthusiasts on a bill have been drawn to a PH-1 for a peculiarity of a software. Still, a phone’s problems obviate my ubiquitous recommendation. For a immeasurable infancy of people, a Essential Phone is still a bad choice, even if it’s a fun to reason with a good refurbish story and batch Android.

As an aside, I’d also like to indicate out that we didn’t get a examination section from Essential. we bought my PH-1 with my possess income final year, so my care of a peculiarity and value have some-more than usually an epitome basis.



What has (or hasn’t) changed?

Consider this “re-review” an annexation to our prior review. I’m not going to rehash all about a phone that hasn’t changed. The biggest difference, in my mind, is a PH-1’s refurbish to Android 9 Pie: Not a lot of hardware has perceived an ascent to this latest chronicle of Android, putting a Essential Phone in singular company.

Although both Nokia and OnePlus have updated a phone any to Pie, the PH-1 got it a unequivocally same day that Google’s Pixels did and, many importantly, Essential seems to have finished a softened job. My OnePlus 6 on Android 9 is still a bit buggy, while a PH-1 is Pixel-level stable. Coupled with a timely smoothness of monthly confidence updates, we consider that Essential has a best refurbish story and program of any Android OEM — outward of Google, anyway.



The Essential Phone competence not have gotten some of a first-party tip salsa that a Pixels get, yet it’s a surprisingly batch knowledge in a universe where even OnePlus feels a need to make purposeless changes to Android. we won’t echo all a facilities benefaction in Pie (you can review a prior coverage in fact if you’re interested), yet all in Android 9 that wouldn’t apparently be exclusively tied to Google’s Pixels is benefaction on a Essential Phone.

In my opinion, Essential’s “light touch” program prophesy is a ideal proceed to Android, and it’s hapless that some-more OEMs don’t share it. Coupled with a magnitude of updates, Essential’s fans have copiousness of reason to be pleased. Unfortunately, program isn’t everything.


Signal strength on Pixel 2 XL (left) and Essential PH-1, both in accurately a same position/location. Not a joke. 

Signal issues are still benefaction on a PH-1, that is unfortunate. In my testing, there was typically a 10-15 dBm (read: large) disproportion between a Essential Phone and my other devices.

Previously this emanate was so bad that I’d even incidentally remove information and skip calls while out and about, all a while being told by a phone that we still have a signal. While those specific frustrations haven’t happened in a while, we still see a worse vigilance on a Essential Phone compared to literally each other device we own, and it will simply remove all vigilance in areas where other handsets have no problem.

So far, it seems like reports of vigilance strength issues are tied to regulating a phone on T-Mobile. Those on Sprint, Verizon, and ATT don’t seem to have any problems — or, during least, they aren’t as outspoken about them. Even on T-Mobile, if we live in a unenlightened city with good coverage, afterwards it substantially won’t be a visit issue, yet if you’re out in a boonies, it’ll be a conflicting story.

The Essential Phone’s touchscreen is also still janky, and some-more than usually stuttering with a coming of forsaken frames when scrolling. 

Sometimes it’ll even stop induction touches scrupulously for me, with sensitivity/rejected touches being a bit of a problem on a edges. On a conflicting finish of a spectrum, I’ll also get pointless “ghost” input/touches. In flattering many each way, it seems Essential messed adult hold submit on a PH-1. While a discerning cycle by nap with a press of a energy symbol fixes some of these touchscreen issues in a unequivocally evident short-term/next few minutes, it’s still impossibly annoying, and not something that should occur on a flagship, mid-range, or even bill phone from any new year.

There’s also a unequivocally irritating and unequivocally specific emanate a PH-1 has that drives me to constant rage: hotword showing in a standalone Android Auto app. I can (and have) literally screamed “OK Google” during my PH-1 for a full notation in my car, phone in hand, perplexing to require a Google Assistant around Android Auto to appear. The phone will consistently destroy to both uncover me a Assistant and, on a singular initial success, afterwards destroy to commend “navigate home,” or any other command. It’s infuriating, and no other phone has an issue.


Left: Best battery life on Oreo. Right: Typical battery life on Pie.

The Essential isn’t usually a gold of compromises for inexpensive Android Pie, though. Back during launch, it had a few problems with unsuitable opening and usually normal battery life. While a association can’t repair illusive hardware faults like vigilance woes and hold submit jank, any intensity complaints about program opening have been entirely resolved. The PH-1 feels consistently fast, and battery life is somewhat absurd — during least, for me.

Just before Pie landed, we was means to get over seven hours of shade on time with a PH-1. That was mostly in light-duty use, yet it’s still unequivocally impressive. While we haven’t seemed to strike those same numbers given a refurbish (even after a wipe), we can still typically get around 4 hours of shade on time over dual days, that is good.




Camera opening was somewhat softened with subsequent updates, yet compared to even 2017’s other flagships, it’s not great. Low-light print peculiarity is softened than it was during launch, yet it’s still loud and disposed to blur. Dynamic operation is also not quite good, with a bent to blow out a brightest tools of images even as it misses low sum — spiteful images from both ends of a spectrum simultaneously. While infrequently that’s to be coming in low-light circumstances, a PH-1 does it even in good lighting, sadly.

Although a synthetic bokeh/DoF “portrait” outcome introduced via an refurbish final year seems OK during initial glance, all it takes is a stand to see that it’s mangling and blurring edges that shouldn’t be. With parallax information from dual sensors to work with, that’s not great. I’ve seen softened “portrait” effects from single-lens solutions operative off of PDAF data, and I’m overtly astounded that a Essential can’t do a softened pursuit with a advantage of dual cameras.

In splendid light, we can get a decent shot, yet zero coming Galaxy S/Note or Pixel turn photos. Fine fact on a stand is still being mushed a bit, and tone correctness isn’t perfect. There’s some-more to a camera than usually hardware, and some have had softened success regulating a Google Camera app on a PH-1.

At a strange price, a Essential Phone’s camera was (and is) flattering bad, yet around $300 it matches what we can design from other phones like a G6 nearby that price. With adequate lighting it takes good — yet not good — photos.

With a 360-degree modular camera accessory, a Essential is also one of a cheapest ways to take decent peculiarity 360-degree photos and videos. The Ricoh Theta V competence kick it soundly, yet it’s also $400, and we don’t get a phone with it.

Should we buy it?

For a specific subset of Android fans, I’d say yes, a PH-1 can be a good value during or nearby a stream pricing, and generally if it falls underneath $300 again. Android-as-Android enthusiasts that can’t means Google’s (slightly ridiculous) Pixel pricing would be good served by picking adult a PH-1, quite from a program perspective. You get stock, sheer Android with a fastest probable updates during an affordable price. For a unequivocally sold audience, there’s no violence that. The association has even betrothed Android Q in a future.

For everybody else, a PH-1 competence not be a good choice. The phone has serious, clearly unfixable problems. As a backup or delegate device for pristine Android fandom, it could be a fun buy, yet we can’t overtly suggest it to ubiquitous consumers deliberation it has issues even removing a decent vigilance — that’s flattering simple phone stuff. Coupled with a touchscreen problems and submit jank, a PH-1 will always be a compromise. The advantages of batch Android, discerning updates, and discerning hardware aren’t a usually considerations for many people. The altogether peculiarity of knowledge in day to day use is some-more important, and with a issues, a PH-1 can’t unequivocally broach on those needs compared to other phones, even during a practiced price.

I entirely design a root/ROM village to collect a PH-1 adult and run with it, deliberation a cost and a palliate of unlocking a bootloader. If we wish good inexpensive hardware with a guarantee of homebrew longevity, a PH-1 could be a good bill choice to a OnePlus phone or a deputy for an aging Nexus.

Buy if:

  • Software, updates, and batch Android are your usually priorities.
  • You wish a good SoC for a good price.
  • It’s going to be your non-primary device.
  • You wish to buy a 360-degree camera appendage and get an fine phone out of a deal.

Don’t buy if:

  • You need a good camera.
  • The “overall experience” is something we value.
  • You’re on T-Mobile.

You can buy a Essential Phone during a retailers below:

  • Amazon – $339.99
  • Essential (w/ 360-degree camera, USB-C earphones, and protecting case) – $499
  • Best Buy – $449.99

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