If you have more than a passing interest in the Android space, you’re probably familiar with Google’s Pixel series. It’s only been in existence for one generation, but Google made a pretty big song and dance about it when it launched in late 2016 and it was the successor model to the firm’s long-standing and well-established Nexus range, replacing that range with a new brand. The intent of the Pixel range was to be more consumer-facing and less developer focused (as the Nexus had been), essentially Google’s shot at the iPhone. Whether that has worked is debatable, however, but again, it’s sort of early days for the Pixel and Pixel XL as only one iteration has been released to date.
That’s soon going to change though, with the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 just around the corner. The duo are expected to launch in early October with a whole heap of new tech and features onboard. The Pixel 2 series, however, has more competition than ever laying in wait for it – a brand new iPhone X on top of the iPhone 8 series, the new Nokia 8, the LG V30, OnePlus 5, and of course Samsung’s Galaxy S8 series and recently launched Galaxy Note 8.
But there’s another fresh-faced contender on the scene as well; the Essential Phone.
The Essential Phone, or rather the Essential PH-1 as it is officially called, is the brainchild of Andy Rubin, who was one of the co-creators of Android back in the day and is considered by many to be the true “father” of the platform even though Google now firmly holds the reins of its global success.
After helping launch Android and making millions in the process, Rubin left to pursue his own projects, eventually creating Essential. The PH-1 is the first mobile phone from the company.
The Essential PH-1 is based on Android just like Google’s own Pixel and Pixel XL.
The Essential Phone has begun shipping to pre-order customers, with the company confirming the fact in a Tweet. Essential began taking pre-orders just over a week ago and customers received notifications via email that their devices would be shipping within a week of those initial orders. The Tweet confirms Essential is following up on those plans.
“We’re beginning to ship Essential Phone! Please look out for an email today with tracking info. We appreciate everyone’s patience!”
I’m a big fan of the Pixel line of phones. I’ve used them for almost 12 months now and, while they’re not perfect, not by a long shot, they are very solid Android phones that perform in all the right areas – battery life, software, imaging and overall processing grunt.
They are duller than a sack of porridge, however, and this, in my opinion, is one area where Google has to really pull its finger out in 2017. The handsets don’t really have anything about them that stands out. This is one area where the Essential Phone excels; it looks amazing in the flesh – even more so when you place it next to the Pixel.
The Pixel 2 handsets will likely be the first to run Android Oreo as well, and with the update now official, a launch for the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 cannot be too far away – they could drop at any moment.
Up until about a week ago, I was convinced I’d be using the Pixel 2 throughout the remainder of 2017 and 2018. But then I saw the Essential Phone PH-1 and, well… I was kinda swayed by its good looks, styling, and pure approach to software.
New Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 phones are going to launch in Q4 2017, most likely October 5, but until they do the nearest competitors for the Essential PH-1 are the existing Pixel devices, the first-gen Pixel phones which launched around the same time in 2016.
Google has now begun rolling out Android Oreo to Pixel phones in the UK. I know this because my Pixel XL received the update this morning, adding in a bunch of new features and software-design tweaks.
Verizon pushed the update out last week, and in doing so, managed to beat Google, which is very impressive given the networks sketchy past history with updates.
If you’re rocking an unlocked Google Pixel in the UK, Android Oreo should be with you very shortly.
Android 8.0, aka Android Oreo, is now rolling out to Google Pixel and Pixel XL handsets across the world. We’ve seen the software already rolling out to Verizon-based Pixel phones in the US, but now it’s going global. It’s also landing on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. The update should be landing over-the-air, although you may have to go into your updates panel in the Settings menu and give it a little nudge. Google has also uploaded the factory image files and OTA files for those who want to manually update.
So how does Rubin’s challenger compare to the Google-backed Pixel and Pixel XL? Let’s take a look at the specs…
Essential PH-1 Specs
- Dimensions: 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8mm [Titanium Body]
- Weight: 185g
- Display: 5.71in IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen 1312 x 2560 pixels (504 ppi)
- Processor: MSM8998 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Octa-core (4×2.45 GHz Kryo & 4×1.9 GHz Kryo)
- GPU: Adreno 540
- RAM: 4GB
- Software: Android 7.1 Nougat
- Connectivity: 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Type-C USB, NFC, GPS, Fingerprint scanner,
- Storage: 128GB
- MicroSD: No
- Primary Camera: Dual-13MP, f/1.9 aperture, phase detection & laser autofocus, LED flash, Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, panoramic capture 2160p video @30fps, 1080p video @60fps, 720p video @120fps
- Secondary Camera: 8 MP, f/2.2 aperture, 2160p video @30fps, 1080pvideo @60fps, 720p video @120fps
- Battery: 3040mAh
Google Pixel/Pixel XL Specs
- Dimensions: 143.8 x 69.5 x 8.6mm/154.7 x 75.7 x 8.5mm
- Weight: 143g/168g
- Display: 5in AMOLED capacitive touchscreen 1920 x 1080 pixels (441ppi)/5.5in AMOLED capacitive touchscreen 1440 x 2560 pixels (534ppi)
- Processor: MSM8996 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core CPU “Kryo” 2.1GHz
- GPU: Adreno 530 GPU
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 32GB or 128GB
- MicroSD: No
- Rear Camera: 12MP, f/2.0 aperture, phase detection & laser autofocus, two-tone dual-LED flash, 1/2.3″ sensor size, 1.55µm pixel size, HDR, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panoramic capture, video at 2160p; 1080p; 720p
- Front Camera: 8MP, f/2.4 aperture, 1/3.2″ sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size, video at 1080p
- Software: Android 7.1 Nougat
- Battery: 2770mAh Quick Charge/3450mAh Quick Charge
- Colours: Silver, Black, Blue (select regions; NOT UK)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.2 (LE), GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS, NFC, USB Type-C 3.0
- Other Harware: Fingerprint scanner, IP53 splash resistant
Essential Phone vs Google Pixel – Design
One area where the Essential Phone completely wipes the floor with Google’s Pixel XL is design. The Essential Phone is a stunning looking handset and is easily one of the best looking phones on the planet right now with its unique styling and quirky design elements.
The Google Pixel XL, in contrast, could not be more dull. I actually own this phone, and while I do love it, the design of the phone itself is about as exciting as Toyota Corolla. For me, this is the one aspect of the phone Google really missed a trick on.
Things will almost certainly change in this regard with the release of the Google Pixel 2, but for now the Essential Phone is a vastly superior phone in terms of looks, feel, and overall design. To be honest, I can even see Apple’s iPhone Edition topping what Andy Rubin’s designers have created.
I know, I know – design isn’t a big deal. But when you’re spending large sums of money on a phone, you do want it to look and feel engaging and modern. Not like something from 2012. With such a drab design, Google has left plenty of room for improvement, however, which will make the Pixel 2, once it arrives, a lot more attractive to punters – especially those that love and use the current model.
Essential Phone vs Google Pixel – Hardware
As you can see from the spec sheet, the Pixel and Pixel XL, having launched in late 2016, are both a bit long in the tooth when it comes to the processor; they’re running last year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC. Still a highly capable chipset, certainly, but Snapdragon 835-based devices have been landing since April 2017 and have been outpacing the older chip by a considerable margin. Of course, Google’s Pixel is due for a refresh in the closing months of 2017 when it’s expected a Pixel 2 will appear with an S835 onboard, but in the meantime it’s fair to say the Essential Phone’s more up-to-date processor will run rings around the Pixel, particularly as it too is running an unmolested build of Android.
On the memory side of things, they are quite evenly matched, both having 4GB RAM and the Pixel having a 128GB storage option to match the Essential PH-1’s only storage flavor. Neither phone has microSD support, but both are loaded with all the connectivity types you’d expect of a high-end Android phone, including Bluetooth, NFC, Type-C USB, 4G, and Wi-Fi, as well as a fingerprint scanner.
For battery power the Pixel XL dominates with its 3,450mAh cell while the regular Pixel is rated lower at 2,770mAh; the Essential Phone slots neatly between these two with a respectable 3,040mAh. We know from experience the Pixel XL is an absolute beast in terms of battery life, but there’s good reason to expect similar performance from the Essential PH-1 given its use of streamlined Android and a more efficient SoC, amongst other details.
Essential Phone vs Google Pixel – Camera Tech
The camera on the Google Pixel (and the Pixel XL) is one of the best in the business right now, being right up there with the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8’s. Google drilled down hard on the imaging capabilities of the Pixel, claiming it has the best camera on the planet at launch, and the results of this investment are palpable the moment you snap a shot with the Pixel.
Imaging is a huge selling point for phones in 2017, one of the biggest, in fact, so getting the camera right is a huge thing for phone makers. Sony’s excellent new sensors have made this slightly easier in 2017, but there is still a lot of software-related aspects that need to be on point for a camera to be truly competitive.
Google nailed pretty much all aspects of the Pixel’s camera, after some initial bugs, and the net result of this is that the Pixel is one of – if not the – best camera phones on the planet.
So how does the Essential Phone compare? According to a slew of initial reviews, the camera performance was not all that – results were not quite as good as the Pixel or iPhone, seemingly. This issue has been addressed by a software patch, apparently, though we will be reserving judgment on the camera until we’ve had a good ol’ play around with it.
The other USP the Essential Phone has is modules, whereby you can attach a 360º camera to the handset for capturing 360º video footage. Again, we haven’t had a chance to test this aspect of the phone, but initial reports of the tech seem pretty positive.
And the reason for the 360º camera module? Here’s what Essential said on its blog:
“The 360 camera captures the entire world around the user, which fundamentally changes how we take a picture. You don’t have to aim your camera because you capture everything in your world. I think that’s a major difference.”
It added: “But the industry today has two major issues: 1) the cameras are bulky and expensive, especially if you want a good one; and 2) the user experience and workflow for taking a picture and uploading it to your social network is cumbersome.”