Smartphones: Meet the ‘Essential Phone’
“The father of Android has a new baby,” said Roger Cheng and Richard Nieva in CNET.com. Andy Rubin, the pioneering technologist who created the Android operating system that now runs on 2 billion devices, is out to reinvent the smartphone category yet again—with a new handset dubbed the Essential Phone. At first glance, the $699 device “looks like a typical premium phone.” What makes it “essential” is that it runs a pure version of Android, without the unnecessary apps and other “bloatware” that manufacturers and wireless carriers have crammed in over the years. Nor is it slathered with logos and other branding. Rubin, who sold Android to Google in 2005, also “promises a phone that evolves with you.” The Essential Phone can be upgraded with accessories that magnetically snap on to the back of the device. The first accessory, which will ship with the phone when it goes on sale this summer, is 360-degree camera, with more on the way.
Anything Andy Rubin does is going to get buzz, said Jake Swearingen in NYMag.com. “But if you’re saving up for a Samsung S8, or waiting for the launch of the Pixel 2 or iPhone 8, is this a phone worth getting worked up about?” The hardware is undeniably top-notch. It’s built out of titanium and ceramic, “notably tough materials that are a first on the smartphone market,” and has a handsome edge-to-edge display.
The snap-on accessories are also meant to ensure that your phone never goes obsolete, meaning you should theoretically get cool new features for your phone without having to buy a whole new handset. Rubin also says he is committed to making the Essential Phone work seamlessly across different technology ecosystems, meaning you’ll be able to use it with your Amazon or Apple software and devices. How much the Essential Phone can deliver on this promise, however, “is an open question.”
“It really is a nice phone, but ‘nice’ isn’t blowing any minds,” said Stan Horaczek in Popular Science. If another smartphone maker had put out a device with similar specs, “no one would have paid much attention.” That said, Rubin has a more interesting project that so far is getting less attention. The Essential Home, announced alongside the Essential Phone, is a smart-home hub that’s supposed to make all of your internet-connected gadgets work together. Slated to come later this year, that device would be a very big deal. In the meantime, the Essential Phone has a big hill to climb, said Dan Gallagher in The Wall Street Journal. Apple and Samsung accounted for 56 percent of smartphones sold last year in the U.S., with most of their competition coming from cheaper, low-end devices. Rubin may be a legend, but “cracking the smartphone market, in other words, is hardly a one-man job.”