Review: The Essential Phone & Essential 360 Camera

If you’ve heard of Google, you’ve likely heard of Andy Rubin. He was the guy behind the Android operating system. That worked out well for him. For his next trick, he’s making a phone that runs Android. And it’s called the Essential Phone which is being carried by Telus exclusively in Canada. Here’s what you get under the hood:

  • 5.71-inches, Quad-HD display, 2560 x 1312 resolution
  • 8MP Front camera
  • 13.1MP Dual rear camera
  • 128GB storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • Rear Fingerprint Sensor
  • Android 7.1
  • USB-C

First off, this phone feels solid. That’s due to a titanium frame and ceramic back. The flip side is that this phone is a fingerprint magnet. You’ll need to put it in a case if you want to keep it clean. Another point to make. this phone is neither dust proof or waterproof unlike the likes of the Apple iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8. Nor does it come out of the box with wireless charging. Oh yeah, the memory is non-expandable. Those could be fatal flaws for a smartphone these days. But strangely I can overlook all of that.

Now one thing that is different is the fact that it has a magnetic connector on the back with wireless data transfer. The first accessory that utilizes this is a 360 degree camera which I will get to in a bit. Then next that’s coming soon is a wireless dock that promises cordless charging to address the fact that it doesn’t have it at present.

Back to the phone. The star of the show is the Quad-HD screen which is in a word, stunning. Except for that cutout for the front facing camera that looks kind of weird. But seeing as the iPhone X has a similar cutout, is this a big deal? Likely not. I should note that Google apps like Maps work best with the cutout. However other apps from developers outside of Google are hit and miss. When it misses, there’s a black bar on the top of the screen. You are either going to love or hate that. In terms of the rest of the phone, it’s insanely minimalistic. Power and volume controls on the right. The SIM tray and USB-C connector are at the bottom which is where the only speaker is. In other words, there’s no stereo speakers. There’s also no headphone jack as well. But there’s a USB-C to 3.5″ adapter in the box if you wish to live the dongle life. If you don’t, there are many Bluetooth and the USB-C headphones for you listening pleasure. On the back is the fingerprint sensor. If that doesn’t minimalistic, I don’t know what does. Good thing the battery isn’t minimalistic as it will last almost two days of usage between charges.

The software is stock Android. And I do mean STOCK with the only non stock apps being the Camera app which is made by Essential and the Telus My Account app. That I love. So is the fact that the phone is quick and everything that I did to the phone couldn’t slow it down.

Speaking of the camera, I’ve got two cameras to cover off today. The stock camera is 13.1MP dual rear camera that’s capable of 4K video. To test this out, it required a trip to Pearson Airport in Toronto to get some shots of planes landing:

All these pictures were easy to take thanks to the simple yet effective camera app. There were no issues in quality. And in terms of video, here’s one shot on 4K:

Again, it was easy to get this video thanks to the easy use camera app. No issues here with the video.

Now onto the party trick that the Essential phone has which is the Essential 360 camera.

IMG_0901.jpg

It attaches magnetically and it uses the smartphone to capture 360-degree stills and 4K video using the camera app. While it’s on your Essential phone, you can’t use the built in camera. It features two 12MP sensors, a pair of fisheye lenses, each with a 210-degree field of view. Now to be honest, going into this review, I have to admit that this camera seemed like a party trick to me. But maybe there’s a use case for it given these results, starting with this 360 degree video which you can interact by clicking and dragging the video. For best results, I’d recommend using the Chrome browser:

It’s an interesting feature is easy to use and works well. But I have to admit that I am still undecided if this is a feature that will set the Essential Phone apart from its competition. And I don’t think that the Essential Phone will appeal to everyone the way an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy will. But I suspect that it will find a market for those who want a powerful yet minimalistic phone that comes with stock Android and a few tricks up its sleeve. Telus is offering up the phone for $1050 outright, or up to $0 on a 2 year term. The Essential 360 Camera goes for $270. Check it out if you want a different sort of Android phone.

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One Response to “Review: The Essential Phone & Essential 360 Camera”

  1. Okay, I have to admit – that 360 camera is pretty cool. I’m not sure that I would get enough use out of it to pay an extra $270 for it, but I’m sure a lot of people would.

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