Earlier this year I reviewed the Essential Phone, the first product to come from Andy Rubin’s startup of the same name. At the time, it was a $700 device trying to compete directly with the rest of Android’s flagships in one of the most memorable years in quite some time. There were a lot of great phones in 2017, and the Essential Phone simply fell through the cracks.

The best gifts for Android users

A few months later, however, a lot has changed. The Essential Phone has a new coat of paint, a new build of software, and most importantly, a way lower price point. Is it worth it now? Let’s take a closer look.

HARDWARE |

Still the best

When it comes to hardware, nothing has changed since my initial thoughts back in September. This is still the best hardware you can buy on the smartphone market today. The ceramic and titanium build is simply fantastic, and the new color only makes it better. I was able to switch to the white version a while back, and it eliminates the one problem I did have — fingerprints.

Long story short, I still think the hardware here is nearly perfect, and it’s very worthy of the price point both now, and back when it was expensive.

SOFTWARE |

Progressing nicely, but still with sore spots

Now, let’s talk about what’s actually changed, and that starts with the software. Since the PH-1’s launch, 3 betas for Android Oreo have gone out, and they’re quickly progressing to a final rollout. Admittedly, there are still some problems the company is going to have to work through, the biggest being touch latency and random lag spikes, but overall, I’m pretty happy using the Essential Phone.

Oreo means a lot to me on a phone in 2018, as the subtle changes Google made and the new features like picture-in-picture just complete the Android experience. On the Essential Phone, these features work really well, and Oreo runs well on this hardware. As I mentioned, the company still has some work to do when it comes to stability, but it’s getting better.

It finally has features!

As for new features, Essential has also made up a bit of ground. One thing I specifically called out in my review was fingerprint gestures — one of my favorite features from the Google Pixel and Huawei devices. In a recent software update, that was added. Other requested features such as Portrait mode have also since been added, and there’s a lot more on the way according to Essential’s last AMA.

CAMERA |

It’s actually pretty decent now…

The biggest problem everyone had with the Essential Phone at launch was its dual-camera. While the camera hardware was good, the software turned the shots it produced into digital dumpster fires. It was terrible, but it’s gotten much better. Part of that is thanks to Essential’s own work improving the camera app, but most of it is thanks to third-party developers.

… If you use Google’s camera app

A port of the Google Camera app from the Pixel dramatically improves the results when shooting with the Essential Phone. It’s still not perfect, or great to be honest, but it’s far more acceptable than it was.

THE PRICE CUT |

A worthy phone for $499, but with stiff competition

Looking past all the improvements, though, it all comes down to price. If the Essential Phone still commanded the $699 price tag it had at launch, I’d still have a lot of trouble recommending it to anyone without money to burn. However, that’s not the case. Essential gave the PH-1 a massive price cut to $499.

At that price, it’s honestly one of the better buys. You’re getting great specs, a decent camera, current software, and the best hardware on a phone today. The only competitor here is the OnePlus 5T which, admittedly, is about equal when it comes to value for the money. It’s going to come down to a matter of personal preference here, but also circumstance. The 5T is excellent, but it only works on GSM carriers, where the Essential Phone works everywhere.

FINAL THOUGHTS |

At the end of the day, if I were looking to buy an Android phone for $499, the Essential Phone would probably top my list. It’s not perfect, far from it in fact, but it’s an excellent device finally sold for the right price.

That said, though, I’m extremely interested to see what Essential has in store for 2018. Hopefully, we’ll see a phone with similar hardware to this, just with more of the kinks worked out and the right price point out of the box.


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