Essential Phone Review – The Phone for Those Who Like Freedom

The Essential phone is the one to buy if you value flexibility and freedom from carrier installed and manufacturer installed bloatware. My favorite phone since my custom Motorola Pure Droid shattered on my bathroom floor 18 months ago. It’s a fantastic phone that rivals the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy s9, and Pixel 2 at a price that is hundreds of dollars less. Only complaint, the camera leaves a bit to be desired.

What is an Essential phone?
The Essential phone is an Android phone. Essential is the brainchild of the Andy Rubin. Rubin was one of the original developers of the Android operating system and lead its early development after Google acquired it. He started Essential to offer an Android phone that was completely free of the pre-installed and impossible to remove bloatware that most cell phone manufacturers and service providers install on your phones today. In other words, an Essential phone only has the apps that you choose to install. Motorola did this briefly with the original Moto X Pure Droid but has since reverted to forcing apps on you.

Essential uses the line “it’s your phone” on their website. That’s reflected not only in offering an unlocked operating system it’s also found in the exterior of the phone. If I handed you my phone right now, you would have no idea who manufactured it because there is absolutely zero branding on the phone.

Form and Function

The Essential phone sports a screen size of 5.71.” The screen covers the entire face of the phone much like the Samsung Galaxy s9 but without the curved edges. This means that you get a slightly more usable screen size than on an iPhone 7+ and just a .29″ less than a Pixel 2 XL but without the bulk of a larger frame. For me that means I can stick my Essential phone in the back pocket of my cycling jersey without any worry of it bouncing out. That’s something I haven’t been able to do since I had a Samsung Galaxy S4.

From an everyday use standpoint, the size of the Essential phone lets me reach all icons with one hand while still getting the benefit of a screen the size of the “plus” iPhone, Galaxy, and Pixel models. For someone who wants a large screen without the bulk of a large phone, Essential is the way to go.

The essential phone is made of titanium. Initially they advertised that you don’t need a case for it, but that wording doesn’t appear on their site today. That said, CNET did a test of Essential’s earlier claims and the phone held up well, but you’ll still want a case. I haven’t the nerve or budget to do an intentional drop test myself. I accidentally did a drop test while getting out of my truck last week and it survived without a scratch. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to the phone or to the Incipio case that I have it in. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Incipio cases. They have always given me the durability of an Otter Box case without the bulk of an Otter Box. This is the Incipio case that I have on my Essential phone. It’s not the slimmest case you’ll find, but it’s not Otter Box bulky either.

Faster updates!
You get updates faster on the Essential phone than any other phone except the Pixel 2 marketed by Google. Essential uses the latest Android build (currently Android version 8.1) and updates whenever Google pushes an Android update. Because Essential doesn’t install any bloatware (those annoying apps that you can’t uninstall on other phones) the phone runs smoothly and quickly. The only pop-up or push notifications you’ll ever receive are the ones that you enable from the apps that you install.

Storage! Storage! Storage!
The Essential phone comes with only one option for storage and that is 128GB. You get that storage for far less than the cost of 128GB models of other premium phones. With 128GB of built-in storage you may not ever worry about not being able to install or update an app because you’ve run out of storage space. With all that storage you also have plenty of space for videos and pictures of your cute children, your pets, or summer sunsets viewed from a patio with a cold drink in your hand. Of course, just as with any phone, you should still back up your photos on Google Photos or another cloud service.

USB C and no earbud jack.
Most premium phone manufacturers are going in this direction and Essential is no exception to that trend. The Essential phone doesn’t have an earbud jack. You can either use wireless earbuds or use the included USB C to earbud port connector to connect your wired earbuds.

The camera
This is my only area of complaint about the Essential phone. I read lots of complaints about the camera on the Essential phone before I purchased mine. My thinking was that I don’t use a phone just for its camera so I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of camera quality to get all the other benefits of the phone including cost, storage, and freedom (as my attorney friend says, “what’s your freedom worth?”) After a month of using the Essential phone I will confirm that it does struggle to adjust quickly to low light conditions and to extremely bright conditions. That said, if you’re patient and manually adjust the camera you can take good pictures with the Essential phone. And it does capture 4K video.

Cost and set-up.
You can buy the Essential phone directly on the company’s or on Amazon. The current price is $499 but I’ve often seen it for $479 on Amazon.

You can’t buy it through Verizon or AT&T and doing so would defeat the purpose of buying an unlocked phone anyway. You can buy it through Sprint but, again, doing that defeats the purpose of buying an unlocked phone.

When the phone arrives at your doorstep open the box and you’ll find the phone, charger, and USB C to earbud connector. Power on the phone and follow the prompts to install the SIM card. Depending upon your cell service provider you may be able to activate the phone without having to talk to a human at all. I use Verizon so I had to call Verizon to activate the phone which took about three minutes once I navigated through the maze of Verizon’s automated system to reach a live tech support agent.

Bottom Line
I’m very happy with my purchase of the Essential phone. In the last 18 months I’ve had extended hands-on experience with a Samsung Galaxy s8, iPhone 7+, Pixel 2, and Motorola Z. For my money, the Essential phone is the best choice. In fact, it’s my favorite phone since my custom Motorola X Pure Droid shattered on my bathroom floor.