The failed Essential Phone is an ugly testament to everything that’s wrong with Android

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The failed Essential Phone is an ugly testament to everything that’s wrong with Android

The failed Essential Phone is an ugly testament to everything that's wrong with Android


After a year of excessive hype, false starts, and empty promises, these may very well be the last words I will ever need to write about the Essential Phone. Quite frankly, I’ve already written too many.

Last May, Android founder Andy Rubin unveiled his post-Google company along with a beautifully rendered website and lots of assertive language. Among the marketing copy that peppered the page were promises to “change how successful technology companies are built forever,” testimonials about why the phone’s use of titanium and ceramic were superior to aluminim and glass, and an explanation of its use of “computational photography” to capture “dramatically better pictures for our users, no matter how much experience they have as photographers.”

essential phone backMichael Simon/IDG

There’s no denying how pretty Essential Phone is.

I didn’t believe a word of it then and once I got my hands on a review unit, my opinion didn’t change. Despite its good looks, Essential Phone was a mound of marketing fluff that hoodwinked impressionable buyers into paying too much for a phone that wasn’t just overpriced, it should never have been released.

And a year later, the company isn’t any closer to being reputable. Its phones have been reduced to bargain-level prices, basically screwing over anyone who foolishly bought one at the full $799 retail price. The only modular add-on for sale is the same terrible 360-degree camera that was available at launch. The companion Home speaker hasn’t progressed beyond a series of renders. And after promising speedy upgrades, it still took more than six months to deliver Android Oreo.

Even if Essential isn’t shutting down as Bloomberg reported last night, Android phone makers young and old can learn a lot from Rubin’s failed experiment: Just because someone can make a phone that looks nice doesn’t mean you can shove Android in it and charge a premium price.

The song remains the same

The Android community could stand to have a lot fewer phones for sale. Even if you take away the sea of budget phones running on less RAM than a Wear OS watch, the number of high-end and premium phones being is staggering. In just the past month, LG, HTC, OnePlus, Sony, and Samsung have all released new or updated phones all costing upwards of $800. And most of them are going to collect dust on shelves until the prices get slashed.

essential phone cameraMichael Simon/IDG

Essential Phone has a modular system with just a single attachment for sale.

Essential Phone marketed itself as something different, but in reality it was just more of the same. While it might look drop-dead gorgeous on the outside, it was riddled with compromises: Its ceramic back doesn’t support Qi charging and the promised wireless dock never came. Its OS was billed as near-stock Nougat, but beyond the minimal UI, it was slow and laggy until a recent software update fixed it (sort of). It’s not water resistant. It doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Yet, Rubin expected the Android faithful to rush out and buy it strictly on the basis of his name and its looks. Essential said it built its phone because “premium materials and true craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few,” yet it was priced as high as the Galaxy S8, a phone that actually delivered function beyond its form. Essential wanted to be the Apple of the Android world, but the father of Google’s mobile OS forgot one important element: the experience. 





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