Essential Phone

In which I buy a new phone

A couple of weeks ago my Nexus 5X died. It randomly shut down and then entered the dreaded “boot loop”. After a number of hours trying to resurrect it, I discovered I could not do so because it was “OEM locked”, a setting one can only change while the phone is on. The phone was 2 years old. While I was on the hunt for a new phone anyway, I was not pleased with this outcome.

I had a number of phones on my potential list, all Android phones. The Nexus was my first Android phone but I found the experience superior to iOS in a few important ways (a blog post I never wrote) and that fact combined with the Apple brand tax attached to iPhones kept me looking in the Android market. (I recently tried to escape from Apple laptops as well, without success. Maybe next time.)

I had my eye on first and second generation Pixel phones. These are also over-priced (IMHO), and in the case of the first generation were over a year old at this point. So those were at the bottom of the list.

I looked at the new Nokia phones. Nokia has obviously had a rough decade, but have some interesting new Android phones on the market that you can buy unlocked on Amazon. Nothing so compelling that I bought one, however.

The OnePlus 5T had just come out, and I quite liked that one, and in fact might have bought one had my phone not been dead. Shipping for a new OnePlus meant not having a phone for about three weeks, which was not going to work. The only spare phone in the house was a cracked iPhone 5.

That left me with two of my original options: an LG G6 and the Essential phone, both of which had recently dropped in price.

The Nexus was an LG phone and the boot loop issue was (according to the internet) something common to the manufacturer, not just the phone. So the pain of losing my phone was just too fresh for me to go with LG again.

That left the Essential Phone, which I could drive to Best Buy and pick up for $500, and solve my phone problem.

Now that I’ve finally arrived at getting the new phone, here is what I think about it, in case anyone finds this and is thinking about getting a new Android phone from a new company.

The price is (now) nice

When the Essential first came out, it was tempting but at $750 commonly understood to be a little overpriced. But at $500 it is a pretty darn good deal.

Build quality

Build quality is excellent and probably the number one reason to like the phone. The ceramic back (while very pretty) is very slippery, however, so I got a case, and cases for this phone are hard to come by. I currently have a case that I don’t particularly like and bought another one that doesn’t arrive for a couple of more weeks (probably delivered by donkey from some factory in central China). I had a really bad experience with skinning my laptop with a dbrand skin, so that’s pretty much out of the question.

Bezels and screen

The bezels are very thin. The screen is nice enough. It is bright enough. It’s pleasant to look at the front of this phone.

Pretty much stock Android

The Android experience is very close to stock Android. Coming from the Nexus, this was one of the main factors that led me to the Essential phone. This is probably tied for the number one reason to like this phone.

My Nexus was running Oreo and this phone is only running Nougat, but hopefully will get an upgrade soon.

The infamous camera

The camera got a lot of hate from reviewers, but recently the word on the street was to just install a different camera app. My Nexus camera was crap to begin with, and I’d used the excellent Manual Camera app for almost the entire time I’d had that phone, so this wasn’t really an issue for me. I still use Manual Camera. I don’t take a lot of pictures, but at first blush, the camera is noticeably better than my last phone (which I would expect). When I do open up the f-stop in Manual Camera, the camera itself responds well. I assume this has to do with the dual-camera setup (one is a color sensor, and the other is monochrome).

Speed

This phone is peppy. I hope the lack of cruft keeps it that way.

The biggest downside so far

Believe it or not, it is the lack of a headphone jack. I already lost the USB-C headphone adapter (and have bought a replacement, from Google of all places). I have one pair of bluetooth headphones. My earbuds aren’t bluetooth. My car is cheap and doesn’t play music over bluetooth. I’ll remedy the latter two soon, but in the meantime it is super annoying.

Overall

I’m pretty happy with this phone. On one hand, it’s sad that my last phone only lasted two years, on the other hand, the experience on this phone is a significant upgrade that I appreciate. At half the price of an iPhone X, a comparable build quality and an experience I prefer, I feel very satisfied with the deal I got. I hope Essential stays in business.