With it’s titanium edges, ceramic back, and nearly borderless display, Essential’s new Phone is certainly a looker.
But what I’m interested to know is whether it will work as good as it looks.
Unfortunately, that’s hard to say right now.
Unveiled earlier this week by a startup founded by Andy Rubin, who’s considered to be the father of Android, the Phone boasts an ultra-premium design that stands out even compared to Apple’s iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8.
That’s all well and good, but there are lots of nice looking Android phones, even if they don’t quite match up to Essential’s. What truly could set the new gadget apart is how it works and how we’ll be using it. Unfortunately that’s hard to know, because Essential has released very little information on the Phone’s operating system and software features.
But there’s reason to hope it will offer a stellar experience. The device is the first phone designed by Rubin. Today, the operating system he created is used by two billion people worldwide, and he surely has some interesting ideas about how a phone should ideally work.
What we know
Although Essential hasn’t revealed a lot about the Phone’s software, we do know a few things. Its operating system will be “stock” Android, Rubin said during in an interview with ReCode’s Walt Mossberg. Rubin also promised that Essential will allow its phone to be updated to the latest versions of Android in a timely manner.
That would address a longstanding problem seen on other Android smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, only recently was able to be updated to the latest version of Android, even though that update has been out for about nine months.
Rubin also said the Phone will include some sort of smart assistant similar to Apple’s Siri or the Google Assistant, but he declined to demonstrate it.
What we don’t know
That leaves a lot of unknowns about how the Phone will work.
To start with, we don’t know which version of Android it will run. Considering that the device will start shipping later in June, it’s likely to include Android 7.1, which is the latest version that’s currently available, rather than the upcoming Android O.
Even though Rubin said the Phone will run “stock” Android, it’s likely Essential has customized the software in various ways. We don’t know how yet, but it almost certainly modified the Phone’s software to support its unique features and accessories, including its magnetic rear-mounted connection ports and its snap-on 360-degree camera.
Another thing that’s not yet clear: how, exactly, Essential will fix the Android update issue. So far, only Google’s own phones, such as its Pixel line, can receive timely Android updates directly from Google. If the Phone will receive updates at the same time Google’s phones do, that’s a great thing. It would make the device more secure and allow owners to get access to all the latest Android features sooner than they would with rival devices.
Many phone makers include their own apps or those of partners with their devices, and the operating system itself typically includes both stock Android apps and similar ones from Google. It’s doubtful that Essential’s device will include much of this kind of “bloatware.” But it will be interesting to see which apps or features Essential does include and which it will remove from the Phone’s version of Android. Those choices will give us some insight into Rubin’s thinking about the essential smartphone experience.
We also don’t know much about Essential’s smartphone assistant and what it’ll be capable of. Another thing to look for: whether the Phone will use Google’s Pixel Launcher, which is a layer of software that runs on top of the operating system.
So, while the Essential Phone’s design certainly has my attention, I’m itching to learn more about how it will work. Even with a smartphone, what’s on the inside — in this case, its smartphone and operating system — is more important than how it looks.