The Essential Phone got a lot of hype last year for a few reasons. It was the first phone to hit the market with a screen notch, allowing for very narrow bezels. It was also backed by Andy Rubin, who founded Android and ran the division for several years after Google acquired it. The phone didn’t quite live up to everyone’s lofty expectations, though. One of the primary issues was the abysmal camera, and now Essential admits it screwed that up. It promises to do better next time, though.
On paper, the Essential Phone was competitive with the top smartphones of 2017. It had a Snapdragon 835, 128GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM. It also sported a distinctive titanium and ceramic chassis. Around back, the phone had a dual camera array consisting of two 13MP sensors with f/1.9 apertures. It supported phase detection and laser autofocus, too.
The device itself had some performance issues, and the screen notch was awkwardly handled in software early on. Those aspects of the Essential Phone have been addressed in updates somewhat, but the camera is still a problem. Essential has always maintained it used computational photography to merge the data from the cameras into a single image, resulting in better photos. Anyone who used an Essential Phone’s camera will tell you the results were less than impressive. Images were grainy and poorly exposed compared with other phones in its price range.
Essential has pushed out several camera-focused OTA updates, but even Essential has to admit it missed the mark at this point. Essential’s head of industrial design Linda Jiang said in an interview last week that Essential has been gathering feedback and intends to turn its camera tech around. “We can say, we heard you and we’re going to do it better on the second-gen for sure,” Jiang said.
Essential has already dropped the price of its first phone from $700 to $500 or less. It’s also practically giving away 360-degree camera attachments, which remains the only modular accessory for the Essential Phone. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that Essential didn’t paint itself into a corner with its modular accessory design a la Motorola. The add-ons attach magnetically to the top right of the back panel, gathering power from two small contacts. All Essential’s future phones and accessories will be compatible.
As for when that new phone with a better camera will arrive, no one knows. We got the first teaser of the Essential Phone around this time last year, but it didn’t launch until August. That’s probably about when you can expect the new Essential Phone to arrive.
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