Android co-founder Andy Rubin has is trying to get back into smartphones with his startup, known as Essential. The company made waves with the announcement of its nearly bezel-free smartphone earlier this year, but a new report suggests this experiment may be a flop. According to third-party data, Essential may have only sold 5,000 Essential Phones since launch.
This report comes from BayStreet Research, which tracks smartphone shipments across the US. The firm doesn’t have access to Essential’s sales data, and the company has yet to make any statements regarding its sales. Essential is still a young company funded by venture capital, so it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t move millions of phones at first. Just 5,000 phones would signal some kind of issue, though.
The Essential Phone turned heads thanks to the LCD panel that goes all the way to the edge of the phone on three sides — there’s a little bezel at the bottom. In the top center of the display is a cutout for the front-facing camera. This design quirk leads to some unusual changes in the Android software. The space on either side of the cutout basically becomes a giant status bar.
Essential came out of the gate like it had something to prove. Aside from the distinctive screen, the Essential design team is doing things no one else is doing. The frame of this phone is forged from a single piece of titanium, whereas most phones use aluminum as the base material. Titanium is a little heavier, but it’s also vastly more durable. Instead of glass on the rear panel — what you get on the iPhone X and Galaxy S8 — the Essential Phone has scratch-resistant ceramic. It also packs all the best current-gen hardware like a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Reviews have been mediocre, with strong praise for the build quality and derision for the poor camera photo quality.
If Essential is experiencing low sales, it’s at least partially a problem of availability. Sprint is the only carrier that offers the Essential Phone in stores, and buying it from the Essential website means paying the full $700 price up front. That’s not an attractive option when you can have a Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8 for just a few bucks a month tacked onto your bill.
Even if this phone doesn’t take off, it shows Essential can do impressive things with hardware. It’s got enough venture capital to take at least one more swing at building a smartphone everyone will want. We’ve reached out to Essential to see if it has any response to the report and will update if we hear back.
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