'The Essential Phone' Is Nice, But It Doesn't Fix What Is Actually Wrong With Phones
There is a new telephone. Designed by Andy Rubin, the creator of Android who left Google in 2014, the "Essential Phone" arrived with a splash and bills itself as the antidote to the modern phone. It has a clean design, with no logos or branding, and promises a stripped down software design—no undeletable "bloatware" apps you don't want.
It is beautiful, for sure, but for all its revolutionary talk, it doesn't begin to solve the problem that needs solving: that we have to keep buying these things over and over and over.
Briefly, here are the things that make the Essential Phone unique:
- A titanium case, which may or may not keep your phone from getting busted. After all, it's the screen that breaks.
- Metal "pogo pins" on its back, which allow you to snap on attachments like a special 360-degree camera (the only such attachment announced right now), or snap it into a dock.
- Its screen goes all the way to the top of the phone, wrapping around the front-facing camera, which looks swell!
- There is no brand or logo anywhere on it, which is frankly pretty fantastic.
- It will work in tandem with the "Essential Home," a smart speaker, voice assistant, smart-home hub device in the style of the Amazon Echo, Google Home, et al.
- It's made by the guy who made Android! Smart dude!
What is maybe more noteworthy is the ways it is like other phones out there: It's a $700 rectangular screen with a camera that (probably) runs vanilla Android. In fact, it's quite an awful lot like Google's Pixel, though prettier and without the headphone jack. The things that make it "special" are unproven at best, meaningless at worst.
Phones are very expensive gadgets that are almost worthless in just two years.
But it's not like phones have reached perfection and there is no room left to improve. There are actually two huge, intertwined problems that plague virtual every device. Their batteries only last a single day at best, and they are very expensive gadgets that are almost worthless in just two years, three max.
Replaceable batteries help solve the issue of battery life, but that feature fell out of style ostensibly because it hampers a razor-thin design. There's a more insidious explanation though, one that cuts to the core of what's really wrong with phones today: if you can easily replace the battery, why buy a whole new phone when the battery goes bad?
In the early days of smartphones, the processing power that phones could provide and that apps demanded increased in leaps and bounds, making the choice to upgrade for better performance a no-brainer if you could afford it. But now as processing power (and the need for it) has mostly plateaued, there's a different apple hanging from the end of the upgrade stick: often a new battery, but also an unshattered screen, or unbroken hardware buttons—a phone that isn't so much "better as it is just "not busted."
These are problems that a truly revolutionary phone could endeavor to fix in any number of ways. Google's truly modular phone failed, but perhaps there's a more reasonable middle ground. How about a phone with replacement parts you can order from the maker and install with basic skills and tools? Or a phone that actually comes with its own repair kit? Or a phone with a free battery replacement after two years? In short, a phone that's not just new, but a phone that stays new for years and years. Yes, it flies in the face of market pressure to Sell More Phones but I'd pay a premium to not have to worry about buying a damn phone again.
Some phones like this do exist. Warrantee offerings and free-repair promotions hint at a possible future. But no phone has followed through on this aim full-throatedly, or with beauty and flourish the way a big name like Andy Rubin (and the commensurate investment that name commands) could follow through. It's too bad the Essential Phone is essentially just more of the same.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.