The creator of Android returns with a modular phone

The Essential Phone uses magnetic pins on the back to connect accessories, which the company says helps future-proof the device.

June 06, 2017

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The Essential Phone uses magnetic pins on the back to connect accessories, which the company says helps future-proof the device.

The Essential Phone has a nearly bezel-less display and no visible logos.
(Source: Essential)

Andy Rubin wants to bring back the modular phone. At least his new venture appears to be trying to do this, in a way. Rubin created Android before it was acquired by Google, where he worked for several years. His new company is called Essential and its debut smartphone is simply called Phone. The Essential Phone runs on Android, but the company is really about open hardware and unifying disparate technologies.

On paper, the Essential Phone is a standard flagship smartphone in 2017. It runs on a Snapdragon 835 SoC, has a dual-lens (RGB and monochrome) 13MP rear camera, an 8MP front camera, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 5.7in QHD display. The phone even has a titanium body and ceramic back that makes it very durable, at least according to Essential. The design is very clean with no logos and a screen that stretches almost to the edge on three sides. The top of the phone carved out a place in the screen for the camera. This phone will set people back $699, but that’s pretty standard for a high-end smartphone these days.

The real trick of the Essential Phone, though, is the two magnetic pins on the back. This is what allows for the modular accessories that stick to the back, similar to the design implemented by the Moto Z. This doesn’t make the phone truly modular, but it’s in keeping with the ethos Rubin has brought to Essential, which includes allowing users to easily upgrade components on their phones.

The phone is launching with the world’s smallest 360-degree smartphone camera that easily snaps onto the back. The phone and camera bundle can be preordered for $749, but the camera alone will be priced at $200 after launch. There will also be a magnetic dock for wireless charging at launch. Other accessories using the back pins are expected to follow.

With Essential, Rubin is playing the long game to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Essential also announced a smart home hub that runs on a custom OS. Rubin wants to unify connected devices in a single open-source ecosystem, but the Essential Phone doesn’t have a lot that sets it apart from what is already on the market. That makes it a hard sell for an unknown company, but perhaps over time Rubin’s vision will triumph.



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