Essential Phone price already reduced by $200 →

Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch:

Essential has an offer that’s honestly very hard to refuse: The price of the Essential Phone (PH-1, going by technical model number), is now $200 cheaper, so $499 off-contract and unlocked.


Lest Essential’s earliest customers feel slighted, it has a deal for early buyers, too – they’ll receive a $200 ‘friends and family’ credit they can use to further discount (valid through December 15, 2017) a device for a loved one (or another for themselves, if they maybe also want the just-released white Essential Phone, for instance), or to buy the 360-camera attachment. Customers will be able to sign up to redeem the $200 credit on the Essential page, using their phone’s IMEI and serial numbers, along with the email address they used to purchase.

$499 (or even $599) should have been its price to begin with. Essential doesn’t have the clout to expect a large number of purchases on a $699 device, but hey, good on them for trying. As Darrell says in the article, $499 makes Essential Phone a hell of a deal if you’re in the market for a barebones Android device. 1

  1. Make sure you’re OK with the somewhat lacking camera quality as well. ↩︎

Essential accidentally shares sensitive customer data →

Dieter Bohn for The Verge:

Last night, some customers who had preordered an Essential phone received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license, ostensibly to verify their address in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Dozens of customers replied with their personal information, but those emails didn’t just go to Essential; they went out to everybody who had received the original email. That means that an unknown number of Essential customers are now in possession of each other’s drivers license, birth date, and address information.

The incident is being reported as phishing by many outlets, because it looks and smells quite a lot like a phishing attempt: a weird request for personal information. After examining the email headers, it doesn’t look like this was an actual phishing attempt. It seems much more likely that this was a colossal screw up, the result of a misconfigured customer support email list.

Just wow. Definitely not the headline you want surrounding your first product release.

In a post regarding Andy Rubin’s vision, I said the following in reference to user data. With today’s mistake, Essential has absolutely lost some credibility. And this is the company that wants to run our homes?

While many may trust Andy Rubin, Essential has to walk the walk. They have to measurably demonstrate their accountability and be transparent with user data.


Andy Rubin has now penned a formal apology on the Essential Blog, saying:

Yesterday, we made an error in our customer care function that resulted in personal information from approximately 70 customers being shared with a small group of other customers. We have disabled the misconfigured account and have taken steps internally to add safeguards against this happening again in the future. We sincerely apologize for our error and will be offering the impacted customers one year of LifeLock. We will also continue to invest more in our infrastructure and customer care, which will only be more important as we grow.

Being a founder in an intensely competitive business means you occasionally have to eat crow. It’s humiliating, it doesn’t taste good, and often, it’s a humbling experience. As Essential’s founder and CEO, I’m personally responsible for this error and will try my best to not repeat it.

Good on him to take ownership for the blunder and provide LifeLock to the affected individuals. Also glad to hear the impact was minimal. Hopefully Essential learns a big lesson from this.

Essential Phone Review Roundup

After a three-month delay, Essential Phone has landed in the hands of reviewers across the internet. For the most part, the phone is well-received — the camera being an outlier. What was that about Android phones and cameras, again? Anyway, congratulations for Andy Rubin and Essential are definitely in order. That screen is a stunner. Coupled with its adoption of ceramic and titanium, Essential Phone looks like a great first generation smartphone. Will be interesting to see how well it sells.

Notable Reviews

David Pierce for Wired:

The only downside of this gloriously full screen lies in the software. More often than not, Android slaps a black border at the top of the phone above whatever app you’re using, which kind of kills the effect. In a few places, content can flow all the way up, giving you more maps or an even wider-angle Netflix, but you’d often never know you didn’t have a bezel. As more phones get smaller bezels, this will change, but the full effect of the full screen hasn’t quite arrived.


Essential’s camera specs meet your expectations for a high-end phone, but the photos don’t. The two 13-megapixel cameras on the back—one in color and one in monochrome, used mostly to bring additional clarity and depth data in your photos—occasionally take beautiful, rich photos. They also, for no apparent reason, occasionally capture well-lit, noisy, poorly focused shots. I like the slightly saturated look of the photos; I don’t like that they collapse into pixelated blobs as soon as I zoom in. At least the 8-megapixel selfies come out better

Dieter Bohn for The Verge

Essential says the titanium makes the phone more rigid and less susceptible to cracking when you drop it. And the ceramic is meant to be very scratch-resistant and allows certain radio signals through. I can’t say that I did a bunch of drop and key-scratch tests to verify those claims, because I did not.

Other Reviews

Inside Andy Rubin’s Quest to Create an OS for Everything →

David Pierce from Wired met with Andy Rubin to discuss Essential’s plan to unite the smart home market. There’s a lot of great stuff in the article, but here’s a few notable quotes.

Rubin doesn’t employ human security guards. He doesn’t think he needs them. The 54-year-old tech visionary (who, among other things, coinvented Android) is pretty sure he has the world’s smartest house. The homebrew security net is only the beginning: There’s also a heating and ventilating system that takes excess heat from various rooms and automatically routes it into cooler areas. He has a wireless music system, a Crestron custom-­install home automation system, and an automatic cleaner for his pool.

Getting the whole place up and running took Rubin a decade. And don’t even ask him what it cost. There’s an entire room full of things he bought, tried, and shelved, but the part that really drove him crazy was that it didn’t seem like automating his home ought to be this hard. Take the license-plate camera, for instance: Computer-vision software that can read a tag is readily available. Outdoor cameras are cheap and easy to find, as are infrared illuminators that let those cameras see in the dark. Self-opening gates are everywhere. All the pieces were available, but “they were all by different companies,” Rubin says. “And there was no UI. It’s not turnkey.”

This is indeed the problem with the consumer smart home market, as well. There are so many options and not everything works together easily.

If the market continues this way, you’ll be forced to buy all the way into one company’s vision, essentially ripping your house to the studs and replacing everything with Samsung-approved sensors to work with your Galaxy phone, or gadgets from the Apple Store to work with your iPhone. Otherwise, there’s a good chance your lights won’t work with your music system, and the front door and television won’t be on speaking terms. Rubin makes one point over and over throughout our conversations: If the way people interact with their connected home is through smartphone apps, the connected home will never go anywhere. If you have to open an app, log in, and tap around just to open your front door, only to open, log in, and tap around another to turn up the thermostat, nobody will do either.

I’m not sure if buying into one company’s vision is necessarily a bad thing. With it comes the assurance that said system is going to work as it is engineered to, and hypothetically better than a hodgepodge of different technologies forced together. For instance, right now, IFTTT is a popular service for automating systems that don’t inherently talk to each other. It works, but it isn’t perfect, and it requires additional setup.

I agree that using multiple smartphone apps to control your devices is extremely cumbersome. Voice will rule this space when it comes to interface control as Alexa and Siri improve over time, but the real killer app will be automation—when you don’t have to manually control your smart home.

And that’s where Essential’s most important product comes in. Ambient OS—Rubin describes it as “Android, but evolved”—is a universal translator for the smart home, combining all the major smart home products and platforms into a single elegant system and interface. That’s how it will look to users, anyway. Behind the scenes it’s just an elaborate hack. “I plug into SmartThings, I plug into HomeKit, I plug into Thread and Weave, and I get a hundred thousand devices that I can control with my UI,” Rubin says. In the background, Ambient’s job is to strip the barriers between devices so users don’t have to worry about compatibility. They should buy a light bulb, screw it in, and trust that it’ll turn on when it’s told to. And the code that runs the operating system will be publicly available, so outside developers can create new stuff that works with it seamlessly.

On paper, this sounds like a great idea — one device to rule them all. On the other hand, as Pierce says, it’s “an elaborate hack”. Furthermore, while Amazon is happy to license out the Alexa voice service, I wouldn’t imagine Apple being OK with a competing smart speaker hooking into HomeKit, and definitely not Siri.

The team wanted Essential’s first products to be unique, sleek curios that would seem exclusive and exciting in a sea of identical aluminum rectangles, and offered manufacturers a chance to show off their best work at a more achievable scale.

The Essential Phone uses titanium, ceramic, and has an edge-to-edge screen, but it still looks a lot like an aluminum rectangle. Actual reviews are yet to be seen, as it missed its initial July delivery window, but is supposedly coming ‘in a few weeks’.

The Essential Home admittedly looks much more unique than an Echo or Google Home.

In the team’s imagination, once your home has been properly kitted out with connected devices, there’s no controller there at all. You don’t say a wake word or turn on a screen or enter a password. You definitely won’t have to get your phone out just to turn on the lights. You just declare your needs, in whatever way makes sense at the moment—voice command, touchscreen—and they’re taken care of.

I like the idea of not using a wake word one day. Having to preface everything with “Alexa”, “Hey Siri”, or “OK, Google” can get tedious, especially if you need to string a few commands together in succession.

Long-term, Rubin is banking on machine learning to make technology far more useful and intuitive. In many cases, you won’t have to touch or speak to your devices at all. That’s the full promise of ubiquitous computing: Everything just works. It’ll know what you want because it watches you and learns that it should start warming up the car when you’re putting your shoes on, because that’s always the last thing you do in the morning. When you say, “Tell Anna it’s time for dinner,” the system should know who Anna is, which room she’s in, and which speaker to use to alert her. The only way for that to work is if absolutely everything is connected.

And even if it does work eventually, Rubin will need to reassure users that the suite of always-listening devices tracking their every move is not a threat to their privacy. That’s why Essential built the Home to do a lot of its work on the device itself, without sending data to the cloud. Rubin, worryingly but perhaps unsurprisingly for the founder of Android and a longtime Google employee, isn’t terribly concerned about the privacy issue. Mostly, he says, it helps that he’s not selling your data. He doesn’t even want it. He’s selling you products, not ads.

This would be the ultimate smart home utopia, but there are good notes on privacy here. Apple is king of privacy and security in any market they enter. HomeKit offers end-to-end hardware (and software encryption with iOS 11). While many may trust Andy Rubin, Essential has to walk the walk. They have to measurably demonstrate their accountability and be transparent with user data.

Andy’s vision of the smart home future is a grand one, but I’m not so sure we’ll get to the point where everything talks to everything else with ease right out of the box, no matter the manufacturer. It’s like the epitome of this legendary XKCD comic.

More info on Essential Phone and Home

Andy Rubin took the stage last night at Walt Mossberg’s Code Conference to talk more about the Essential Phone and Home devices announced yesterday. Here’s the latest.

Essential Phone

Essential Home

Andy wants customers to be able to run whatever virtual assistant they want on the Home (i.e. Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant).

He goes on to say:

All of these [companies] have ecosystem envy and want to create their own ecosystem. But consumers don’t want just Samsung stuff in their house. They want diversity.

This is a novel idea on the Smart Speaker concept, allowing for maximum compatibility with consumer devices. That said, I seriously doubt Google and Apple would go for it. Google makes its money on search and user data, and I don’t think they can afford to not have full control over that experience. Apple is renowned for being secretive, isolated, and integrated with their software and hardware. Don’t hold your breath for Siri on anything without an Apple logo. Amazon has already licensed out the Alexa voice service, so it seems like less of an issue there.

He also mentions that the new Ambient OS run by the Home will follow a similar development and deployment process as Android. This has led to fragmentation as new versions of Android become available, it is up to the phone manufacturers to implement them, which they have historically been slow to do. Andy says they have a plan to prevent this with Ambient.

Thoughts on new Essential Phone and Home products

As hinted at last week, Andy Rubin’s new startup (Essential) has announced Essential Phone and Essential Home (Amazon Echo/Google Home competitor).

Essential Phone: In a Nutshell

  • Runs Android
  • Body is made of titanium, with a ceramic back.
  • Colors: Black Moon, Stellar Grey, Pure White, and Ocean Depths
  • 128GB of Storage, 4GB of RAM
  • Full Display (takes up most of the front of the phone).
  • Cameras
    • Rear: 13 megapixels, True monochrome mode, 4K video
    • Front: 8 megapixels, 4K video
  • USB-C port for charging and audio (phone comes with a USB-C to headphone jack adapter).
  • No headphone jack.
  • Accessories snap on to the rear corner of the phone via magnetic pogo pins.
    • The first of these accessories is a 360 degree camera ($50 with the phone or $199 by itself).
    • Another accessory announced is a docking station the phone simply rests on to charge.
  • Price: $699 (US only)

The Essential Phone looks pretty, and definitely has a gorgeous display, which is on par with what we’ll see with the upcoming iPhone 8 (latest mock up based on leaks below). The use of titanium and ceramic is really cool, given how strong these materials are. It has been rumored that Apple is testing out ceramic for the iPhone, and they released their first product with ceramic last year (Apple Watch Edition).

Latest mockup of iPhone 8 based on leaks.

128GB of storage should be good for most people, but 4GB of RAM in an Android phone is a little measly.

I’m wondering how well accessories will hold to the magnetic back, or how easily they can be knocked off the phone. Essential’s website says this about it:

Don’t you hate it when you have to buy new dongles, chargers, and accessories every time your phone is upgraded? We do too. So we decided to make this a thing of the past. The magnetic connector with wireless data transfer keeps your phone cord-free, future-proof, and always up-to-date.

I have a couple issues with this. First, Essential provides a USB-C to headphone jack dongle in the box. Sure, you don’t have to buy it separately, but they should own their design choice for not including a headphone jack in the phone instead of being hypocritical for embracing a natural progression of the market (see iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8).

Second, the thought of the magnetic connector keeping your phone future-proof and up-to-date is just BS. It echoes back to the reign of PCs, when eMachine computers would come with those horrid stickers proclaiming “This computer is never obsolete”. You will still have to replace your phone every 1-2 years to get the latest and greatest, not simply snap on accessories for the foreseeable future.

eMachines’s laughable “never obsolete” sticker.

That said, any competition is good for the industry and consumers. Fresh ideas are always welcome and it is clear Andy Rubin has a vision for Essential.

You can reserve an Essential Phone today, but there’s currently no delivery date specified.

Essential Home

Essential Home: In a Nutshell

  • Runs a new OS named Ambient
  • Round touchscreen
  • Covers the basics like: playin music, setting timers, answering questions, and home automation control
  • Proactively alerts you for calendar meetings or events

I’m loving the competition that is heating up in this market. Amazon is the leader by far, but Apple is rumored to be announcing a Siri Smart Speaker at WWDC next week, and Google Home is going to be receiving major updates soon.

Essential Home looks pretty cool. It has a touchscreen like the newly announced Amazon Echo Show. Unlike the Show, however, Essential Home does not appear to have a built-in camera for video calling. I like the first looks we’ve seen of the interface, but more information is needed to really get an idea of how Essential will position itself in this market. They can definitely make a larger impact here than with the Phone.