Bloomberg reported in January 2017 that Andy Rubin, co-founder of the Android operating system acquired by Google in 2005, was preparing to announce a new hardware company called Essential, whose first hardware product would be the “Essential” Phone. The phone first appeared in a tweet by Rubin, posted on March 27, 2017. In a quote of the tweet, Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt confirmed the phone would run Android. A few days prior to the official announcement, Essential tweeted an image of what appeared to be a 360-degree camera attached to the smartphone. The Verge exclusively announced the device on 30 May 2017, hours ahead of Rubin’s onstage announcement at a technology conference.
The Essential Phone has a titanium and ceramic chassis, an edge-to-edge display with an unusual 19:10 aspect ratio protected with Gorilla Glass 5, a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. The phone has a two 13 MP cameras with f/1.85 lenses, one of which acts as a dedicated monochrome sensor for black-and-white photography. Its front-facing camera has an 8 MP sensor with an f/2.2 lens. It was made available in black, gray, white and “Ocean Depths” color options. Accompanying the phone is a 360-degree camera that can be attached to its top of the and a charging dock accessory is also available. It has a USB-C connector but no 3.5 mm headphone jack. A second Click Connector device will be a charging dock. As of January 2018, an accessory with a headphone jack was being developed and more accessories were due to be released.
Software information: Android (operating system)
Essential Phone runs Android, without modifications. It has an unlocked bootloader, potentially allowing for a significant developer community wanting to further customize its software. Rubin published a blog post on August 16, 2017, promising two years of Android updates and three years of monthly security patches.
Meltdown and Spectre
In January 2018, the phone quickly received a patch to fix the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities after they were revealed. Until this time, only phones by Google had these vulnerabilities patched.
Rubin announced on May 30, 2017, that the Essential Phone would ship in approximately 30 days, i.e. June 2017. This estimated timetable was not met, however, without Essential responding to media queries. In mid-July, Rubin sent an email to potential customers saying carrier certification and testing were underway, and that he expected the device to be shipped “in a few weeks”. After a series of delays and the lack of an exact release date, Best Buy put up listings for the Essential Phone, which went live on August 17. On August 9, 2017, Rubin announced the phone was in mass production, and that a release date would be announced in the next week. The Essential Phone was then confirmed to start shipping by the fourth week of August, according to an email sent by Rubin to customers. It began shipping in batches by August 25.
Customer data leak
On August 29, 2017, reports emerged that hundreds of customers who ordered the Essential Phone started receiving e-mails from an @essential address. The e-mail contained an official-looking request for a “photo ID” of the customer to “verify information to complete the processing of the recent order”. Essential later tweeted that they were aware of the recent e-mails received by some customers and that they were investigating them and had taken steps to mitigate problems. Rubin personally apologized and one year of LifeLock was offered to affected customers; around 70 people were affected. Some customers’ drivers’ licenses were leaked over e-mail as well. Customers affected by the data leak got the phone for free.
In October 2017, some handsets had a display touch scrolling “jitteriness” issue. Essential said they were working on the problem and a software patch would be released.
In its first month of release, shipments of the Essential Phone were very low, with sales of around 5,000 units estimated being sold through Sprint. Due to low demand, Essential reduced the price of the phone from an initial US$699 to a more “reasonable” US$499. Customers who purchased the phone at the original price could claim a US$200 “friends and family” code that could be used to purchase the 360-degree camera module or another Essential Phone.