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Essential Phone review

The smartphone newcomer’s first step is refreshing, yet divisive

Battery life

  • 3,040mAh capacity is respectable, if a bit small
  • Has no issue lasting all day long
  • Accessories drain it quickly

For such a small device, the Essential Phone packs in a load of technology. That sentiment extends past its processor, 128GB of onboard storage, boundary-pushing screen and onto its battery, which is a respectable 3,040mAh. 

We’ve seen larger batteries in phones of this size, but when you’ve got a nearly bezel-less screen, space for more battery (or anything, for that matter) becomes a commodity. That said, this capacity helps the PH-1 easily reach its day-long target no matter how you like to use the phone. Of course, there are caveats to this.

We’ve heard reports that the 360-degree camera accessory does suck a lot of power from the phone, and in our testing, it really does. Over the course of an hour, using it non-stop tanked the battery from 50% to 0% and in the process, overheated to the point that it needed to be removed.

During our benchmark, the PH-1’s battery drained down to 78% after playing back a 90-minute FHD video file. This discharge is fairly typical amongst many smartphones, and in our time with the phone, it easily withstood the rest of our day’s worth of multimedia demands.

If you’re an infrequent phone user, we found the discharge to be nice and slow. Expect to get two days or maybe more of battery life if you don’t utilize many social media or gaming apps.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take all that long to bring the PH-1 back from the dead. It can be powered up at just 1% charge and it takes ten minutes to bring it up to 15%. Give it another hour and it will raise up to about 85%. An hour and a half brings it to full charge, which isn’t bad at all.

Camera

  • Impressive f/1.85 aperture gives more light to the night
  • Mono mode produces evocative results
  • Software incredibly sluggish to capture and low on features

Essential has directed a lot of energy to showing off what it’s dual-lens array is capable of. Each lens is 13MP, though one is capable of shooting in color as well as black and white, while the other is a dedicated monochrome lens. 

We’ve now had more time to try the PH-1 in a variety of settings and while the capabilities of the cameras aren’t as apparent as, say, the Google Pixels or that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, we’re pretty pleased.

However, if you’re reading about the camera for the PH-1, you’re likely seeing some alarming points, like that it takes too long to boot the camera app and that it’s slow to capture a photo. Unfortunately, both of those are true. Despite the power under the hood, modifying basically any setting causes frustration-inducing stuttering.

Given Essential’s commitment to improving the PH-1 over time, we wouldn’t be surprised to see these issues ironed out soon, but until then, people in need of a good pocket camera are served better elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean this phone can’t take a good photo.

The f/1.85 aperture of the phone’s main lens does a respectable job in low-light, but isn’t perfect. Generally, the photo and video quality of the PH-1’s cameras are stellar, but are prone to blurring due to the sheer amount of time required to snap a single photo.

In our expanded carousel, enjoy some samples that show off what it’s capable of. We’ve also included some photo and video examples shot through the 360-degree camera accessory.

Below, here's a taste of what the 360 Camera can do. We definitely look forward to bringing this along to events.