Nov 14th, 2017

Up until recently, I’ve been an Essential Phone hold out. I”ll admit, as the love-child of Android creator Andy Rubin, I was definitely enticed from the start. With a wonderfully unique design (almost like a mini Xiaomi Mi Mix 2), one-handed form factor, and bare bones software experience — there’s little I didn’t love about the phone. Even still, it’s not always the smartest move to be one of the first to pick up a smartphone, especially when its an up and coming tech startup like Essential. That being said, I wanted to wait things out before biting the bullet.

Thanks to a recent price drop, the Essential Phone is now a much more reasonable $500, even hitting as as low as $450 if you pick up the Essential Phone at Best Buy. Some are even calling it one of the best deals in mobile. It certainly looks the part. It’s Android’s answer to the iPhone X (that is, until Samsung or rival OEM goes full bezel-less) but for now, it’s as close as we’re going to get to that design. Hardware-wise, the PH-1 also checks off most of the boxes I demand from a high-end smartphone. Here’s a quick refresher:

Essential Phone specs

  • 5.71 QHD Display (2560 x 1312 resolution)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128GB Storage
  • 13MP + 13MP Monochrome Cameras
  • 8MP Front Camera
  • 3,040mAh Battery
  • USB Type-C Charging
  • 6Gbps Wireless Accessory Connector
  • Fingerprint Sensor

While $500 is a great price, it’s still not what I’d call an impulse buy. But with Essential’s recent price drop also came a coupon for a full $200-off anything at Essential.com, sent to early adopters who already overpaid the original price for the phone. Using that code on an Essential Phone purchase further brings that price down from $500 to $300 — and that my friends is an impulse buy.

So I did it. I grabbed my buddy’s $200-off Friends and Family code, headed on over to Essential.com, bought the PH-1 and hoped for the best. Upon booting it up, I was absolutely enthralled. This is what the future looked like. Then, after installing all my apps and logging into my accounts it finally hit me — something was seriously wrong with this phone…

New Jank City

I already mentioned the software experience on the Essential Phone. Normally, you’d expect any seemingly stock Android phone to kill it in terms of performance, especially when it’s being powered by a current gen Snapdragon 835 processor. And while that’s true for the most part (apps open with lightning quick speed and efficiency), it’s not all roses.

The touch screen on the device is actually pretty awful and so bad, it immediately killed the user experience for me. What do I mean by that? Well, scrolling through apps and menus isn’t a fun experience. There is a horrendous amount of scroll lag. The UI trails far behind your finger when swiping across the display and occasionally I ran into instances where the screen wasn’t even sensitive enough to register quick screen taps.

This is made even worse by constant frame drops and stutters. The strangest part is how jittery the UI would get when scrolling slowly through menus or inside of apps. It can get so bad that the frame rate appears to be moving at 12fps, it’s just not pretty. The weird part is how this is typically only when holding your finger on the display but perform a quick fling and things shoot up to a much smoother 60-ish fps. It’s odd, inconsistent, and entirely unacceptable.

Essential may already know about the issue and appears to even have made some effort to fix it. Last month, they listed “improved touch scrolling” as one of the bugs they fixed in software build NMJ20D. The problem? It didn’t do anything to fix the slow scrolling stutters still prevalent on the phone and a point of contention with many costumers voicing complaints on Reddit and various online forums.

Even more recently, Essential moved right onto updating the device with Facebook Live 360 video (build NMJ32F) yet the scrolling jank persists. We can’t be certain Essential even knows this is a problem or if they even plan on addressing it (especially if they already feel like they have) which means I can’t in good conscience recommend this phone without mentioning this — at least for me — huge deal breaker.

Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to like the Essential phone and was looking for almost any reason to keep it as my daily driver. The Essential Phone’s nearly non-existent bezels, one-handed design, and premium materials sounded like a huge win in my book. Unfortunately as so often is the case with any device these days, you can’t always look at the spec sheet and know exactly what to expect.

Once again, the combination of the insane scroll lag and stuttery UI absolutely killed the user experience for me and if that sorta thing bothers you, take this as a warning. It really is a shame because, at least in its current state, the Essential Phone is sadly DOA.

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