Android creator wants Essential Phone to fix a 'weird world'

Andy Rubin was frustrated by all the devices out there, and says that was partly his fault. So he decided to do something about it.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
3 min read
Watch this: The Essential Phone is almost all screen

Creating Android wasn't enough for Andy Rubin. He needed the right phone to go with it.

That's why, on Tuesday, he introduced the Essential Phone. It's a high-end Android device that could keep alive the hopes for modular phones -- an idea that failed to take off with Google's Project Ara and has yet to really click into high gear with various Motorola projects.

It could also help Rubin become a force in hardware the same way he ignited the world of mobile software. Around the globe, more than 2 billion devices run on Android.

Some of the impetus for Rubin's new move, though, came from frustration over a situation he said was partly his own fault. He's looking, he said, to simplify a complicated world, one littered with unnecessary features and products that don't work together.

"Just when I was about drop another criticism it hit me: I am partly responsible for all of this," Rubin wrote. "For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives."

Rubin said he wanted to create a simple phone that wouldn't have forced bloatware, become outdated or live in a closed ecosystem.

The specs

Starting at $699, the Essential Phone boasts 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage and a Snapdragon 835 chip. The 5.71-inch display spreads across the entire screen, even seeping into where the front facing camera is placed, with a 2,560x1,312-pixel resolution.

Both its front and back cameras can shoot in 4K video, with a 13-megapixel dual camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel camera on the screen. The Essential Phone also comes with Bluetooth 5.0, and there's no headphone jack. It will be able to run on all major carriers.

Its most prominent feature might be the magnetic connector on the back of the phone, near the camera. The connector allows for modular attachments to the Essential Phone, using wireless data transfers on the port. All accessories will be able to snap magnetically onto the phone, according to Essential.

The company showed off this feature with a snap-on 360-degree camera that works with the magnetic connector. The add-on comes for an additional $50, with dual 12-megapixel fish-eye lens.

This is the Essential Phone

See all photos

Essential also released a phone dock that takes advantage of the magnetic connector, allowing the device to charge wirelessly.

The Essential Phone comes with a titanium build, which the company said makes it more durable than the majority of high-end phones. It will come in black, gray, white and blue, without any logos showing.

"Unlike aluminum, which is what most phones are made of, titanium doesn't scratch, dent, or bend," the company wrote. "That's why you won't find an area for phone cases on our site."

Samsung's and Apple's phones are made from aluminum, if you needed the context behind the shade Essential's throwing there.

Home coming

Enlarge Image

The Essential Home is a voice assistant with a screen that can also be activated by touch and look.


Essential isn't just launching with a phone.

Rubin is also releasing a home assistant, which will thrust it into a field where Amazon and Google have been doing battle. While both companies have made their voice assistant programs open-source, leading to many clones, Essential is going with its own Ambient operating system. The Essential home assistant, looking like a small, slanted bowl with a screen, can be activated by voice, touch or look, the company said.

It will be able to play music, set timers, answer questions and control your smart home -- most features a voice assistant already offers, but with the additional touch screen.

The Essential Phone will likely be the first to launch, and only in the US for now. It is expected to arrive in the next few months, but a specific launch date has not been set. There are no details on when the Home will be available.

Rubin had been teasing Essential's launch for the last five days, with a photo photo hinting at the phone tweeted on May 25.

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