My Essential PH-1 that I bought mainly because of a temporary price drop to $224, arrived yesterday. I got it set up and used it for maps and music this morning to drop my wife at the airport and then head to work. So far, I like it!
I’ll do a more in-depth OCD nitpick review sometime down the road but here goes with the “short” version.
The overall feel of the phone is nice and premium if you care about such things. I have the Halo Gray color which is an Amazon exclusive, and has a nice matte finish on the ceramic back. But the only reason I picked this color is it was the cheapest. I don’t care about premium phone materials, I put a case on my phone anyway.
The screen is pretty good. It’s an LCD and not as vibrant as the OLED on my Galaxy S7 Edge that this PH-1 will probably be replacing, but overall it looks good and it got bright enough while driving that my map didn’t get washed out.
The notch is one of the smaller notches that have sprung up in the past year and for the most part it isn’t too annoying. But it’s not perfect. The total height at the top of the screen taken up by the notch is taller than the typical Android status bar. So you’re gaining screen real estate by extending the display up on either side of the notch, but the gain is slightly offset by the extra-tall status bar.
Unlike the S7E, everything with the software experience is nice and clean and smooth, and the screen can be run at its full native resolution. The only way I could get the S7E to run at a level of jankiness that at least didn’t impact its functionality too badly was to set it to 1080p. While 1080p is fine, I can definitely tell when I have the extra real estate afforded by running at 2k resolution.
Before Android P, Essential had its own notch-handling scheme, but now Android P has baked-in notch support, that (presumably) because it’s so new, certain apps haven’t been updated to quite work right with it. There’s a little weirdness at the moment where the status bar shades over UI elements in certain apps.
This won’t be an in-depth Android P review, but you may have noticed in these screenshots that the regular Android back/home/recent apps buttons are present. Android P defaulted to the new gesture controls out of the box, but I quickly decided I hated them. The problem is the gestures to bring up the recent apps list, or to quickly switch to your most recent previous app, are too similar. I kept quick-switching when I wanted to bring up the app switcher screen. Into the bin that “feature” went.
Otherwise the software has yet to give me any complaints. The only “bloat” to speak of was Amazon Alexa being pre-loaded since this gray color is exclusive to Amazon, but it can be fully uninstalled, not disabled.
There’s no always-on display like Samsung, Pixel, etc. but there is an ambient display where you can shake the phone to see a clock and notification icons. Double-tapping on an icon brings you to the lock screen and expands the notification so you can see its contents. When a notification comes in, it shows on the ambient display and there’s a bit you can do to interact with it.
Now let’s talk about the camera. I haven’t used it in depth yet, but this phone has a reputation for having a trash camera. Essential has tried to improve it in the year since release, but well, it was the biggest question mark for me. Just in case, I also installed the Google Camera port, and Open Camera. Here’s a quick test, in my frequently-photographed office parking garage.
Essential Camera (HDR on):
Google Camera (HDR+ on):
Open Camera (DRO on):
Pixel-peeping these three photos, Gcam produces the best result by far. The Essential camera app has way too much paintbrush-effect noise reduction going on. The Gcam picture controls noise much better while also retaining more detail. It’s the only one of the three where you can clearly make out the details of the xDrive badge and turn signal repeater on the side of the car. In the same order (Essential, Google, Open):
Playing with the Gcam shot a little bit in Snapseed yields this perfectly acceptable office garage car shot.
I have Gcam set as my default.
Anyway, so far so good, I’m happy with the phone, and if any minor annoyances present themselves, my response to myself is BUT DAT PRICE THO.