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The creator of the Android has a new phone that could rival the iPhone 8

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

When Apple (AAPL) unveils the iPhone 8 in September, you can expect a slew of hardware upgrades but at a stratospheric price, according to reports.

But what if you aren’t willing to cough up a grand but still crave an excellent smartphone design? A device like the recently released Essential Phone may — emphasis on “may” — be worth considering. 

The Essential Phone is the first product from Essential, a company incubated by Android creator Andy Rubin’s Playground Global. At $699 without a cellphone contract — or $749 with a 360-degree camera also designed by the company — the Essential Phone is priced hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone 8’s expected price tag and more in line with current smartphone competitors.

The glossy, black phone fuses titanium and ceramics. Yes, there are countless black smartphones already on the market, but few of them have the same slick look and feel as the Essential Phone, which is currently available in a “Black Moon” color. An additional three flavors are available soon — including “Pure White,” “Stellar Grey” and “Ocean Depths.”

The Essential Phone’s most striking feature is also its greatest asset. That 5.7-inch screen runs all the way to the top of the phone and wraps around the front-facing camera — a feature the iPhone 8 is also expected to have. While recently reviewing the Essential, I noticed YouTube trailers for “Guardians to the Galaxy 2” and “Wonder Woman” threw off vibrant colors and excellent contrast. But those images may pale in comparison to the iPhone 8, which is expected to feature a pricier 5.8-inch OLED screen for even more vividness.  

The Essential Phone fuses titanium and ceramics, making for a very slick smartphone. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

Behind the scenes, the device is no slouch, either. Powered by a Qualcomm 835 processor with eight cores, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of built-in storage, it’s absurdly fast with enough space to store years-upon-years worth of photos and videos. Navigating around menus is a brisk experience, with apps popping open and disappearing instantly.

Battery life on the Essential Phone is also superb, even for a smartphone fiend like me. Starting my day around 6:45 a.m., I still had a 35% charge on my phone come bedtime — and that’s after a day filled with several hours of obsessively checking Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Snapchat (SNAP) and email, plus watching several YouTube videos and making a few quick calls.

A few issues

Photos snapped by the Essential Phone’s camera are top notch, but that camera app still needs work. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

There are some issues to deal with. The Essential Phone takes decent photos but is currently held back by a buggy camera app that sometimes lags when you’re trying to snap photos back-to-back. (Essential promises this will improve in future software updates.)

There’s also the simple, unavoidable fact that this phone runs on Android, not Apple’s iOS. The transition from one mobile operating system to the other isn’t a quick and easy process, especially if you’re thinking about transferring over gigabytes of photos.

However, if you’re open to it, migrating from Android to iOS is entirely doable and heavily documented. And what’s particularly appealing about the Essential Phone is that it runs Android without any “bloatware” — no extra apps or software installed by the manufacturer or the carrier. You’re using Android in its purest form, and presumably as Rubin intended it. Even as a long time iOS user, I found this particular approach to Android easy to use and compelling.

There are several other likely features you’ll sacrifice if you forgo Apple’s latest and presumably greatest. The iPhone 8 could ditch the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID feature for a 3-D camera which can quickly scan your face to unlock the phone. (Neat? Yes, probably.) Wireless charging is also a plus. But if you think you’ll regret not being able to use your mug to unlock your phone or charge up sans wires, then wait a few more days for Apple’s grand unveiling and preorder your iPhone 8. Just be prepared to pay more.

For others, the Essential Phone, could very well end up being, well, surprisingly essential.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

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