Essential Phone 2 — How Essential can have a much more successful Year 2

One of 2017's most polarizing devices was the Essential Phone. There was a lot of hype for the startup headed by Android father Andy Rubin, and while the Essential Phone's hardware is still some of the best money can buy, continued software bugs and lackluster camera performance continues to put a damper on what should have been one of last year's best handsets.

Essential's confirmed that a successor to the Essential Phone (aka the PH-1) is in the works, and while the company hasn't shed too much light on what it'll change or when we can expect it, there are a few key areas that Essential needs to work on if it wants to avoid the various blunders it's already experienced.

Wider availability

Before Essential starts worrying about new software features or hardware refinements, it needs to focus on expanding to more markets and carriers with the PH-2. The Essential Phone is still limited to just the United States and Canada, and when it comes to carrier support, you'll only find it on Sprint and Telus, respectively. For a startup trying to break into a well-matured industry, this is not the right move.

If Essential wants to keep pushing its way into North America, it needs to expand to other carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Rogers, Bell, etc. Average consumers still buy their phones in carrier stores as opposed to going online to purchase it unlocked, and because of this, having a larger presence here will make Essential much more visible to a broader audience as opposed to just Android diehards.

Essential needs to hit North America with full force, expand to other countries, or both.

Additionally, it wouldn't hurt Essential to also set its sights on other markets entirely. Expanding operations to new countries is an expensive decision, but it's one I think could benefit the company in the long run.

Take Nokia, for example. During just one year of being run by HMD Global, Nokia-branded Android phones have "been selling already millions of Nokia smartphones" during 2017. HMD Global was just founded in December of 2016, and those "millions of Nokia smartphones" is considerably more impressive than Essential selling less than 90,000 units of the PH-1.

The secret behind HMD Global's success? Wider market availability. The company sells its Nokia 6 in the U.S. and Canada, but HMD Global more heavily markets its products in China, India, Australia, the UK, and more. These markets are much easier to break into than Canada and the U.S., and if Essential doesn't have the time and/or resources to focus on North America and more global availability, it should go with the latter before worrying about the former.

Make the PH-1's software mess a learning lesson

Essential promised a pure, stock software setup with the PH-1, and while it technically delivered on that front, the user experience was almost too barebones at launch. Essential's slowly added new features as time's gone on, such as fingerprint sensor gestures, UI themes that changed based on your wallpaper, and more. These have made the Essential Phone feel more complete and well thought-out, and they're things that need to be present on the PH-2 from day one.

The PH-1's software was too barebbones for its own good.

Another persistent issue that Essential just recently addressed is jittery scrolling. Users have been reporting laggy/slow scrolling animations on the Essential Phone pretty much since it first came out, and after shelling out $700 for a new phone, running into something like that is a major turn-off. The latest 8.1 update appears to have finally fixed this, however, so once again, Essential's moving in the right direction.

I don't think there are a lot of things Essential needs to change on the software side of things with the PH-2, assuming it understands where it went wrong with the PH-1 and applies those fixes/changes for its second go around. Have more software goodies and a fix for bad scrolling present on the PH-2 as soon as it ships, and it'll make a much better first impression than the PH-1 ever did.

Go back to the drawing board with the camera

And then, of course, there's the camera.

The camera on the Essential Phone has been bad-mouthed relentlessly since its launch, and I don't think anyone will have a hard time agreeing with me that this is the biggest user-facing issue that Essential has to tackle for gen two.

To its credit, Essential's released non-stop software updates to the PH-1 that have all be focused on trying to make the camera as good as can be. Some of these updates have been more successful than others, and as it stands, the Essential Phone's camera is now fine. It's not amazing or nearly on the same level as the Pixel 2, but it is far better compared to how it initially performed.

With that said, it's probably best Essential goes back to the drawing board for the PH-2's camera. If the company wants to stick with dual-cameras, it needs to find a way to make both sensors truly useful. Then again, it could drop the secondary lens and focus its time on just one that performs really, really well.

Don't mess with the hardware

Producing a great camera is going to take a lot of time and effort, but thankfully Essential should have plenty of it since nearly everything else about the PH-1's hardware is still impeccable.

The Essential Phone remains as one of the most attractive and well-built phones on the market, and its use of ceramic and titanium continues to be refreshing in a world of glass and aluminum. I imagine some people would still like to see wireless charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack, but these minor gripes aside, I wouldn't change much at all with the PH-2's hardware.

What do you want to see?

Whether you own an Essential Phone or have been viewing things from the outside in like myself, what things are you hoping for the most with the Essential Phone 2? Am I on base or is there something I missed? Sound off in the comments below!

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

69 Comments
  • Adding the headphone jack would create fans. Actually delivering android updates faster would too. It’s near stock: no reason for such delays.
  • They should take a page from Nokia regarding software
  • I get a lot of updates quickly, not sure what you're talking about.
  • You get a lot of updates to Essential's software, he pretty clearly said "Android updates"... For example 8.0/8.1.
  • I have 8.1 on my PH1 right now.
  • as do i. my wife's s8+? havent heard a peep or even had a security patch in months
  • My S8+ has the December security update. I'd probably have the latest security patch and Oreo if they didn't have that random reboot issue, but I'm glad they restarted the roll out of Oreo. Now if only I could get it so I can stop spamming their update server.
  • And I can (probably) get 8.1 on my old Nexus 4 with a custom ROM... They count the same amount as betas; not at all.
  • With the ph1 you just go into settings, about phone, updates, and install 8.1 directly from there. EASY.
  • It's not an issue of how difficult, or "EASY", it is, it's still beta software not release software. 8.1 is not out for the Essential phone, 8.1 is in beta for the Essential phone. You can argue otherwise til you're blue in the... fingers, but you'll be incorrect.
  • And yet I've been running it flawlessly for a while now. Beta or not, all you have to do is consent to installing it and you have it. That's more to say than most phones. Yet the ph1 gets all sorts of unfair garbage negativity thrown at it
  • Again, there's no "and yet". It's a beta, I'm glad it's a stable beta, but that doesn't mean it's release software. It does get a lot of negativity, some justified, some not. How is that relevant here?
  • Again, I never said it's not a beta, but it's more than what most phones that don't get even half the hate the ph1 gets currently have
  • The updates were quick for a while. There is a reason for the delays, a good one, sales.
  • I think shipping it on time with functional software would be a good place to start. More availability too maybe... Even if I'd wanted an Essential phone, I'm not American so they wouldn't have sold me one.
  • Add a micro SD slot and removable battery so we can have the Nexus device that Google would not give us.
  • You're not getting that
  • 128gb isn't enough storage for you?
  • I still don't understand the obsession with these 2 features. When they were removed from the Nexus back in like 2011? I was pissed like everyone else, but after a few weeks I realized they're not very important after all. Only a replaceable battery if you keep your device 2+ years. But not many do.
  • Pretty sure a lot of US people will keep their phones for longer than 2 yrs now since we've lost the subsidies on the price of the phones... paying over time eases the pain but in the end, you're still paying full retail over the old school subsidized prices of $200-300 every 2 years...
  • Obviously not for everyone, but microsd is very important to me. I have over 100GB of music, that I like to have. No streaming needed, which means less data use, my music is available regardless of cell reception, and the music is of superior quality. Then there's my photos, video, apps, games... that 200GB easy.
  • I'm on my Nexus 6 still, two batteries and a complete screen replacement done by me. That phone didn't officially have a removable battery, but it's fairly easy to get to. Newer phones are making this much much harder. I don't care about the SD card, never needed one though I understand it could be useful if it's there, but a headphone jack would be big plus for me. There are ways to build phones that makes them both waterproof and easy to repair, look at watches and how they're built. For some reason though the companies building phones won't take a hint from that "ancient" industry.
  • keep the size and basics of the hardware. It is an incredible piece of hardware. Need better accessories list. Some proper cases, and more things that take advantage of the pins or just ditch that idea and start working on things that attach to the usb C port. Love the idea of adding back the phone jack, but I know that won't happen. they absolutely need to improve that camera. Should be #1 priority. It is the main reason that phone is not my everyday driver.
  • I think the carrier availability definitely needs to be a priority. The Essential feels incredible in the hand, which you obviously can't tell from their website. I was never too bothered by the scrolling, although it's noticeable, but I'd rather have a better camera. Overall, though, I'm still VERY satisfied with my Ph-1. I'd probably jump on a second gen if they had some kind of upgrade program too...
  • Yep. Get it sold with Verizon and I'm on board. It sucks not having Wi-Fi calling, proper voicemail, etc.
  • I have WiFi calling on my PH-1. I'm on T-Mobile. Not sure what you men by proper voicemail, because I use Google Voice.
  • Well it's not available on Verizon, and what I mean by proper voicemail is not having to use a third party application or having to forward my number.
  • I don't think it has true WIFI calling. I'm not sure because there is no option to turn it on or off in the settings. Google voice will work over a standard connection like LTE, 4G, etc... If it does, it needs to have a setting. If it doesn't, it needs it.
  • Needs to be IP67 OR 68 for me to care.
  • Agreed with at least IP67. But they did say there was a trade-off with the ceramic and IP67 ratings. And they chose the ceramic.
  • It is supposed to be able to take a short drop or very brief fall into the shallow water, but it is not IP67. The next iteration should have that. The glass is easily breakable on a one or two foot drop because it protrudes from the case. That protrusion needs to go away in the next iteration. It is a beautiful phone that you don't want to put a case on, but I highly recommend it to protect your investment.
  • Why would anyone still rely on buying their phone from a carrier these days? I do understand that to pay a monthly fee for your phone is easier for most people as they have problems saving up the money to buy it out right. BUT you get slammed with all kinds of bloatware in exchange for easy. Quit falling into the easy credit game, and just go buy an unlocked phone from ANYONE besides the carriers.
  • The 99% of people who go through a carrier don't read sites like this.
  • Agreed!!
  • Absolutely agree. My biggest reason for loving this phone is the bloatware free OS. Now that I have experienced this, I am never going back. (also love the hardware, customer support, and frequent timely updates as promised)
  • To each, his own. Wasn't Sprint leasing the PH1 for $6 a month? Lease it, use it, return it or upgrade it. Tell me how paying list price ($700 back then) was a better deal.
  • My Sprint PH-1 came with no bloatware. Plus one man's bloatware is another man's treasure.
  • I assume you can take the phone to any provider if you get pissed off at Sprint. Does Sprint lock you into a term any way? i.e. discounting the phone or financing it in exchange for a commitment?
  • I agree, but if the phone isn't sold by the carrier (Verizon), you miss out on features. So carrier support is huge, and getting sold by Verizon & AT&T is the only possible way to get made adoption in the US.
  • This was probably the best carrier release ever then? Aside from the bare bones basic applications, my phone only came with Sprint Zone app installed (and i would've installed it because it make my phone billing situation a breeze,) and I never even saw this "Tidus" application on my phone that every article mentioned it would come with. And my phone only cost me $150. A fluke, I guess.
  • That is one of the biggest benefits of the Essential phone. It puts the user back in charge. It will work with virtually ANY carrier. in fact, it is less expensive to go with a prepaid plan like AT&T prepaid, MetroPCS, T-mobile-prepaid, etc. than being a "subscriber". If you get pissed at a carrier, you can change carriers in less than an hour! It only took AT&T 15 minutes to activate me and switch me from MetroPCS. The updates come from Essential and come faster than if the phone was "tied" to a specific carrier. Essential fixed all the bugs in 6 or 7 months after release and it is now running Oreo 8.1 plus Essential's own updates.
  • Improve OS, OIS, Camera Improvement, IP 68, OLED screen.....have a great battery life, and team up with Google and make this Project Fi able :)
  • Bingo!
  • Just put a better camera.
  • My experience with the software has been mostly all good, the camera while never great is about as good as I need, although B/W is always fantastic. Keep the cost low, the software stable, the updates fast, and improve the camera a bit and I'll be a happy camper.
  • I bought mine after all the updates (April 2018) and it takes fantastic photos. The selfie queens may not like its lack of burst mode as I haven't been able to take 5 or 6 shots in a second or two like some LG's seem to do.
  • I am on Tmobile and interested, but given reports of spotty, slow LTE in of all places my tech heavy home SF, where I get strong LTE using a generic Chinese Android phone. Got to be at least as good as that. No 2018 phone is worthless today unless strong signal, since most uses is 90% internet. Common Essential fix most obvious, important issue first.
  • The beauty of the phone is you can switch carriers to the one that has the best LTE signal in your home area. If T-mobile stinks (it does everywhere), you can go to AT&T or Verizon. The prepaid plans save you money anyway and provide the same level of service.
  • It just needs a better camera, everything else is spot on. The software "issues" are nonexistent. So blown out of proportion it's ridiculous. I experience none of what is reported on these sites, it makes me wonder if they've even used the phone before
  • I know, right? I've had similar "problems" on my iphone 4, 4s, 5s and 6s... Hey, but what do I know?
  • a price of no more than $500. they are a startup and have zero cred and experience building phones (ok, just a little now) and if they want customers to switch there needs to be a price incentive, otherwise people will keep buying the galaxy phones from samsung
  • It is now $500 or less. Andy Rubin's reputation is a big plus. (He wrote the Android OS for Google.) He is not going to put out a ****** product and what few issues there were after the initial rollout have been fixed! It is the Android equivalent of the iPhone. It feels and works luxuriously.
  • The build quality needs to improve. Though essential says its phone fare well if dropped but the reality is totally different. they shatter really fast. Id rather have sturdier/stronger phone.
  • yep... I agree. You definitely need the case and order the hard tempered glass protectors off of Amazon. If you drop in onto ceramic tile from 18", you will probably crack the glass because it protrudes from the top of the phone. The next iteration needs to have the edges of the phone higher than the glass. (concaved instead of convexed.
  • You can stay by the phone actually working out of the box
  • This too
  • Improve the design and make the camera better. Keep the current price point. That's pretty much it.
  • PH-2 needs a top tier camera with OIS and good signal processing. Running 8.1beta on AT&T, LTE signal strength is still inferior to my wife's Moto G5+ on 7.0. IDK, problem with the antennas maybe or my OEAGO bumper case?
  • Ceramic back is less important than a headphone jack or wireless charging. Ceramic is brittle and there are videos of the Essential phone falling off a lap and a piece of the ceramic back popped off. I'd rather have cracked glass than a piece missing. Let's be honest, the majority of phone users put their phone in a case, so why use any material other than a polycarbonate back shell? If it scratches or cracks it would be replaceable by the user, and the manufacturer could release additional colors/designs without having to change the manufacturing process.
  • Ceramic is hard as carbon-fiber if not hard... DOH! You don't want cracked glass on this phone. The manufacturing process makes this phone unserviceable by consumers and most 3rd party techs. Make no mistake, without protection, that glass will crack if it takes a short drop onto ceramic tile or cement. It is a design flaw on that phone and Essential will not replace it if you do not have the extended warranty that covers drops. Fortunately, my Visa credit card gave me extended protection and they bought me a new one.
  • Please fix the haptic motor.
  • I really enjoyed the PH-1 and had only one serious problem, lack of reception. I had the same problem with th OG Pixel XL. My wireless signal was always weak and often dropped out completely. If the PH-1 kept me connected, I'd still have it
  • Have you tried switching carriers?
  • Take a page out of Apple's book. -> Leave the form factor the same.
    If it's the same then possibly more cases because the number of potential devices increases.
    SD845, 6GB RAM, 256GB storage option.
    I'm good. I'm loving my PH-1.
  • Would've bought the first one had they not removed the headphone jack.
  • Make the 360 camera run cooler and not use so much battery. Improve the durability of the ceramic back so that it doesn't get micro-scratches from lint in your pocket. Give it a better screen so we can use VR headsets. Don't get me wrong, I like the screen for normal use. I don't miss the headset jack. Improve the NFC location by moving it to the top of the phone like the Pixels.
  • I own the PH-1 and I'm really loving it !
    But here are the things that I want to see on the PH-2 :
    1) Full borderless OLED Display (keep the notch, but remove bottom bezel like on the iPhone X, would look amazing)
    2) Wireless charging
    3) Better camera (I would love an extra-wide angle for the 2nd camera) The rest is near perfection so... Keep it :D
  • Improvements for PH-2: - headphone jack (OnePlus and Samsung have it)
    - wireless charging (xiaomi mi mix 2s, Samsung, iPhone, and LG have it)
    - smaller bezels (like Vivo Apex or Doogee Mix 4)
    - SD card (Samsung has it)
  • So the Ph-1 was released on May 30th, what chance is it that they release the ph-2 in seventeen days? Same form factor, OLED, OIS, Improved OS implementation, Improved Camera, SD 845, 6 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, would love unlimited free opload of photos like the PIxel....