Andy Rubin, the creator of Android has unveiled its long anticipated smartphone this week.  Essential has announced the PH-1 and with almost no borders on the screen,  dual cameras, and a flashy titanium and ceramic design. Add a funky looking camera and maybe the PH-1 can pick up the slack where Project Ara, Motorola and LG all failed.

essential ph-1

What seems most intriguing about the PH-1 is the plan to create a range of modular accessories that are designed to create an ecosystem with the phone. Something like the Apple range or the latest movement in Android with the dawn of AI based personal assistants.

But I digress. The phone itself is similar in idea to what LG attempted with the modules for the G5 or what Motorola have been attempting with the “Moto Mods”. With a range of magnetic connections on the handsets rear, the user would slip the module onto the phone and job done. The first couple of bits that have been seen are a 360 degree cam and a cordless charging dock – you know like Samsung.

Hype, Hipster or actually happening?

So why do modular phones keep popping up? is it because they sound like something we should have? are they nifty little ideas for investors?  or is it the fact that with electronic waste growing we need something different? Most likely it is a nice niche where the general consumer could save a fortune by not having to fork out for a new handset each year.

Basically the idea is that upgrading your phone can be like upgrading your home Pc. Rather than forking out hundreds on a new device, just buy exactly what you need to bring your phone up to date. A new battery,  better camera or a new display, if you want it you can have it.

The modular phone sounds like something you or I or any other customer would want to have, right?. Well time and time again we have seen the humble idea fall flat on its face like a toddler trying to make it’s first steps.

We ourselves loved the concept of Google’s Project Ara and it is still the most high profile failure of them all. The Lego inspired phone started out with the idea that all components both internal and external could be swapped. Yet later this transitioned to focusing on external, attachable accessories. Rumour was most customers could give a fluffy rat’s about upgrading the internal components. This was the beginning of the end as less the a year later the Google Pixel was released and the Ara was shutdown.

Project Ara

While the Ara was a rather disappointing failure, it still can’t even stand near the LG modular experiment which was shut down after one model due to a lack of interest. Only Motorola have been able to create something remotely successful.The company said it is seeing “strong shipments” of Moto Mods and the Moto Z phones they work with, singling out sales in Brazil and India in particular (why do we never get the fun stuff in Ireland)

Truly Modular?

Apart from the original idea behind the Ara, none of the other “modular” phones have ever been truly modular. Unfortunately the Ara was possibly too much too soon, sure we have covered craft phones like the Fairphone in the past which will allow you to get close to swapping out components. But the main move around the modularisation of the phone is becoming less and less about the longevity of the product and more about accessorising. Kind of a pity really but hey we have to start somewhere.

I mean I guess we can see this appeal, Apple have been creating accessories just for themselves for as long as I can remember. Samsung have gotten into the game over the last few years, now everybody wants to follow suit— so it makes sense to try to get as much of a return as you can from the handful of people who care enough to buy your device in the first place. Plus all the gadgets are literally made for just that phone which is nice but on the flip side when the phone dies as do the add on gadgets. Which kind of sucks.

Oh ya and to get sustained support from third-party accessory makers, the modular phone has to be something of a hit. For most phone companies, it’s hard to gain that level of traction. Really seems a case of all the eggs in one basket here.

essential ph-1 colors

No Frills attached

The lads at Essential do not seem to care about the struggles of the past. Just look at what Niccolo de Masi, the company’s president and COO said in an email to Business Insider:

“We’re not doing gimmicks. We’re doing meaningful innovation. We’re doing things with the accessory port that can’t be done internal to a phone, like the 360 camera for instance, which would have to stand alone or snap-on. We don’t like the modular phone description, because ours are not cosmetic changes. Our innovation provides meaningful experiences for the user.”

Now when you look at the spec sheet of the PH-1 you can see these guys  mean that. The PH-1 is stocked with the highest end specs. Like the Samsung S8 we can see an edge-to-edge front display 5.71-inches and with a QHD resolution. You get a Snapdragon 835 processor powering it all. 128GB storage, 4GB RAM, 13MP dual camera setup, magnetic connector to make the phone modular and a premium body made of titanium and ceramic. And running Android expect this to hit the market at about €700 beans.

After having our hearts broken by the Ara we hope the PH-1 delivers.

Essential PH-1 Specs

OS Android 7.1.1
Model PH-1
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Adreno 640 GPU
Display 5.71″ QHD LTPS LCD (2560×1312, 19:10)
Cameras Rear: 13MP f/1.85 Dual RGB + Mono
Front: 8MP f/2.20
Memory 128GB UFS 2.1
Battery 3040mAh
Fast charging
Network Connectivity UMTS/HSPA+: 1, 2, 4, 5 6, 8
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A: 0, 1, 10
FDD-LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 17, 20, 21, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 66
TDD-LTE: 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43
TD-SCDMA: 34, 39
Other Connectivity WiFi 802.11a/b/h/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB Type-C, Power Pins, Nano SIM
Fingerprint Reader Yes
Size 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8mm
Materials Titanium body
Ceramic back
Gorilla Glass5
Colors Black Moon, Stellar Grey, Pure White, Ocean Depths
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Junior Editor & Goosed Podcast host Jon is passionate about phones, design and everything tech. Having joined the team in 2015 he now manages our podcast and is our unofficial random ideas guy when he's not watching Disney movies. Seriously we're not joking. Read more by Jon.

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