back to article Much-hyped Ara Blackphone LeEco Essential handset introduced

Android founder Andy Rubin’s new hardware company Essential Products has unveiled the smartphone it hopes will discomfit the rest of the market. The former Google robotics exec on Tuesday showcased an Android handset that sports 13MP rear and 8MP front cameras, 128GB on-board storage, 4GB of memory, and a $699 price tag. The …

  1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    At $600 that's a funny definition of "essential'...

    For that money I can get a decent phone, a case, a tablet and still have change for a nice curry.

    I find it bizarre that the price of top end smartphones has actually gone up, since they stopped improving rapidly 4-5 years ago. Completely at odds with how other tech goes.

    I admit my £120 Microsoft Lumia 735 is totally rubbish for apps. If you need those, I'd spend up to double that to get a decent Android. I never got on with the iPhone, even though I like my iPad a lot. But I understand paying the Apple tax, if that's the ecosystem that suits you. But with Android you have a choice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You are quite right. The price is terrible. The must be expecting low sales volumes and amortizing their R&D and engineering costs over that depressingly small number.

      I was toying with the though that phones these days seem to follow the fashion pricing model rather than the technology one, but that's not true either as older iPhones apparently retain resale value.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Price

        It's £40 quid a month, like the other phones.

        I read eagerly from the headline, new phone.....got to the third line, saw the word "Android" and became disappointed again.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Price

          Why, Android powers the world's smartphones, and if you buy the right one, you get a very high quality product, with timely security updates, and decent support.

          If you pay peanuts however, you get less, often much less.

          The key thing here is CHOICE.

          It's your CHOICE if you want to buy a Samsung with their overly excessive UI changes, and dump you after 18 months in terms of updates.

          It's your CHOICE if you buy a cheapie Android phone and throw it in the bin every 12 months and buy the latest with the latest OS.

          it's your CHOICE if you buy a top end Pixel or Google nexus and get security updates every month.

          It's your CHOICE if you buy a Sony Xperia with it's superb low light camera and waterproof design.

          The point here, is there are options to suit everyone. Android isn't one thing. You have instantly failed by assuming it is. There are Android devices that are superior to anything Apple have to offer, there are Android devices that suck. There are Android devices that sit somewhere in the middle, and offer great bang for buck.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Price

            But they all run sucky Android.

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        @AC

        "phones these days seem to follow the fashion pricing model"

        It's not just the fashion pricing model, it's the whole haute couture shtick.

        Fashion: expensive, impractical and largely unnecessary items, which will be used once and then discarded, bought by people with too much money who worry about what other, similar, people think of them.

        Latest high-spec phones...remarkably similar

        Sensible people look for the Marks and Sparks equivalent of a phone - but avoid the Poundland stuff!

      3. Alan Watson

        Yeah, terrible price: less than the 128GB Pixel (if you can get hold of one) while using more expensive materials, newer components and not having the depth of pocket or economy of scale of that device.

    2. Blotto Bronze badge

      huge spec and innovative features like 60ghz 6gbps wireless accessory connection and magnetic attachment do'nt come cheap.

      its all good if everyone adopts the same standards, terrible if they are the only ones.

  2. Raphael

    And I saw elsewhere it doesn't come with a headphone jack, that makes it a non-starter for me.

    Having just lost my second set of bluetooth headphones (Plantronics Backbeat Fit), and the wallet is too empty to buy a replacement I am very grateful for being able to go back to wired headphones

    1. TReko

      Missing essentials?

      Not only does it not have a headphone jack, but it is also missing an SDHC card interface, which is very useful.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Missing essentials?

        Don't forget the swappable battery and the wind up gramarphone while you are at it...

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Missing essentials?

          Looks like you could do with a grammar phone.

          Or maybe just a better sperm clunker. Mine's prefect.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: Missing essentials?

          I don't want a wind-up gramaphone, but why the hell isn't there a mobile phone that'll make my tea for me?

          There's surely enough juice in the battery to boil a mug of water, I'm sure room could be found for a re-fillable tea compartment - and if not you could just have a teabag-holder in the case.

          I take mine black, so the problem of milk doesn't concern me.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Missing essentials?

            if not you could just have a teabag-holder in the case

            ITYM - "a compartment to hold proper leaf tea"..

            (I can drink mine black too - or cold. Years of doing tech support[1] will do that to you..)

            [1] That moment when you go to the fridge for the milk that you could have sworn you put in yesterday and find it more resembles the contents of a PHB's head. And that it had been in the fridge for a week or two..

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Missing essentials?

              Leaf tea is for when you make tea properly, in a pot. But most people choose not to equip themselves with a tea pot, tea cosy and strainer sadly.

              Admittedly quite a few of my friends now own teapots, for some reason. But I've never persuaded any of them to the full enlightened postion of owning strainers and using proper tea. Perhaps they're all just anarchists? Who think that proper tea is theft...

              Ahem!

              [shuffles away embarrassed - though probably not as embarrassed as I ought to be]

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      and the wallet is too empty to buy a replacement

      Five quid buys you a BT headset receiver that you can plug a wired headphone into. Available at your favourite Chinese Tat Bazaar.

  3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Design by numbers

    So many amazing tricks and specifications but none of the simple pleasures in a phone : Front-facing stereo speakers, headphone jack, and a microSD slot. Hardcore phone users (the kind who'd spend $700 on a phone) will like the edge protection but want to know how to replace the battery when daily full charge-discharge cycles take their toll.

    1. Alan Watson

      Re: Design by numbers

      So you will only buy an LG V20? Because apart from that it's only a diminishing number of budget handsets that still have removable batteries (and who wants to bet on the V30 still having one?).

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Design by numbers

        He has a point though, it's hardly a new paradigm in design. I am wondering with that if my current phone a z3 failed would I fork out the extra for that and the answer is why, whats different enough about it? I think I'd rather save the cash and buy a new z3 or phone of similar age but spec again, there's been nothing really new in phones for ages, and everyone is too cautious in their design houses to try an outlier.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Design by numbers

        "So you will only buy an LG V20? Because apart from that it's only a diminishing number of budget handsets that still have removable batteries (and who wants to bet on the V30 still having one?)."

        Sadly that's true.

        But it seems the new Nokias have rather easily replaced batteries, and there's the Motorolas with the magnetic attach battery pack. Some other phones have well designed battery replacement, such as the tags on the glue patches to make them removable. It's something to bear in mind if you want to keep a phone for a while.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Essential? Not even close.

    No headphone jack. No SD card. No user replaceable battery. All for HOW much money?

    An untried fledgling company so we don't know how well they (won't) maintain security patches, replace damaged units, if any 3rd party accessories may (not) get built (like a hard case to protect one's investment), all at a price point that makes an Apple phone seem palatable?

    Good luck with that, I'll be voting with my wallet... & my wallet says "Oh HELL No."

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Never mind the product....

    Feel the VC startup cash pumped in.

    No std headphone socket, micro SD card socket , no battery replacement and a single SIM card slot?

    Plus all the data slurping goodness of the Android fork.

    I'd really have to hate someone quite a lot to encourage them to buy this PoS.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never mind the product....

      Never mind all those deficiencies. This has millions of $$$ behind it and is sure to be a runaway success. (sic)

      Never mind the quality, feel the width, it has a bigger screen that the S8 (less bezels). That alone shoud guarantee another oh... 6 sales.

      Yes, I'm not impressed by this. There really is nothing that would make me go and buy one over at least half a dozen other Android phones.

      I need to give myself a kick up the bum for thinking that this device would be radically different from what Samsung, LG and all the rest are currently offering. It does not.

      Thanks Andy but No thanks, I'll pass on this. I'm out.

  6. Milton Silver badge

    Nope

    I agree with other posters: no headphone jack, no uSD slot, no replaceable battery - no buy.

  7. DougS Silver badge

    Love the advertising around the titanium case

    Claiming that because it is tougher than aluminum you don't need a case! WTF!! As if anyone who uses a case on their aluminum phone is doing so to protect the metal from damage!

    This will be a niche product, but at that price they should make enough to turn a profit unless it completely flops. It was obviously never about competing with Apple and Samsung, despite the press hype trying to make it sound like that was the target.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Love the advertising around the titanium case

      Well, both aluminium and titanium are relatively soft metals and they do get scratched easily. Anyone who ever had a titanium watch will know to avoid titanium phone, for this reason.

      It might be the phone is coated with some variant of titanium nitride (e.g. TiCN) hence making it extremely scratch-resistant, but if this is so, they should say it.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Love the advertising around the titanium case

        My Motorola razor was aluminium, after a couple years hard use it looked like it had come under fire, it had dents, nicks, scratches the works. I mean it still worked like a charm but if you are leaving the case of to show that phone off, it's not going to look so shiny after a few months.

        Agree with the comment about titanium watches as well, it's nice and light but tough as a metal no.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Love the advertising around the titanium case

          A soft metal is better for a phone case, because if it didn't give it would absorb less of the shock of being dropped on a corner and the screen would be even MORE likely to break.

          I have a feeling that's the real reason Apple never ended up using liquid metal for phones. It is supposed to be extremely tough, so the screens would be a lot more likely to break since the metal wouldn't absorb much of the impact force, but instead transmit it to the glass. Wouldn't be surprised if they tested it and found screens breaking with every drop, and decided against it - unless they can figure a way to hide some rubber bumpers around the screen...

          I'd rather have a dent in the corner from being dropped on concrete, than a flawless case and a broken screen. I dropped an iPhone 5 (stainless steel instead of aluminum, but the same applies) onto concrete on its corner and it got a noticeable dent and scuff/scratch marks on that corner, but the screen was still perfect! Which is a good thing, because I managed to do that the day after I got it!

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Love the advertising around the titanium case

            Oh yeah TBF that razor still worked and it took a lot of abuse, on and off of small boats, sand, dropped out of pocket while riding dirt tracks, it put up with some harsh usage.

            But as a piece of shiny to look at after all that, distinctly knackered rather than ooh would be a good description.

            My smartphones in cases have worn their looks a lot better, of course you have to strip all the casing to see it.

  8. Timmy B Silver badge

    I'd wait until the OP 5 is out.

    I'm very happy with my OP3 and this doesn't seem to offer anything that the 5 doesn't and I think the 5 will be cheaper. And please phone makers - stop with this removing the headphone jack stuff - or give us a way to use the ones we're using that allows us to charge at the same time and doesn't look stupid.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Gorgeous

    Very sleek and I love the display. Hopefully Apple copies this well for the iPhone 8.

  10. Christian Berger Silver badge

    It's designed for optimal professional reviews

    Reviewer have a weird view of the world. Devices lacking headphone sockets, SD-cards, replacable batteries or even keyboards seem acceptable to them. Instead they focus on minor details like CPU power or how the display looks like in a totally black room. This device is optimized for that.

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: It's designed for optimal professional reviews

      I wonder how fast it goes round the Nurburgring

  11. IHateWearingATie
    Go

    With 128GB as standard, few people will need an SD slot

    My guess is that with 128GB in as standard, there are going to be few people who will miss the lack of an SD card slot.

    I'm surprised at the lack of a headphone jack (probably a deal breaker for me) and no version with a second SIM card slot though (targeted at bits of the Asian market).

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Dual SIM phones

      Don't forget the border areas between N. Ireland and Eire. Have a sim for networks on both sides of the border and you are good to go. Saves having two phones which many people do especially in Derry.

      1. tirk

        Re: Dual SIM phones

        Doesn't free roaming (which ISTR comes in throughout the EU etc in a couple of weeks) remove that need?

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Dual SIM phones

          You're forgetting that Brexit will bring the need back with a vengeance. Without legislation to enforce it, roaming charges will quickly return.

          So I suppose your next phone won't need dual sim, just the one after that.

    2. fuzzie

      Re: With 128GB as standard, few people will need an SD slot

      SD cards aren't just cheap(er) capacity, they're also portable capacity between devices and platforms, i.e. I can trivially move loads of stuff between Android devices and my Windows/Linux PC.

      If Google allowed app installs to be properly sandboxed and/or storage agnostic, I should be able to pop my SD card out of my old phone into a new one and be up and running immediately with all the apps. They might have do ditch vFAT and/or exFAT, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  12. Lost In Clouds of Data
    FAIL

    After all the waiting we have...

    ... Just another Android phone. Oh goody.

    I can see this really upsetting the status quo. Yup, Samsung, Apple et all must all be quaking in their corporate boots over this one. So much originality in one handset. Yup, Mr Android himself has truly pushed the evolutionary barrier here...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: After all the waiting we have...

      not that long ago it was

      Just another windows phone...

      My how the mighty have fallen.

    2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Re: After all the waiting we have...

      You'd have thought with the pedigree of the bloke behind it there might have been some kind of commitment to speed or frequency of security updates. Or how long after launch or discontinuation security updates will be continue, ditto OS version updates. Something to set it apart from the market leading laggards (looking at you Samsung).

      No, it's just about the shiny.

      A privacy focussed assistant sounds interesting though. I'll bet it doesn't meet my idea of acceptable privacy wise; everything processed locally with only anonymous plain text search queries sent out to the infesternet.

  13. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    The funny thing is, there's tons of room for innovation in the Android handset market. Not that this is it, obviously.

    There's clearly still a large market for physical keyboards, a la Blackberry. But not served. Surely that's something that could use a clip-on technology - rather than a pointless sticky-out-camera-thingy.

    Next there's a desperate need for someone to design a phone that doesn't need a case. I've never seen a phone case that didn't make it harder to use, and the kinds of phones that are designed to be used on building sites are usually not very nice. So what about a happy medium? Some protection from water and some protection for the bloody screen! Or just an easily replaceable, sacrificial surface layer.

    The essential problem with the smarphone is the screen. They're still bloody hard to read in daylight, consume most of the power, make text input horrible and are massively fragile. And yet the whole industry seems to just ignore these problems and keep iterating the same bloody design, as if it's the best they can do. Well I guess it is the best they can do, and that's why only two of the companies actually make any profits.

    1. fuzzie

      The challenge for ODMs that want to innovate is they end with a forked Android. Whatever new hardware they build needs drivers and APIs which they'll spend their lives reintegrating whenever Google does an Android code dump. If they're really lucky they convince Google it's an awesome idea, Google takes it up and it becomes part of the next major Android release, but most likely with a different Google-specced API. At which point they''ve got a nasty legacy/backwards compatibility headache to boot. Early movers on wearables/Smart devices still nurse burns from that.

    2. Down not across Silver badge

      Room for innovation

      The funny thing is, there's tons of room for innovation in the Android handset market. Not that this is it, obviously.

      For sure. Ther are two kinds of phones I miss. One would be Nokia Communicator brought to 2017 (but not with Android...) without going completely overboard. The other (which could be Android) is Motorola Razor V3 or close approximation. I know Samsung has W2017, but I don't particularly want two large screens sucking juice not to mention I suspect that will be only available in Asia and unlikely to end up available in UK,

    3. Mellipop

      Morlocks are us

      I agree about physical keyboards. As this phone has a high speed connector I expect there'll be an add-on appearing. Otherwise pray the Gemini sees the light of day.

      Speaking of which, I'm bemused about daylight readable screens. Some phones had transreflective screens that gave you monochrome or sometimes even colour display in bright ambient light.

      It's probably dropped because most of humanity are living indoors. Perhaps some bean counter decided it wasn't worth putting into products.

      Why not look at mobiles sold in a country which doesn't have mostly cloud cover?

    4. Raphael

      My wife's favorite phone remains her first Android one, the Sony Xperia X10 Mini.

      Yeah, it had a tine screen and was a very early Androind version, but the slide out physical keyboard was a winner in her book.

      She likes her current S7, but would probably ditch it for an updated Xperia X10 mini.

      http://www.gsmarena.com/sony_ericsson_xperia_x10_mini-3125.php

  14. kmac499

    Head phone socket Secret Use

    And the secret 'clickbait' use for a headphone socket is FM radio aerial..

    OK not that secret but a non replaceable battery in a device that needs charging every day come on.

    Another missing nice to have NFC ?? (or did I miss that)

  15. stephanh

    I am very impressed

    ....that he managed to get VC funding for this.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: I am very impressed

      Well VCs don't like risk, and this is a product which already exists a dozend of times on the market, and it sells. So why not set yet another one of those.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    And why did I call it a PoS?

    Simple. It lacks a bunch of things a lot of people would like to have in a "smart" phone.

    OTOH it does have 128GB, so you can store all those new apps, videos, songs and ebooks on there.

    Excellent.

    Until it gets obsolete, or the battery dies and you have to move all that stuff and you realise how much you've accumulated and how slow it is to transfer

    While we will just pop our cards out of ours and stick it into the slot on a model which has a slot to plug into.

    Regular OS updates would be worth that kind of money. Better control of data leaking would be worth it too. If it had the basics in already.

    I think an earlier poster is right. This was designed to appeal to smart phone reviewers, not actual customers.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only essential thing about this phone is punters with more money than sense, buying it. Looks like an iPhone. May as well just buy an iPhone. #YAWN. Unimpressed. #PASS.

  18. 0laf Silver badge
    Facepalm

    It's squarish, blackish, round corners, metal sides, shiny, 2 cameras. Pretty much like every other phone. Pretty much the only differentiator these days is the price.

    I've not noticed people getting nearly so excited about phones for a long time now. I don't think the majority really give a shit any more. They have the flavour they like and they have a budget. It doesn't really matter too much what they look like since most people put them in a case anyway.

    Might as well have a glossy launch for the 2017 'Brick' - This one is new, 5gr lighter, now with 2 holes not three. Kiln baked at 514C to provide a smooth glazed inner surface, improved mortar adhesion; register to receive your 2017 pre-release Brick before everyone else.

  19. ADJ

    Peak technology

    After years of flagships, Nexus and the latest and greatest I don't see the point anymore a nice mid-range £200-£250 phone will do everything I need including decent performance and battery, not like the mid-range of pre 2014.

    One of the younger chap in the office has a new S8 which looks nice but I asked why? The answer "Well its got a nice screen" super great.

    Why do people need the power offered by these new £700 phones? What do they use them for? I would like to know the answer.

  20. John 73

    Screen

    Did anyone else look at the picture and wonder about the screen? It seems to go right to the top of the device, and actually has a cutout for the camera. Now *that* could be innovative. Or crap, of course!

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