Hands-on with the Essential Phone (and its camera cut-out)

The first phone from Essential Products is a striking device, thanks to its ceramic body and a display that covers nearly all of the front of the device, with the notable exceptions of a small bottom bezel and a cut-out for the front-facing camera. The Essential Phone went on sale last month, but I got my first chance to check one out in person tonight.

I also asked a representative about reports that Sprint has only sold about 5,000 units so far… and got a firm “no comment.” But while Sprint is the only carrier selling the Essential PH-1, the company does also sell an unlocked version of the phone that works on any US wireless network. And given that this phone is really designed to appeal to smartphone enthusiasts, I suspect most potential customers would probably be more interested in that version anyway.

The phone I got a chance to play with was running close-to-stock Android software, but it was also close-to-just-set-up software, so I didn’t get a chance to try many apps.

But I did find the camera cut-out less annoying than I’d expected… mostly because a black bar shows up when you’re using most apps on the phone, so you don’t even really notice the cut-out. Instead if looks like the phone grows a bezel when you’re surfing the web or using the phone for activities such as playing games or watching movies.

Of course, that sort of makes me wonder why Essential didn’t just release a phone with a slim top bezel that covers the camera… but it’s possible we could come to see some apps embrace the cut-out and wrap around it. That’s what already happens on the home screen and app launcher, giving you a little more screen real estate by moving the status bar up next to the camera instead of below it, for example.

The phone feels very solid and well-constructed, but there is a downside to the ceramic back. It’s a fingerprint magnet. The representatives at the Essential booth have a cloth to rub down the phone pretty much every time…

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