The Essential Phone is a beautiful alternative to Apple’s iPhone

It’s tough out there for a new phone, but if anyone has a chance at releasing one that grabs people’s attention, it’s Andy Rubin.

In September 2008, Rubin’s team at Google (GOOG, GOOGL) launched Android, the wildly successful mobile operating system now running on more than 85% of smartphones worldwide. Unlike Apple’s (AAPL) walled-garden approach to its iPhone OS, Android remains free, stable and open-source so any mobile-phone maker can use it in its phones and build its own user interface on top of it, something Samsung has done with its Samsung Experience software.

The Essential Phone is a fusion of titanium and ceramics. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

With the Essential Phone, the first product to emerge from Essential, a company incubated in Rubin’s Playground Global, the 54-year-old serial entrepreneur wanted to release a powerful, slick phone that served as a veritable blank slate for the consumer. To wit, there’s no branding or logos anywhere on the outside of the device, and while the Essential Phone runs on Android, there are no extra apps or software layers to bog things down.

For $699 without a cell phone contract — or $749 with a 360-degree camera also designed by the company — the Essential Phone is priced in the same ballpark as its competitors but sports a few unique quirks and improvements that help the device stand apart.

The case

The Essential Phone feels luxurious in your hand. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

The first thing you’ll notice about the Essential Phone? It’s damn sleek. A fusion of titanium and ceramics, the glossy phone is a minimalist’s dream. While there are countless black smartphones on the market, few of them manage to feel as luxurious or premium in your hands as the Essential Phone, which ships next week in a “Black Moon” color. An additional three flavors — including “Pure White,” “Stellar Grey” and “Ocean Depths” — are coming soon.

That screen

The Essential Phone’s screen runs all the way to the top and wraps around the front-facing camera. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

One of the Essential Phone’s most striking features is its screen: a 5.7-inch display that runs all the way to top of the phone and wraps around an 8-megapixel camera in front. It’s a nice touch and sparked several conversations here in the Sunnyvale, California, offices. But for now, it’s more of a novelty, given that much of the time that extra sliver of screen is often filled with small icons like the battery status and cell signal.

Essential President Niccolo De Masi told Yahoo Finance his company reached out to the top 100 Android app developers to help them update their apps to take advantage of that extra screen space. So that situation could change in the months to come as developers come to terms with this new phone.

Otherwise, the Essential Phone’s screen is supposed to be one of the sharpest screens around, and indeed, YouTube trailers for “Guardians to the Galaxy 2” and “Wonder Woman” showed off vibrant colors — red, green and blue hues that popped off the screen — and excellent contrast.

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