Andy Rubin created the software that powers hundreds of millions of Android devices around the world. Now he has two gadgets of his own: the Essential Phone and the Essential Home.
The phone’s display fills most of the front, save for a camera cutout, slim bezels and a small chin at the bottom. The almost full-screen display echoes a design popularized earlier this year by Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy S8 handset and soon to be followed by Apple Inc. with a revamped iPhone. The Essential Home is a puck-sized, voice-activated gadget that can control appliances and provide reminders.
Essential is part of Rubin’s new Playground Global incubator, which plans to raise $300 million. With the new products, Rubin is betting he can take on Apple and Samsung, which have dominated consumer hardware in recent years.
The Essential handset includes many modern smartphone technologies, including a Qualcomm Inc. processor and a USB-C port for charging. Uniquely, it includes a magnetic connector on the back to connect to such accessories as a camera that takes 360-degree photos and a wireless charging hub. Without the attachment, the phone has an 8 megapixel camera on the front and a 13 megapixel sensor on the rear, according to Essential’s website.
The sides of the phone are made with titanium, which Rubin’s company claims is impervious to scratches and dents. The back of the phone is ceramic and comes in black, gray, white, and a gold-like color called “Ocean Depths.” The phone runs a version of the Android operating system with a customized user interface, while the Home device runs a custom system called Ambient OS.
The Home assistant device has a circular screen and can play music, set timers and control lights with a user’s voice. The product is similar in scope to the Google Home and Amazon Echo, but its small size probably means Essential sees it as more digital assistant than speaker. Apple is working on its home device, Bloomberg News reported last year. The Essential device will be open to third-party developers, Essential said.
In creating his new company, Rubin hired hardware designers from the likes of Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and Samsung, Bloomberg News reported in January along with details about the new smartphone. Rubin co-founded Android in the early 2000s before selling the company to Google in 2005. He ran Google’s Android division until 2013 before stepping aside to build the company’s robotics unit. He left the company a year later to found startup incubator Playground Global.
The phone, available for pre-order, will sell for $699, $50 more than an entry-level iPhone 7. The handset will be available only in the US when it launches; Essential didn’t say when it will ship or provide pricing for the home product.