Essential PH-1 vs. Google Pixel: Pure Android Showdown

Essential PH-1 phone reviews
Essential

The Google Pixel was hailed as one of the best phones of 2016, if not the best. Although it wasn’t necessarily flashy or innovative from a design standpoint, the device melded Google’s pure vision for Android with quality hardware. We gave it our Editors’ Choice award, and we’re looking forward to finding out what Google is planning for the Pixel’s successor, which is likely to land in the fall.

Before that happens, however, a new contender has emerged on the horizon: The Essential PH-1. It’s a device that resembles the Pixel in many ways, and that’s hardly a coincidence. Essential is a startup founded by Andy Rubin, the man typically considered the “father of Android” during his time with Google. This makes the PH-1 something like a Pixel from another dimension — though they’re hardly the same phone. Read on to find out how the two compare with one another.

Specs

Essential PH-1

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Google Pixel

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Size 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8 mm (5.57 x 2.80 x 0.31 inches) 143.8 x 69.5 x 7.3mm (5.6 x 2.7 x 0.2-0.3-inches)
Weight 6.53 ounces (185 grams) 5 ounces (143 grams)
Screen 5.71-inch LCD 5-inch AMOLED
Resolution 2,560 x 1,312 pixels (504 ppi) 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 ppi)
OS Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 8.0 Oreo
Storage 128GB 32, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM 4GB 4GB
Connectivity GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, LTE GSM, CDMA, HSPA, LTE
Camera Dual 13 MP rear, 8MP front 12MP rear, 8MP front
Video 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, 720p at 120fps 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, barometer
Water resistant No No
Battery 3,040mAh 2,770mAh
Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Stellar Gray, Ocean Depths, Black Moon, Pure White Very Silver, Quite Black, Really Blue
Availability Unlocked, Sprint Unlocked, Verizon
Price $700 $650
DT review Coming soon 4 out of 5 stars

From a hardware standpoint, there’s no getting around the fact the Essential PH-1 is a generation newer than the Pixel. Google’s smartphone benefited from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor. At the time of the phone’s release, it was speedier than the 820 found in other Android flagships, but it can’t compare to the 835 in Essential’s first product.

With the latest generation of Snapdragon processors, Qualcomm has touted performance gains of around 30 percent, along with a marked improvement in power efficiency, thanks to the newer chipset’s 10-nanometer construction. The Pixel is still likely plenty fast for most users, but you should feel a difference between the two handsets, and it works in Essential’s favor.

In another respect, the phones are more similar: Both offer 4GB of RAM. Surprisingly, however, the Essential has an edge in terms of internal storage. Whereas the Pixel comes with a base amount of 32GB, the PH-1 starts at 128GB. The 128GB configuration of the Pixel has been notoriously difficult to track down, and costs more — another reason the newcomer gets the win in this category.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Design and display

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This is easily the most significant difference between these two devices, and it all comes down to the Essential’s futuristic, edge-to-edge display. The 5.7-inch LCD panel stretches all the way to the top, curving around the front-facing camera and offering up 2,560 x 1,312-pixel resolution. It nearly fills the entire front of the handset, save for a chin along the bottom edge. It also looks stunning.

Meanwhile, the Pixel’s design is pretty run-of-the-mill as far as smartphones go, with chunky bezels above and below the screen.

The PH-1 bears a unique look many upcoming smartphones — including Apple’s iPhone 8 — are expected to emulate. And, although that notch on the top edge may seem awkward at first glance, it represents a major step toward bezel-free displays. On the back, both phones have rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, and the Essential even has magnetic pins in the upper-right corner for modular components, like a 360-degree camera.

At 504 pixels-per-inch, the Essential’s screen is also considerably sharper than the 5.5-inch, 1080p AMOLED offered in the Pixel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the display in Google’s flagship, but both in terms of resolution and usable space, it loses this battle. Neither phone is water-resistant, though that’s something the next Pixel is expected to rectify.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Battery life and charging

Google Pixel XL
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Pixel’s 2,770mAh battery in our testing. Coming from the iPhone 7, which had a significantly smaller battery, Google’s effort was pretty underwhelming. Fortunately, the Essential PH-1 has a larger, 3,040mAh unit. Both benefit from fast charging, though neither supports wireless charging.

While the bigger size may seem promising alongside the Essential’s 835 chipset, it’s important to remember this phone is packing a more pixel-dense display — and displays are the number one enemy of battery life. At least on paper, it’s hard to tell if we’ll see a significant difference when it comes to battery life, though initial reviews have been encouraging. We’ll know more once we test the device for ourselves.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Camera

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On the back of the Essential PH-1, you’ll find twice the number of cameras as on Google’s flagship. That’s two to be exact, along with a 13-megapixel image sensor and an f/1.9 aperture. Those are numbers on par with the best phones out there, though the PH-1’s results seem to be a bit of a mixed bag, according to the reviews we’ve seen thus far.

Essential’s method combines a monochrome and full-color sensor, similar to what Huawei and Motorola have done with their dual-lens cameras. You can use the monochrome lens alone for true black-and-white shots, but otherwise, the whole experience seems surprisingly average for such a top-of-the-line device.

On the other hand, the Pixel offered perhaps the best camera of any smartphone released last year, despite it only using a single lens. It produces vibrant, detailed shots, and Google’s HDR+ mode worked reliably well with no noticeable processing lag. Although the 12.3-megapixel, f/2.0 shooter lacks the depth-of-field tricks you’ll find in most dual-lens cameras, it was excellent in every other respect — making the Pixel one of the leading handsets to beat when it comes to photography.

Winner: Google Pixel

Software

Google Pixel XL
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both of these devices offer a straightforward and bloat-free Android experience. That’s refreshing compared to the sea of phones pushing heavy customizations to Google’s operating system, though it does mean there isn’t much separating them from a software standpoint.

There are small differences, however. Essential’s camera interface isn’t quite as feature-packed as the one in the Pixel, and Google has provided 24/7 tech support for its phone in the form of a dedicated app. Otherwise, you should expect the same fast, fluid, and user-friendly rendition of Android in both phones. Pixel users are in the early stages of receiving updates to Android 8.0 Oreo, while Essential’s device is launching with 7.1.1 Nougat. There’s no word on when Oreo may arrive for the PH-1, but given the stock nature of the software, hopefully it won’t take very long.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

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You’d think, given the Pixel has been around for nearly a year, that it would be easier to find and buy than any new phone on the market. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. For a long time, some configurations — usually the larger XL model with the 128GB storage option — were available in extremely limited quantities. Manufacturer HTC faced supply issues throughout the phone’s lifespan, though, now it seems as though there’s plenty of stock available.

The 32GB Pixel retails for $650 direct from Google, while the 128GB model normally goes for $750. If you’d rather not go unlocked, the device is also available on contract from Verizon.

The 128GB version of the Essential, meanwhile, runs for $700, and can be purchased either unlocked or through a carrier — in this case, Sprint. Considering how new the phone is, it’s hard to say how the supply will shake out. For now, the Essential gets the nod as it offers significantly better specs for nearly the same price.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Overall winner: Essential PH-1

As excited as we are for Google’s next flagship, the Essential PH-1 beats the current Pixel on paper. The Essential’s innovative design, state-of-the-art silicon, and larger battery look to improve in a few key areas where Google’s phone was lacking. Still, no matter which you choose, you’re certain to have one of the best Android devices on the market right now.