Essential Phone vs. Galaxy S8: Can a newcomer beat the reigning champ?

essential phone vs. Galaxy S8

The Essential Phone, the top-of-the-line smartphone spearheaded by Android creator Andy Rubin, is finally here. It’s got an edge-to-edge screen with a unique cutout around the front camera, a durable titanium frame, and a snap-on accessory system that supports a 360-degree camera module.

But there’s plenty of competition. The Essential Phone is going up against Samsung’s Galaxy S8, one of the best smartphones on the market. So just how does it fare? Read on for a full Essential Phone vs. Galaxy S8 comparison.

Specs

Essential Phone

Samsung Galaxy S8

google pixel vs samsung galaxy s8 thumb

Size 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8 mm (5.57 x 2.80 x 0.31 inches) 148.9 × 68.1 × 8.0 mm (5.86 × 2.68 × 0.31 in)
Weight 6.53 ounces (185 grams) 5.46 ounces (155 grams)
Screen 5.71-inch LCD 5.8-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED
Resolution  2,560 x 1,312 pixels 2,960 × 1,440 pixels
OS  Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat
Storage  128GB 64 (U.S.) 128GB (International)
SD Card Slot  No Yes
NFC support  Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM  4GB 4GB
Connectivity  GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, LTE GSM / CDMA / HSPA / LTE
Camera  Dual 13MP rear, 8MP front Rear 12MP with OIS, front 8MP,
Video  4K 4K
Bluetooth  Yes, version 5 Yes, version 5
Fingerprint sensor  Yes Yes
Other sensors  Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer Barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, heart rate, proximity sensor, iris scanner
Water Resistant  No Yes, IP68
Battery  3,040mAh 3,000mAh
Charger  USB-C USB-C
Quick Charging  Yes Yes
Wireless Charging  No Yes, Qi and PMA
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Color offerings Stellar Gray, Ocean Depths, Black Moon, Pure White Black, silver, gray, blue, gold
Availability  Unlocked, Sprint AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
DT Review  Coming soon 4 out of 5 stars

In terms of raw hardware, the Essential Phone and Galaxy S8 are evenly matched.

Both phones sport Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor paired with 4GB of RAM, but storage is a different story. The Galaxy S8 has 64GB of internal memory and a MicroSD Card slot that can accommodate cards up to 2TB in size, while the Essential Phone comes with 128GB of internal storage and no MicroSD Card slot.

Essential’s decision to ditch the MicroSD Card slot might upset folks who’ve invested in removable storage, but you get double the base storage from the S8. Plus, it’s rare to find a 128GB smartphone at the Essential’s price point in the U.S., so we’re giving it the win here. If a MicroSD card slot is important to you, then the S8 is for you.

Winner: Essential Phone

Design, display, and durability

essential phone vs. galaxy s8

The Essential Phone has a titanium body that’s shielded with ceramic. The screen, a 5.71-inch LCD with a 19:10 aspect ratio, stretches the entire length of the front, and has distinctive cutout near the top that curves around the selfie camera. There aren’t any physical buttons on the front or back, and just a tiny chin on the bottom.

The glass-and-metal Galaxy S8 is a lot curvier. Samsung’s Infinity Display tapers off around the phone’s edges, maximizing screen real estate. There aren’t any physical buttons on the front either. The two embrace the bezel-less trend in smartphones, and since design is largely subjective, we’re not awarding a win here.

But the Galaxy S8 is the more durable of the two on paper. It’s IP68 certified for water- and dust-resistance, which means it can survive a five-foot pool of water for up to half an hour. The Essential Phone isn’t, but in fairness, its titanium frame will likely hold up well against sidewalks and hardwood floors.

The Galaxy S8 takes the cake in terms of display technology. The Essential Phone’s LCD screen has good viewing angles and brightness, but it doesn’t match the vibrancy of the Galaxy S8’s Super AMOLED. It’s also less sharp: The Essential Phone has a 2,560 x 1,312-pixel resolution, compared to the Galaxy S8’s Quad HD+ 2,960 x 1,440.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Battery life and charging

essential phone vs. galaxy s8
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On paper, there’s not a huge difference between the Galaxy S8 and the Essential Phone in the battery department. The Galaxy S8 has a 3,000mAh battery, and the Essential Phone has a slightly bigger 3,040mAh battery. Both have the same power-efficient Snapdragon processor, but the S8’s screen likely draws a little more power.

The Essential Phone and Galaxy S8 support different flavors of fast charging. The S8 has Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charge, which takes about an hour to fully juice. But the Galaxy S8 also supports wireless charging (in the Qi and PMA format), which the Essential Phone doesn’t, so we’re giving it the win.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Camera

essential phone vs. galaxy s8

The Essential Phone has dual rear cameras on the back, one 13-megapixel monochrome sensor and one 13-megapixel full-color sensor. Custom camera software combines the data to boost color accuracy and improve low-light performance, and Essential says that in a future software update, the phone will gain the ability to shoot in HDR (high-dynamic range) and a DSLR-like bokeh mode (think the iPhone 7’s Portrait Mode).

The S8 makes do with a single 12-megapixel rear camera, but offers a software setting, Selective Focus, that approximates the bokeh effect.

Samsung’s camera is great, but there’s something to be said for the Essential Phone’s forthcoming features. Selective Focus does a decent job artificially blurring backgrounds most of the time, but capturing true depth of field requires the Essential’s camera hardware.

When it comes to the front camera, the Essential Phone and Galaxy S8 are neck-and-neck — both have an 8-megapixel selfie cam that can shoot video in 2K.

Winner: Essential Phone

Software

essential phone vs. galaxy s8

The Essential Phone and Galaxy S8 both run Android, but the former has a version that’s extremely close to Google’s pure Android. There isn’t much customization to speak of, and it’s pre-loaded with mostly Google apps. It’s about as close as you can get a Pixel without buying a Pixel.

The Galaxy S8, on the other hand, runs the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin. It’s chock full of features like Bixby, Samsung’s digital assistant, and Activity Zone, which puts handy utilities like a stopwatch, barometer, compass, and flashlight at your fingertips.

So which offers the better experience? It’s a matter of personal preference, really. Some people might find the S8’s TouchWiz more obnoxious than helpful, while others find the Essential Phone’s software a little too bare bones. Personally, we’re fans of the latter. The Essential Phone might not have all the S8’s bells and whistles, but it’s not overstuffed with features you’ll never use.

Winner: Essential Phone

Accessories

One of the Essential Phone’s biggest draws is its fancy accessory system. On the back of the phone are magnetic pins that snap to modular add-ons like cameras, batteries, and more. It’s like your computer’s USB port, but far more powerful.

So far, there’s only one accessory available for the Essential Phone: A 360-degree camera. It can capture video in resolutions up to 4K at 30FPS, and weighs just 35 grams. Essential says it will release a new accessory “every few months,” but it remains to be seen whether or not third parties will support it.

The Galaxy S8 doesn’t have that problem — Samsung’s flagship has an abundance of accessories. One is the Dex Dock, a hockey puck-like device that transforms the Galaxy S8 into a full-blown desktop. Another is Samsung’s Wireless Charging Pad, which can rapidly charge the Galaxy S8 in minutes flat. Samsung also has the Gear 360 camera, as well as the Gear VR for mobile virtual reality.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Price and availability

At $700 for the Essential Phone and $750 for the Galaxy S8, the two phones are pretty close in pricing. But availability is a different story.

The Essential Phone is only available from Essential’s website, Best Buy, and one carrier, Sprint, though Essential says that the phone supports every major carrier in the U.S. Contrast that with the Galaxy S8, which is available from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile.

Essential Phone Samsung Galaxy S8
AT&T  N/A $750 or $25 per month for 30 months
Sprint $29.16 per month for 18 months $750 or $31.25 per month for 24 months
T-Mobile N/A $750 or $30 per month for 24 months with a $30 down payment
Verizon N/A $720 or $30 per month for 24 months

If you order from Essential, for a limited time you can get both the phone and 360-degree camera for $750.

Sprint’s offering a substantial leasing discount on the Essential Phone too — as long as you don’t mind the black model. Customers pay only $14.58 a month for a year and half, which amounts to a $260 savings. You’ll have to pay the remaining balance on the phone’s $700 if you want to keep it at the end of the lease, though.

Overall winner: Tie

The Essential Phone and Galaxy S8 may share similar internals, but they are two very different devices. The former boasts a durable (albeit not waterproof) titanium design with great cameras, a novel accessory system, and close-to-stock Android software. The latter offers one of the best screens and cameras on the market, Samsung’s TouchWiz software, and a bevy of accessories. It’s a tough choice, and that’s why this contest is a tie.