Mixed reality times 5: The difference lies in the detail

Windows Mixed Reality will be the third VR platform for PCs. In the first part of this article, we’ll cover all the basics about software and handling of these headsets. In the second part, we’ll take a deeper look into hardware. How good are the headsets? How comfortable are they? Has Windows usurped both Vive and Oculus? Read on to find out!

Mixed reality headsets: what’s inside?

We’ve been trying out a few MR headsets so that we can bring you a fair comparison of each headset. Leading the pack are devices from Acer, Lenovo, Asus however Dell and HP have also brought some interesting devices to the table. These five MR headsets differ primarily in their design. In terms of technical specs, they all have displays with a 1440 x 1400 pixel per eye resolution and all the headsets contain a mechanism that allows the VR headset to be strapped onto your head.  

They also use Inside Out tracking from HoloLens. This allows them to map the room around you without any external sensors – the in-built cameras alone can register your surroundings. The setup for this is quick and uncomplicated: simply insert the cable into the PC, start up the software and off you go!

The motion controllers are very similar for each headset and connected via Bluetooth. While in use, LEDs will light up on the controller and these are tracked by cameras on the headset. 

Differences in market strategy

At the IFA tech trade show in Berlin, we met the French Marketing Manager of Acer Fabrice Massin. He showed us the headset and told us a little about Acer’s approach: “Our goal has always been to democratize technology.” Acer’s focus is on affordable technology, not necessarily on having the all-time best. When we tested the Acer headset, it proved to be very comfortable to wear. However, there were instances where I would distinctly be reminded that this headset isn’t very expensive – for example, the device doesn’t quite sit perfectly over your eyes and nose. 

acer pc 3 of 7 Acer’s Mixed reality headset / © AndroidPIT

Lenovo on the other hand, has big ambitions. Its goal is to become market leader in the field of new technologies like augmented and virtual reality. This ambition doesn’t just underpin Lenovo’s Star Wars AR game – the Lenovo Explorer headset itself is a component of this goal. 

The build quality of the Lenovo Explorer is pretty good, and the headset also feels comfortable. Even the hinge mechanism for pulling the display down feels more robust than other MR headsets.

AndroidPIT lenovo explorer 8208 You can flip the display up on the Lenovo Explorer if you want to come back to actual reality for a second / © AndroidPIT

Nevertheless, this mechanism is still a weak point of the headset, and in fact on all headsets we saw this too. On the one hand, the head strap must sit tightly to feel safe. On the other hand, this mechanism is somewhat awkward on all the headsets we’ve tried. It’s rare that you’ll use a Vive or Oculus for only short periods at a time. But the device was also designed with multiplayers in mind. If you’ve built something in VR and want to quickly switch between players, a simple hand movement will pull you back into reality. 

Windows mixed reality: Should gamers get on board?

Despite the higher resolution per eye, it’s worth noting that all the MR headsets tend to have a fly-screen effect. This is when narrow black lines between the individual sub-pixels are visible. This effect is especially prominent on bright surfaces during static scenes. But in our tests, we only seldom noticed this. These usually appear in moments of high contrast, especially black on white, and are very pronounced on Oculus. But for the MR headsets, the higher pixel density contributes to a more immersive experience, although the graphics are not perfect yet.

In light of upcoming SteamVR Support, do Oculus and Vive now have five strong contenders or do the former two still stand above the rest? Although the quality of MR headsets is certainly higher than what’s currently available on the market, gamers will be better off with Vive and Oculus. This is primarily because of the motion tracking. With MR, motion controllers must remain in sight of the cameras to be effective.

AndroidPIT ASUS Windows Mixed Reality Headset 8061 The controllers are good on mixed reality headsets but the tracking is only suitable for certain games / © AndroidPIT

In many fast and active VR games like Holopoint or Racket NX, the controllers can’t always be seen because you often need to move your hands behind your body. We tried the game SuperHot VR on the different systems and noticed that the tracking did fall short. 

The tracking wasn’t as fluent it could have been in the demo games. Sometimes the tracking stopped altogether, which never happens with Oculus Rift or Vive. The controllers are comfortable to wear and hold and rank among the best in the market, after the Oculus Touch.

Requirements and launch

The Fall Creators update for Windows 10 will arrive on October 17. This software is essential to run MR headsets however SteamVR support will be released later.  The launch dates of VR headsets will depend on individual manufacturers – Asus for example has postponed the release of its headset to early 2018.

microsoft mixed reality headsets Four of the five MR headsets / © Microsoft

The prices of the headsets vary from one to another. They begin at around $ 350. This is without the motion controllers which come at a $ 100 premium. Some manufacturers may even charge more.

Microsoft mixed reality: A platform with potential 

Mixed reality headsets don’t appear ready for the market. Above all, the tracking function is creating problems. Microsoft must refine its software. 

For VR gamers, the question is whether a higher display resolution provides a decisive advantage over both Vive and Oculus. The higher resolution doesn’t make a huge difference. Even at this resolution, the fly-screen effect is still noticeable. The platform isn’t suitable for very active games as the controllers must remain within view of the cameras.  

The system is already well suited for its target applications in the education and entertainment sector. These apps demand neither full nor latency-free tracking. Here, the entry into VR with MR headsets is pleasantly inexpensive. 

The launch of MR headsets will invigorate the VR market. Even though these headsets suffer from teething issues like cables or the fly-screen effect, their introduction doesn’t seem to have been a failure. All platforms should pay attention to VR because more VR hardware will lead to more content.

Opinion by Hans-Georg Kluge

I would buy one of Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets over HTC Vive or Oculus

What do you think?

Be the first to vote


This article is part of a series written in collaboration with Luis Ortega (androidpit.es), Benoit Pepicq (androidpit.fr) and Hans-Georg Kluge (androidpit.de). 

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Windows Mixed Reality: Microsoft breathes new life into VR

Though the VR hype has subsided a bit, Microsoft is striving to breathe new life into the technology with mixed reality. We took a closer look at the system and the five headsets at IFA, although they are actually virtual reality headsets. This is the first of a two-part article series starting with an introduction to the platform.

What exactly is Mixed Reality?

Most people are probably familiar with virtual and augmented reality – if that’s not the case for you, we have listed the basic differences in a separate article.

So what exactly is mixed reality (MR)? According to Microsoft, it is essentially a mix of both. To some extent, mixed reality is more powerful than augmented reality, because the mix of both worlds provides greater application scenarios. The HoloLens is a perfect example.

AndroidPIT Microsoft Hololens 0482 HoloLens is paving the way for Mixed Reality. / © AndroidPIT

Five manufacturers are now rolling out mixed reality headsets with the Microsoft technology. But: They are in fact virtual reality headsets. Its foundation lies in the name of the Windows Mixed Reality content platform and its technology. At the IFA keynote, Microsoft spoke very candidly about having developed VR headsets with its partners. Mixed reality is actually not possible with these mixed reality headsets, although the tracking technology is derived from HoloLens.

In any case, Microsoft’s VR platform is based on the previous work that we are already familiar with from HoloLens. To summarize: HoloLens and the new VR headsets are two manifestations of a platform that Microsoft calls mixed reality. From here on, we will also call the headsets mixed reality headsets because they were developed for this platform.

AndroidPIT ASUS Windows Mixed Reality Headset 8061 Luis tries out Asus’s mixed reality headset. / © AndroidPIT

Mixed Reality: How the system is designed

Microsoft designed the mixed reality platform to work even with low system requirements – the integrated graphics cards of some processors should be enough. As some manufacturers have confirmed to us at IFA, performance is also based on the purpose of the content. SteamVR games should also work as of the beginning of mid-October – you’ll need to meet the normal system requirements for PC-based VR to do so though.

mixed reality inside 1 Look inside a real model of Microsoft’s mixed reality home. / © AndroidPIT

The mixed reality platform is mainly intended for educational, entertainment and productivity applications, which in turn are not so hardware-intensive as VR games. In many respects, Vive and Oculus do not have new competition, and they mainly remain unbeaten in tracking.

Microsoft’s mixed reality: First moments

When you step into mixed reality, you will first find yourself inside a house that you can roam through. Each room represents different activities – you can play videos in the living room, and play vacation films on the terrace (with a view of the ocean). An internet browser is hanging on the wall in the home office, and there are also games.

mixed reality inside 3 A similar view inside Microsoft’s mixed reality. / © AndroidPIT

Browsing the web in VR? Yes, you can. And after trying it out, its navigation makes it easy do so. Of course, the font display is not as clear as on a classic desktop browser, but the sheer size of the window is definitely a boon for image and video-heavy websites. Accurately clicking on links worked using the motion controllers, and we used Microsoft’s Edge browser, whose VR counterpart shares settings like bookmarks with the desktop version.

mixed reality inside 2 Windows mixed reality: A VR platform with a bright future. / © AndroidPIT

Moving through the virtual house is done in two ways: One way is via teleport. This movement is probably the most pleasant and mainly suited for VR beginners: If you press the analog stick on one controller, an arrow appears that can be positioned in the VR world by looking and using the small stick. When you release the stick, you teleport to the desired area – you only need to do it twice to master it. Alternatively, there is also the option of triggering direct movement steps with the stick. It is significantly more taxing and can induce some nausea.

All in all, the mixed reality platform’s house metaphor looks very intuitive. It remains to be seen whether users will find such a polished environment useful and it’s unclear how flexibly the system is designed. It would be great if users could adapt the house to their own needs.

Do you think there is anything exciting in mixed reality technology as opposed to full VR? Can you think of any applications for this technology in your everyday life? 


In part two of this story, you’ll read our impressions of several headsets. These articles are a collaboration between Luis, Benoit and Hans-Georg.

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What’s new in Augmented Reality at IFA 2017?

For the past several days, AndroidPIT has been at IFA, Europe’s largest consumer electronics trade show, scouting out the latest innovations. I wanted to find out what’s next in augmented reality, so I went to the cutting edge of IFA: the IFA NEXT Startup Days showcase, where the topic of the day is augmented and virtual reality.

Organized by the German Startup Association, the IFA NEXT Startup Days are where discussion panels, lectures and pitches on various topics take place for six days. There we had the opportunity to speak with startups that represent a variety of the possibilities of AR. Here are just a few of the exciting use cases for augmented reality that emerged:

Interact with your favorite TV shows

Dr. Robert Strzebkowski, a professor at the Beuth Technical University in Berlin, gave a lecture on how augmented reality has evolved over time in entertainment. Going from the R2D2 projections of Leia in Star Wars that we all knew back in the day, AR has advanced to the point where it’s now possible to interact with your favorite TV shows. In fact, the university has created just that with the popular German TV series Die Bergretter.

AndroidPIT Microsoft Hololens 0472 Microsoft Hololens allows you to play games based on your actual surroundings. / © AndroidPIT

Based on the mountaineering adventures of the show, a game was created for the Microsoft Hololens which allows you to play with mountain rescue equipment, and best of all, fly a helicopter in the room with you using an Xbox controller. We tried it out, and are happy to report that it was very fun.

AndroidPIT Microsoft Hololens 0477 Microsoft Hololens allows you to play with mountain rescue equipment. / © AndroidPIT

Making QR codes cool again

Imagine being able to see what a car looks like in your driveway, or how a chair looks in your dining room, before buying it. Augmented reality makes it possible, and it’s not hard to imagine why it’s a powerful tool for sales and marketing. But, right now, you can’t stumble upon AR objects in the real world because no one is walking around with a pair of AR glasses on. Since our window to augmented reality is our smartphones, there’s a lot of friction in the user experience: you have to search for and download an app to see a particular product, like the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. Even before that, you have to know the AR object exists. That’s where 3DQR comes in. This German startup can put AR object anywhere using old school QR codes. Using their app, which doubles as a standard QR reader, you can point it at a QR code, and an AR object will appear on top of the QR code. Instead of first needing to scan a surface, like a table, the app uses the QR code as a base and anchor for the object. Imagine walking around a room full of QR codes with your smartphone and seeing it come to life before your eyes with AR.

IMG 0700 The QR code shows an animation of an engine opening up to show its parts. / © AndroidPIT

Explore stars and galaxies in outer space

Soon, anyone will be able to explore space in their backyard with the help of AR. At IFA NEXT, a French startup called Unistellar was presenting a telescope, the eVscope, designed to give amateurs access to the incredible sights of the universe using light amplification technology. Beyond that though, it also uses augmented reality alongside the telescope on an iPad, to make it easier to navigate to find a specific star, or if you’re wandering the skies aimlessly, to know what you’re looking at through the scope. Once the product ships, users will be able to help crowdsource data for SETI, furthering our collective understanding of space.

Which of these AR innovations from IFA excites you most? Let us know in the comments!

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The future of virtual reality is a collective hallucination

With Blocks, Google released a design tool allowing 3D objects to be conjured into virtual reality. This may not initially sound very exciting but in combination with other puzzle pieces from the Google universe, this paints a fascinating picture of where and how we can conduct social meetings in the future. 

I only read this article because I was bored at work.

What do you think?

1176 participants

This free app is available for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Using a few simple tools, users can create 3D models and then share them with the community. But the quality seen on the demo and the uploaded Low Poly models is still far from photo realistic.

Google Blocks & Co: Builders of dreams

Google already has some tools at its disposal to change this. Autodraw for example, transforms scribblings into handsome drawings. The Paper to Pixel Recursive Super Resolution from the Google Brain Team demonstrates how artificial intelligence can beautify pictures with fine details. 

In the near future, our three-dimensional VR doodles can morph into detailed models. Thanks to machine learning, this will happen automatically and based on our individual preferences (which Google is already familiar with). This environment could be our new living room, or provide us with a virtual space to meet with friends and family. Facebook has demonstrated this already with its VR platform Spaces.

And in the same way that digital screens replaced paper, time spent in virtual reality will soon come to rival time spent in the real world. Google, Apple, Facebook and others will do everything they can to control this next great ecosystem. The company that builds the best and most customized platform for the user will triumph. This company controlling the ecosystem will also attract developers and media builders, and receive revenue through content.

pixel recursive super resolution Using machine learning, the Pixel match creates a face (middle) that is astonishingly similar to the original (right). / © Google Brain

The future of VR: Hardware and software

In terms of hardware, VR is still in its infancy. For example, there’s room for improvement in sound quality. 3D scans of the head and ears of each user should allow for something called personalized Head Related Transfer Functions (HRTF), which makes realistic sound effects possible. Techniques like Foveated Rendering keep the required computing performance in check, and enable wireless and energy-efficient headsets. They also allow you to focus on areas in the VR environment using your eyes. 

At the moment, the most obvious flaw in VR is the resolution. The current version of Oculus Rift offers 1200 x 1080 pixels per eye. With a 90 degree field of vision, this means a pixel density of 15 pixels per degree. Chief scientist of Oculus Michael Abrash predicts that by 2021, we will reach a 140 degree field of vision and a pixel density of 30 pixels per degree – around 4000 x 4000 pixels per eye.

There’s still a fair way to go before we reach the maximum pixel resolution perceivable to the human eye – around 120 pixels per degree. Or perhaps not – this year, the Finnish firm Vario wants to launch its headset with the equivalent of 70 megapixels per eye, even if this isn’t performed via a high-resolution display but instead an elegant trick using eye tracking. Regardless of whether the former Nokia manager succeeds or not, achieving a ‘VR retina resolution’ is certainly only a matter of time.

Similarly, it’s only a matter of time until we spend a significant portion of our day in a virtual reality. This would be a virtual world created with the support of intelligent algorithms, which in addition to our daily input, will also utilize the comprehensive digital information of our lives. In ten years, we’ll look back nostalgically on the technology of today, in a future that has starkly changed through the exponential progress of the next decade – even more so than our world now since the presentation of the first iPhone in 2007.

Let’s meet up in 2027 for a beer in my virtual reality dream, hallucinated into existence by Google, Facebook, or whoever the main competitors in the VR ecosystem may be. Blocks is definitely one of the many bricks in Google’s vision. 

What do you think? Will VR be the thing of the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Will Apple make augmented reality mainstream with iOS 11?

Like every year, Apple took the opportunity to present new features for its devices at its developers conference. This time, Apple wasn’t content to just build upon its existing operating system or other products though. It’s now showing interest in a totally new technology: augmented reality.

ARKit: augmented reality with a slice of Cupertino?

ARKit is Apple’s framework dedicated to augmented reality, or AR. When the new version of iOS (11) becomes available, it will be found on all devices that have an A9 processor on board. Of course, that means users will have access to AR apps and games, but before that, developers have to create all these apps, which is no small task.

But, developers will be up for the challenge. Why wouldn’t they be, with Apple’s huge user base? Apple has everything to gain from ARKit: users get to discover a relatively unknown and amusing technology, and developers can gain notoriety and make money from the apps. At best, users will flock to Apple to check out AR. At worst, it won’t catch on with the masses, and the few who are very interested will enjoy it anyway.

amnh 1 Augmented reality is already on Android. © Screenshot: ANDROIDPIT

ARKit: motivated developers offer up interesting content

Developers are already off to work, and the fruits of their labor are starting to show. Some have practical uses, rather than just entertainment. With this in mind, IKEA is working on a way to put virtual furniture in your apartment to see how it looks before you buy it, thus avoiding some bad surprises.

Always practical, there’s also an AR Measure App, which allows you to measure using your smartphone for those times when a tape measurer isn’t around. Again, this will be particularly useful if you’re at a furniture store and need to measure something like cabinets against the space available in your kitchen. 

On the other hand, there are apps which aim to immerse you into the fantasy world of augmented reality, where things are half real and half virtual. You can find many examples of this online, for example, you can find the famous m,n,k board game, or watch virtual basketball players go head to head in your living room. The most impressive video is this one: 

ARKit: Does AR really have a future?

Short of having a crystal ball, it’s impossible to know. What’s clear is that augmented reality, in addition to being fun, has some very practical use cases. And while many questions are still up in the air, as with any new technology, it will find its audience. Will it one day be normal to see a skeleton passing you on the street while you’re wearing AR glasses? What will be the impact of the technology on individuals and society? Big changes pose big questions, and we’ll just have to wait and see.

What do you think of AR? Are you excited by it, or apprehensive? Let us know in the comments.

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Which virtual reality headset is best for you?

While some of you have probably heard about it but haven’t tried it out, the virtual reality world, particularly in the coming years, could change our daily lives (work, vacations, education and health). So, here’s a short guide to the main players in the VR world.

VR headsets for smartphones

There are a lot of VR options out there, and the following are headsets which require a smartphone in order to display VR content.

Cardboard

Let’s start with the simplest one. Known for being Google’s low-cost viewer, Cardboard was created, in cardboard, naturally, to promote the development and the commercial release of virtual reality. The simplicity of the materials and the manufacturing justify its low price, and means that it’s aimed at beginners who don’t want to spend a lot to discover the VR world. It lets in a lot of light, you hold it with your hands and the experience isn’t totally immersive.

AndroidPIT Sveva VR 9976 It couldn’t be simpler. / © AndroidPIT

Here, you’ll find a list of all the applications on the Play Store that are compatible with this cardboard viewer. The smartphones that work with this device are those with at least a Full HD display but, even in this case, it’s not a great experience. It’s better if you have a WQHD device, but don’t expect any miracles.

Gear VR

If you have a Samsung phone, this headset offers excellent value for the money. Accompanied by a remote control that you can use to interact with the apps, this device also contains acceleration and position sensors. Comfortable to wear, it slightly filters light but, unfortunately, the graphics matrix still draws attention (but, for the price, that’s not surprising). Thanks to games with good graphics and features, the VR experience, as described by my colleague Hans-Georg Kluge in his test, “will always be omnipresent”: you’ll find yourself on the edge of a cliff or faced by a shark that comes out of nowhere and you’ll be scared for your life.

AndroidPIT samsung gear vr 2017 8990The Gear VR is a good compromise for those who don’t want to spend too much for immersive virtual reality. / © AndroidPIT

Daydream View

The natural progression from Google Cardboard is to Daydream View. With this device, Mountain View tried to intercept or at least calm the success of the Gear VR. Launched in November 2016, these glasses offer a comfortable virtual reality experience, even during long sessions of use, thanks to the use of fabric on the surface. Compared to Gear VR, it’s slightly narrower, smaller and lighter (345 grams compared to 220 grams). If you don’t have a Samsung device, but you have one of the devices in the table (all with an AMOLED screen), this is the viewer for you.

AndroidPIT google daydream view 0637Daydream can make you dream. / © AndroidPIT

VR headsets for smartphones

 
Device Price Compatibility For who?
Cardboard $ 15 Full HD display required  Beginners
Gear VR $ 39 / $ 89 with controller S7/S7 Edge, S6/S6 Edge/S6 Edge+, Note 5 and Galaxy S8/S8+ Intermediate gamers
Daydream View $ 75 Pixel/XL, Galaxy S8/S8+, ZenFone AR, Axon 7, Mate 9 Pro, Moto Z Intermediate gamers

VR headsets for a PC

In this case, the platform isn’t a smartphone, but a computer. Coverage of the field of view is better, as is the power.

HTC Vive

This device by the Taiwanese company will allow you to live the VR experience with total immersion (and we’re not just talking about games). The HTC Vive remote control can act as all kinds of virtual objects: a gaming weapon, a pencil for drawing, a hammer and, of course, virtual hands. Unlike the Oculus Rift, with Vive and thanks to the collaboration with Valve, you can receive phone calls, display and reply to your messages, consult your calendar and all without exiting the 3D viewer. The price will be very restrictive and the headset, for now, is mainly aimed at professional use and not for private use or for leisure.

AndroidPIT htc vive hands on 3586 Weapon in hand, let the battle commence! / © AndroidPIT

Oculus Rift

Oculus VR, bought by Facebook in March 2014, developed the first VR headsets thanks to financing from Kickstarter. With 20 infrared sensors, this headset can detect its position in a space in order to adapt the images that it displays according to the user’s head movements. These sensors, combined with a camera placed in front of the player, can detect movements in three dimensions, which allows the users to be able to move around in a 3D environment. With the Touch remote control, as with Vive, you can engage with the things that you see in the headset.

Both devices need a PC and, given their price, they are aimed at a hardcore, early VR adopter fanbase and the professional world.

Hugo Zuckerberg Oculus Rift Oculus Rift is an important stage for Facebook. / © Facebook

VR headsets for a PC

Device Price Compatibility For who?
HTC Vive $ 749 PCs with these features Hardcore VR fans and professionals
Oculus Rift $ 500 PCs with these features Hardcore VR fans and professionals

Stand Alone: the best is yet to come

A short summary on the big new features to come: this independent headset doesn’t need a smartphone or a PC. Google’s new project was presented during the Google I/O 2017, but the first independent VR headsets will be available on the market later this year.

The companies involved in this project are Qualcomm (for hardware), HTC and Lenovo (for headset manufacturing). To follow objects that are around the user, the device will rely on the new World Sense tracking system. To get an idea of what we’re talking about, have a look at this video:

Playstation VR: for the gamers

Formerly known under the code name Project Morpheus, this VR headset developed by Sony had been described by the brand as “the future of gaming with virtual reality”. To use the headset, you’ll need a PlayStation 4, and a PlayStation Camera, which is useful for position tracking.

To interact with games, you can use the console’s joystick and, with PlayStation Move, you’ll also be able to move the hands in the virtual reality world. Equipped with one OLED 1080p screen, the viewer’s visual field is about 100°.

Play Station VR

Device Price Compatibility For who?
Play Station VR $ 384

PS4, PlayStation Camera, joypad with PlayStation Move (optional)

Gamers

Here, you’ll find all the games that are compatible with the PlayStation VR. Here’s an example:

Have you already tried virtual reality? What headset is best for you? Let us know in the comments!

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Essential Phone: separating the reality from the hype

Essential was born from the idea of making technology easy to use. Although Android certainly has its achievements, it is also responsible for the fact that complicated technology is making the day-to-day more difficult instead of simplified – and Rubin feels partly responsible for this. Too many products don’t work with each other. With this in mind, he formulates Essential’s mission: It should be a company that brings solutions to people of the 21st century – in his blog post, Rubin states six central ideas that drive Essential.

  • Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
  • We play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
  • Premium materials and craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few.
  • Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
  • Technology should assist you so that you can get on with enjoying your life.
  • Simple is always better.

His first response to these arguments is, in parts at least, the Essential Phone: But which of the aforementioned problems does it really solve? Beautiful craftsmanship for all? With a price of roughly $ 700 (plus taxes), it is certainly standard, but not available “for all”. And a year from now, the Essential Phone will be “yesterday’s news” when the next chip generation arrives (Snapdragon 845) – in any case, it can’t evolve – at best it can avoid aging quickly. 

essential phone hero The Essential Phone with a hole in the display / © Essential

And the closed ecosystem? It has an arguably proprietary module interface that apparently uses a 60 GHz wireless connection. At best, Essential will publish documentation and, at worst, there will only be a few gadgets. What remains unclear is how open has the interface been made: Does it require its own APIs? Can anyone put together an Essential mod? A lot of questions remain unanswered. And it lacks early praise: Apart from the 360-degree camera, Essential has not shown anything yet. Are we seeing a repeat of the Lenovo problem? Moto Mods are certainly an innovative idea, but Lenovo has lately attracted attention with concepts instead of real mods. The first four mods are still available, and there’s not even anything mind-blowing about them.

The Essential Phone may have a great design, but it looks a bit funny: The selfie cam is integrated into the display, and a piece of screen was simply sacrificed on the top edge. It’s true that there’s often not a lot of content to be seen there. On the other hand, games and videos need this space more. Do you simply see black bars there? Wouldn’t a classic bezel have worked better?

Opinion by Hans-Georg Kluge

The display gap is an eyesore.

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Many of the aspects outlined here are implemented better in other smartphones. Excellent craftsmanship can already be found in mid-range smartphones, and the Moto Mods series has modules. Google Pixel, Lenovo, HTC and a few others forego extensive bloatware; others even allow you to uninstall it. OnePlus and – to a certain degree – Honor are known for being affordable and high-end.

AndroidPIT OnePlus3 soft gold vs gray silver 6643 OnePlus: Quite possibly Essential’s toughest competitor. / © AndroidPIT

Andy Rubin is back!

Andy Rubin is back! Let’s be honest and admit that: The Essential Phone is mainly drawing a lot of attention because the inventor of Android is personally behind it. The Verge wrote that Rubin has already made a good decision or two when it comes to mobile devices. That may be true. But by this logic, shouldn’t the Essential Phone be full of refined ideas? This holds true in many ways: The software is slimmed-down, and the craftsmanship seems premium. Otherwise, the Essential Phone is not exactly full of surprises.

Opinion by Hans-Georg Kluge

Essential Phone – excellent from a technical standpoint, but barely innovative.

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The Essential Home smart home device, which was also presented, is an add-on that brings Essential to your living room. Its obvious goal is to launch a Google Home competitor. We still lack extensive details, but one thing is clear: Essential does not exist to re-invent the smartphone. Rubin wants to go beyond that and create an entire ecosystem.

This is the only way to understand the Essential Phone: It its merely the first step. If successful, then Rubin may definitely consider entering other areas of electronics – he has already implied a step toward the smart home category.

Can Rubin succeed? David Ruddock from AndroidPolice.com has his doubts:

Things look quite grim in his home market, the USA. A similar prediction may apply to markets in Europe, too. To some extent, the Essential Phone is tailored toward enthusiasts that want to get away from the same old, same old of other Android smartphones. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this opening is big enough since maybe he can push back against some fragmentation in the tech market.

What do you think are Rubin’s chances for success? Are we looking at a new major player? Or will Essential essentially be another Saygus? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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