Andy Rubin shows off the next Essential device with its bizarre design
Taking a cue from his former employer, Andy Rubin, the founder of Essential Products, just tweeted out images of the next Essential device. Unlike Google’s self-leak which mostly confirmed rumors, Essential’s has only raised more questions than before. What in the world are we looking at? What kind of software does this device run? What do we even call this form factor? It doesn’t look like any kind of smartphone we’ve ever seen before, but it’s probably still a phone under-the-hood. That’s what we think, at least.
From the few images that Mr. Rubin shared, we can see that the aspect ratio is ridiculously skewed. If you thought the 21:9 aspect ratio of the latest Xperia and Motorola One phones was ridiculous, then Essential just swooped in with a “hold my beer” to prove to us that phone designs can get even crazier. Just look at this thing:
The device seems to be running Android judging by the back and home buttons at the top of the phone (?), but the device’s UI is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Apps are stacked on top of one another in a tile-based UI, with only one shortcut present in each tile alongside some live information being shown. We can see Uber, Calendar, Maps, and a Weather app, though it’s unclear if Calendar and Maps are Google Calendar and Google Maps respectively.
Hardware-wise, there seems to be a single front-facing camera and a single rear-facing camera with an LED flash. There’s also an indentation for what might be a fingerprint scanner on the back. We can’t really see the top or bottom sides, so we don’t know if there are any additional speakers apart from the clearly-visible earpiece speaker in the top bezel. The device does seem to have a standard power button and volume up/down buttons on the right side, though.
Mr. Rubin says the device, code-named “GEM,” is made with a “colorshift material.” As shown in the video below, this material can change color based on the angle you’re looking at it from.
GEM Colorshift material pic.twitter.com/QJStoiDleH
— Andy Rubin (@Arubin) October 8, 2019
From our earlier analysis, we determined that the next Essential product is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 and is currently being developed on top of Android 10. We also learned that the device supports a “fingerprint walkie talkie” mode, so you might be able to talk to whatever assistant is on this device by holding your finger against that indentation on the back. We don’t know if the assistant app will be the Google Assistant, though, since the device is being tested with microG, an open-source alternative framework to Google Play Services. Finally, we learned from one of our readers that Essential has trademarked “GEM,” but it’s possible that it’s still just a code-name.
Essential recently started hiring software engineers in India, so it looks like they’re ramping up their development efforts on this device. Mr. Rubin has been personally embroiled in a lot of controversy over sexual misconduct allegations during his time at Google, so it’s surprising to see him back in the spotlight with a new product like this. Regardless, we know there will be a lot of interest in future products from the company, so we’ll be keeping an eye out on this strange device to learn more about it.
Update: More Photos and Details from Essential
In a separate tweet, the official account for the company shared two more images of the device. The first image shows another view of what’s likely the home screen UI with a clock widget, Spotify widget, and apps such as Phone, Maps, Compass, Messages, and Gallery. The circular clock widget has two inner circles: one that presumably shows the current LTE strength and another that shows the current battery percentage. In addition, “AT&T” can clearly be seen in the clock widget, suggesting the device is connected to AT&T’s LTE network. It’s pretty clear at this point that this device will act as a phone. The second image merely shows off the rear design again, but this time in higher-quality.
We’ve been working on a new device to reframe your perspective on mobile. It’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab. Look forward to sharing more in the near future! #ProjectGEM pic.twitter.com/BnVy7yM2Kj
— Essential (@essential) October 9, 2019