iPhone 15 Pro’s titanium might be beat by a 2017 Android phone

Apple this week launched the iPhone 15 Pro, its first smartphone made with a titanium frame. That launch will bring the material to the masses, but it also reminds us of 2017’s Essential Phone, the short-lived Android phone that had a premium build that was so far ahead of its time.

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The Essential Phone, or “PH-1,” debuted at a time when there was a lot more competition in Android. Google Pixel was just getting started, LG hadn’t thrown in the towel yet, and everything about Essential just seemed so promising back in 2017 when it was being teased. That initial impression was only backed up by hands-on time with the device.

At a launch event for the PH-1, I was blown away by the hardware. The ceramic back and titanium frame were just so incredibly premium and well-crafted, and that’s an impression that lasts right down to today.

There are plenty of elements of the PH-1 that didn’t age well, or even start off great. The LCD screen was objectively worse than OLED, and the cameras were basically trash. But from a hardware standpoint, the Essential Phone remains the best hardware Android has possibly ever seen. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

The white Essential Phone was the best one

And, to a certain extent, I think Essential’s use of titanium might be better than Apple’s.

The polished titanium frame of the Essential Phone picks up fingerprints but at nowhere near the rate of the iPhone 15 Pro, which frankly looks gross based on hands-on coverage from our sister site 9to5Mac as well as other outlets such as The Verge. Presumably, that’s due to the brushed and slightly matte texture.

The Essential Phone’s titanium edge never looked quite this bad (Image: The Verge)

That’s not to say that Essential Phone never picked up ugly fingerprints on its polished sides. The black models especially could pick up quite a bit of grime, but it never looked quite as bad as what we’ve seen from the iPhone 15 Pro’s darker colors thus far, and that’s just with those iPhones having been used for demos at Apple’s HQ. With that in mind, though, it seems entirely possible that Apple’s titanium holds up better in real life. We’ll have to wait and see.

I’d also argue that the PH-1’s ceramic backing only further bolstered the premium frame, adding a material that ages way better than glass.

Even the black Essential Phone’s frame was better at hiding fingerprints

But, sadly, the Essential Phone is now long dead. As of last month, the device became six years old, which, by even the best standards, means that software updates have long since ceased – Apple released the iPhone X that same year and cut it off from software updates with iOS 17 this year.

Essential itself is also but a distant memory, with the startup having closed its doors in 2020 before ever releasing a second device. Much of the best parts of Essential have since moved over to OSOM, which had a promising successor to the PH-1 in the OV1, but that device was killed off before seeing the light of day and converted into the Solana Saga, a crypto-focused device that, even if you ignore the web3 aspects, is apparently not very good.

Will we ever see a device with the same fit and finish as the Essential Phone? Really, I doubt it, especially not in the Android world. That said, Apple’s move to adopt titanium could lead some Android manufacturers to do the same. And, with the iPhone 15 Pro shedding weight with that move, it might actually be a smart move for foldables, which often struggle with their weight by the inherent nature of being a foldable phone.

This Week’s Top Stories

Google releases some big app updates

This week, Google has released a handful of bigger-than-most app updates to some key Android apps. That includes Google Messages, which launched a redesign to its main homescreen on Samsung devices. The Google Camera app also launched its v9.0 with the first major update in quite some time. And, in the lead-up to the Find My Device network, Google launched v3.0 of the Find My Device app with minor tweaks and a new app icon.

Apple’s new ‘Double Tap’ gesture is already on Galaxy Watch

Alongside new iPhones, Apple also showed off the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. Those are pretty small updates, but one of the key features is the new “Double Tap” gesture that can recognize a hand gesture to do things on screen. It’s pretty cool, but as our Andrew Romero points out, it already technically exists on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch. Even on Apple’s new hardware, it won’t be available at launch.

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