The Essential Phone has come a long way since launch in one key area: Photography. When it first hit the market a few months ago, the camera had a nasty tendency to crash and was a bit slow to load and process photos. But Essential has stayed true to its promise of delivering frequent and effective Camera app updates, and the result is a smartphone total package that is easily the best value today at its reduced price of $499 – and it's a good contender for best Android smartphone period, now, too, even with the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL on the market.
I've been using the Essential Phone throughout its most recent camera updates, and I paid particular attention to the most recent updates for the app which brought a lot of improved stability and improved loading and capture times. Image quality, too, is improved, particularly in low light, which makes it seem like Essential did some work under the hood to improve the sensor fusion work that combines images from its dual color/mono cameras.
You can see examples of photos taken from the updated camera app below, including a selection of images taken in Japan. They definitely optimize for different qualities vs. some of the other leading flagship devices out there, including the iPhone X and the Pixel 2, but I'm a fan of the decisions Essential made with regards to their results, including more muted tones and a tendency to avoid exaggerating things like sky colors.
It's a terrific camera for landscapes and street shots, both day and night, and the video camera is also now fast and reliable, though lacking some of the more advanced features of the Pixel 2 like stabilization (but no other smartphone compares to the Pixel in that regard). It also lacks whiz-bang features like a portrait mode for simulating background blur at low apertures, but its mono sensor mode still produces some of my favorite images I've ever captured with a mobile device.
Camera aside, Essential has also improved general stability a lot, and with its most recent update, introduced the useful fingerprint sensor swipe gesture to bring down the notification tray that's been staple of the Pixel line from Google.
Pairing all the user experience improvements with the stuff Essential got right immediately out of the gate, including its incredible industrial design (which easily tops the Android crop if not the industry, IMO) and its stellar screen (which avoids a lot of the issues inherent in that of the Pixel 2 XL's pOLED), there's no question that Essential's $499 outright offering price is a no brainer.
There are other things in the pipeline for the future that could make the Essential Phone stand out even more, including a forthcoming Android Oreo update, and additional modular add-ons made possible via the magnetic accessory port on the back, but even leaving those aside, Essential is the best deal in smartphones right now, and probably the best device period for a large number of people.
- This article originally appeared on TechCrunch.