Android 9 Impressions: Essential Phone

Posted August 28, 2018 by David Ray in Nerdy Bits

Android Pie? Sweet!

Android 9, Pie, dropped about 2 weeks ago for the Google Pixel phones and the Essential PH-1 (an impressive 12 mins after official release), I personally got a taste of the update through the latter of the two. It’s also said to be coming to the Oneplus 6 soon, though I don’t know if there is a solid date for that yet. Just to be clear, I did not run any of the betas on my Essential so forgive me if anything I mention here is repetitive for the hardcore users out there. With that out of the way let’s dig in to the good stuff you’ll find on your newly updated Android device.

The Highs

Android 9 is an interesting update that is technically just an evolutionary change but around the edges it has vast changes for the Android experience. The new gesture navigation is the largest change for UI navigation. I personally find it to be a perfectly suitable form of gesture navigation, especially for one handed usage. That said, it is not significantly better than Android’s original navigation by any stretch of the imagination. I personally assume that is why you are given the option to revert back to the old navigation buttons, unless you have a Pixel 3 apparently. The overall look of the Interface is far more polished and modern with more white space and hollowed-out icons. My favorite of all the UI changes so far has been the animations which make far more sense in action now than android animations have in the past. Seeing notifications that behave as if they are a ‘material’ (I see you Google design) that interacts properly with other elements of UI. The last thing I found myself excited about was the vastly improved battery life. With my usage I typically get 4:30 hrs. of screen on time, and with this update I’ve easily managed 5:30 hrs. of screen on time regularly. I’m assuming this is a result of the Adaptive Battery feature Google has implemented in this update along with more general optimization by Essential (Update: Right before posting I got a notification that FB Messenger was drawing significant power, and it allow me to cut it from the background with a notification menu to help quickly preserve endurance. I can’t tell exactly how much it helped, but it’s nice that Android is starting to reign in power hungry apps). There is also Adaptive Brightness which is another feature meant to predict usage to preserve battery, however I have yet to see the proper result of this in my device but I’m also not very consistent with brightness adjustments so I won’t weigh that as a negative.

The quick settings redesign with light/dark theme.

The Lows

As with many good things, you will encounter plenty of bad things along the way. Trust me, there is no lack of complaints being made about Android P or any software update ever for that matter. Android 9’s problems start with the same ease of use I mentioned when talking about the gestures. One handed usage is still almost impossible on a device larger than 5”! I can’t claim that this is solely an issue with Android because this is just the big phone-no bezel future we live in, but I can say that we still haven’t reached a solid equilibrium between screen size and convenience for the user. For a right handed Android user I find the back button demands the most ridiculous hand gymnastics to reach when I don’t have my left hand free. This can be easily solved by by implementing a way to choose where the navbar buttons sit a la Samsung Experience. Another similar issue is caused when “scrubbing” through the recent apps menu with the pill button. It’s also quite difficult to reach all the way to the bottom right corner to make it auto scroll. This issue can be fixed by just making the “scrub bar” (my manufactured name for it) ever so slightly more narrow. These navigation issues won’t apply to everyone equally of course because we all have different hands and use them with a phone differently as well. I have also discovered a small app display error when swiping the app drawer up quickly, but this doesn’t seem to occur if you swipe up at an “average” speed. The biggest issue I have encountered is the world’s most annoying lag I’ve ever experienced with Gboard in my 2 years using it! My keyboard just seems sluggish in a way that I find difficult to explain, all I know is my typing accuracy has fallen significantly since the update and it is frustrating. The keyboard issue of course could be specific to Essential or even my phone independently. That’s not the only Essential “exclusive” flaw in this update either. There are also issues with notch behavior and the home button lacking the animation of the Google “dots” bouncing out of the pill. That last one is nitpicky for sure, but I wanted to mention it regardless. (Update: While doing my final edit of this I have seen a significant improvement in the keyboard performance on my device, the issue seemed to be independent to my device given the lack of complaints I have seen online.) 

This is the previously mentioned UI error with apps sitting in the status bar.


So, Is It Good?

Overall, I would say Android 9 is an awesome upgrade that provides UI changes that ready us for the future (whether we want it or not) of smartphone design. We are of course missing features that were announced at Google IO like Digital Wellbeing, but that will likely hit on 9.1 with the release of the Google Pixel 3. I can confidently look at Android 9 and say that this is an update where the good easily outweighs the bad, and I look forward to the iterations we’ll see in the coming months from Google and, in my case, Essential.

About the Author

David Ray

Tech Geek-Musician-Podcast Fanatic-Gamer-Writer-Reader