Priced at $699 and built out of titanium and ceramic, Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone is by all accounts a pure premium device. Far from the modest implications of its name, this is a top-spec smartphone with top-tier aspirations. And yet, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. I know what you might be thinking: neither does the iPhone 7, and that phone’s helped Apple to record-breaking sales. But the problem with that reasoning is that most things that are true about the iPhone are true only of the iPhone and should not be treated as universal truths about all smartphones.
Let’s review the fates of the Android companies that have ditched the headphone jack over the past year or so. LeEco was among the first, and it provided its president of R&D, Liang Jun, to help explain why it was making the shift away from the analog audio jack. It was supposed to be about superior audio quality. Ask HTC, which has this year rolled out the (unsatisfying) U Ultra and U11, and it would tell you the same story. Except, well, the most popular new headphones of this past year have been Apple’s AirPods, which are about wireless convenience rather than improving sound. Motorola, the other big headphone jack eliminator, was surprised by the passionate and immediate backlash it got from unhappy consumers of its extra-slim Moto Z phones. In all three cases, the company switching away from the headphone jack has found its fortunes either stagnating or degrading.
There isn’t yet an example of a world-conquering Android phone without a headphone jack. The best we have at the moment, whether you favor Samsung’s Galaxy S8 or Google’s Pixel, comes with a classic audio port. Then you also have fine contenders like the LG G6 and OnePlus 3T, both also including analog audio support. Not having a headphone jack on your phone is still a user-hostile move, and only Apple has been able to get away with it so far. I don’t think Essential, even with Andy Rubin’s pedigree and mobile acumen, is another Apple. I think it’s an Android vendor with a dumb and unnecessary headphone adapter in its box.