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Circuit Breaker

Essential’s limited-edition phone colors look spectacular

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Since the Essential Phone was announced, the teal and copper “Ocean Depths” model has always stood out as the company’s boldest and by far most distinctive color scheme. Months and months of delays later, I wondered if anyone would actually care that it was finally being released — but that changed after seeing it in person.

I’ve seen and held a lot of phones over the last five years, and none has been quite like this. Essential’s Ocean Depths model radiates color. It’s bright and saturated in a surprising blue-green that makes it feel like some lost piece of treasure beside the cavalcade of black and white phones that make up so much of the market.

I don’t know why Essential spent so many months working on this, and I don’t know if it’ll all be worth it from a sales perspective. But from a design front, it was definitely worth the effort. If the phone’s full-screen, tiny-notched design was the first way Essential surprised and excited the tech world, this color scheme ought to be the second.

Essential produced a limited run of Ocean Depths phones and doesn’t plan to make any more of them. The run went on sale two weeks ago and has since sold out. That seems like a decent sign for a company that’s said to have sold fewer than 90,000 phones last year, though Essential didn’t announce how many Ocean Depths units were made.

Alongside the Ocean Depths model, Essential also put on sale two other limited edition phones: Copper Black, which has a glossy black back and a copper trim, and Stellar Gray, which has a matte black back and a matte gray trim. It also introduced another new model, Halo Gray, which is exclusive to Amazon and won’t be a limited edition. That model has a matte black back and the same titanium rails used on Essential’s white model.

Ocean Depths beside Copper Black.

Copper Black looks good, thanks to its shining and contrasty copper edges, but it doesn’t stand out nearly as much as Ocean Depths. Stellar Gray is a nice surprise though — the matte back is easier to grip, and the darker edges give the phone a stark, monolithic look (it resembles Google’s black Pixel 2 a bit). Neither of those have yet to sell out. Amazon’s model is the least distinctive, though there’s kind of an iPhone 4 vibe to it when you look at the antenna gaps on the sides.

A word of warning, though: I saw a faint scratch on one of the matte black models at Essential’s Mobile World Congress booth. Trade shows aren’t kind to phones, but the finish does seem more likely to be scuffed.

It’s been six months since the Essential Phone was first released, and it very much remains a work in progress. On top of the new colors, Essential has spent the past several months refining the camera, testing an update to Oreo, and fixing bugs.

The phone is in a better place now than when it was released, but it’s still an expensive, niche device. And meanwhile, Essential remains at work on a second phone, more accessories, and a smart home assistant. It’s not clear when any of these things are coming, nor what other surprises Essential has left to grab our attention. But Essential steadily seems to be working out the kinks that held back its debut hardware, and that should ultimately count for more than some new colors.

Ocean Depths.
Copper Black.
The copper stands out more on the black model, but the phone as a whole isn’t as flashy.
The limited-edition Stellar Gray on top of Amazon’s Halo Gray.
Stellar Gray. With enough light, you can see the antenna trim, but it looks seamless in person.
Halo Gray, the Amazon-exclusive model.
Halo Gray comes with the Alexa app pre-installed.