Everything We Know About Project Gem: Essential's 'Radically Different' Smartphone

Photo: Essential, Twitter

Early details are finally out for the upcoming “Project Gem” smartphone. That’s the latest creation from Essential, the company founded by ex-Google exec, Andy Rubin. The phone itself looks unlike anything that has come before it, confirming long-running rumours that Essential has been working on an unorthodox smartphone for some time.

The official images and earlier leaks show off the phone’s striking visual design, which is quite a bit different than what we’ve come to expect from modern smartphones. Additional leaks and rumours point to the Gem having a very different user experience as well. Here’s what we know about Project Gem so far:

Form factor

Our first official look at Project Gem—which trademark filings indicate will simply be named “Gem” when it’s released—come courtesy of Essential’s official Twitter account and tweets from CEO Andy Rubin.

The first thing you’ll likely notice is the Gem’s unique form factor, which resembles a TV or streaming box remote instead of a contemporary smartphone. The gem certainly isn’t the only phone trying out a new design, but it’s one of the most radical departures we’ve seen in quite some time. Another notable aspect of the Gem’s design is the metallic colour options, which have a neat colour-shifting effect based on your viewing angle.

We also catch glimpses at the Gem’s volume control placement and what is basically a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device (which XDA posits may be used to call up the Gem’s onboard voice assistant). A raised rear camera lens is also visible on the Gem’s back, as well what appears to be a front-facing punch-out camera in the upper-left of its screen—though camera specs are TBD right now.

Speaking of specs, some expect the Gem will run on Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 730 chipset, but there’s no official word on that just yet.

User interface

Image: Essential, Twitter

The Tweets also give us a glimpse at the Gem’s unique, card-based UI. In some promo photos, there even appear to be multiple apps and/or widgets open on-screen at once. Of course, the final product may differ quite a bit from what we see in these photos, but the Gem’s form factor and unorthodox UI do raise a number of questions—especially regarding how the phone will handle apps designed for different aspect ratios.

Voice controls and AI assistant

Reports from XDA Developers and Bloomberg indicate that the Gem will lean on its AI assistant even more than other contemporary smartphones. Essential’s design philosophy is to create devices that will curb addictive smartphone behaviour, and the company’s previous smartphone, the PH-1, was also designed with a similarly minimalist ethos behind it. All this considered, it’s looking like the Gem will be another stripped-down smartphone focused on the...er...essentials, with a heavy emphasis on voice controls and voice-to-text input, but that’s purely speculation on my part.

Availability

While Essential is finally talking about its upcoming Gem smartphone openly, it hasn’t confirmed a release date, pricing, nor final colour options. The company assures it will be sharing more information soon, but we have no idea what timeline it’s thinking about or if it will receive an official release in Australia.

If its any consolation, the Gem’s rumoured specs and intended user experience could indicate Essential is targeting a mid-range price point, which aligns well with how the company marketed the PH-1, but again, that’s just my best guess based on what we know so far.


Comments

    While I wouldn't be keen to use a phone with that form factor it's nice to see different designs being tried. I'm sure there are some people who would prefer to use this rather than the more standard shape.

    As for the UI, it reminds me of Windows phone and their "tile" approach.

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