Sprint will be the exclusive US operator partner for Essential Phone, the first smartphone from the company founded by Android pioneer Andy Rubin, a partnership which led to some raised eyebrows.
The operator is the smallest of the four nationwide operators in the country, meaning that compared with rival operators Essential Products is limiting its potential reach. The company is also selling the device unlocked via its own website, and Sprint is making it available via BestBuy along with its own channels.
Partnering with Sprint brings Essential Phone a US retail presence, albeit one which is restricted relative to what the largest operators could offer. It is also unclear how long Sprint will have exclusivity on the device before it is made available via other operators – if indeed it ever is.
Of course, despite its pedigree, Essential Products is essentially just another smartphone startup servicing a tough market (premium Android), which is home to a number of established players. Also, while Rubin’s pedigree is known in tech circles, he is hardly a household name among phone buyers.
USA Today quoted Niccolo De Masi, president of Essential Products, who said: “I feel like we are a new brand and a new consumer electronics company and we are partnering with the network of the future”.
Sprint cited its “vast spectrum holdings” and unlimited plans as factors making it “the perfect choice” to launch the first Essential device.
There is also history between Rubin and SoftBank, owner of Sprint – and it is not all positive. While Rubin is an adviser to the SoftBank Vision Fund, it was reported the Japanese company had walked away from a $100 million investment in Essential, partly due to SoftBank’s close relationship with Apple.
So far, Essential Phone pricing via Sprint has not been announced. It costs $699 from Essential itself.