Sprint begins taking preorders for Essential's first phone, offers $260 discount

Sprint began taking preorders for Essential's PH-1. (Essential)

Sprint has begun taking preorders for Essential Products’ highly anticipated first smartphone as the handset market is set to heat up in a very big way.

A few weeks ago, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless network operator officially announced support for the Essential Phone, which will mark the first effort from Andy Rubin since the creator of Android left Google in 2014. Sprint, which announced in June that it had secured exclusive rights to sell the phone, also launched a promotion offering the phone for $14.58 a month with no money down over the course of 18 lease payments.

The Essential PH-1 is a high-end, Android-powered gadget positioned to compete with flagship devices from Apple, Google and others. The $700 modular handset is sold unlocked and features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 128 GB of internal storage and a 360-degree camera that can shoot spherical UHD images at 30 frames per second. The phone also supports three-channel carrier aggregation, enabling it to reach peak download speeds in excess of 200 Mbps.

The phone—which will also be sold unlocked for use on other networks—will be available at Sprint retail stores and through its online and telemarketing channels, and at Best Buy as well as directly from Essential’s website.

Essential’s coming-out has reportedly faced delays amid executive departures and internal turbulence, but reports surfaced earlier this week that the phone will begin shipping next week. Sprint didn’t disclose any shipping dates.

Rubin’s startup—which was named to FierceWireless’s annual Fierce 15—recently closed a $300 million investment round led by Amazon, the Alexa Fund, Tencent and others. Essential hopes to differentiate its hardware from other high-end handsets by enabling simple support for third-party software and services, and—unlike most vendors of Android devices—not preloading its phones with logos and bloatware.

“One of the first things you’ll notice about Essential Phone is that there’s no branding,” Rubin wrote on Essential’s website. “That’s because we want it to be yours, not ours. And once you turn it on, you’ll find that there are a limited number of preloaded apps and no duplicative services.”

Essential faces huge challenges in a competitive U.S. smartphone market that is fast approaching the all-important holiday season, however. Apple is widely expected to introduce a redesigned flagship phone in the next several weeks; Google is set to launch a second generation of its successful Pixel; Samsung hopes to continue to build on its momentum with a new version of its oversized Note line; and Motorola plans to refresh its portfolio with new phones and carrier partners.

Whether Essential can grab any significant share of the high end of the market is far from clear. And the task is particularly daunting considering its exclusive deal with a struggling U.S. carrier that remains stuck in fourth place.