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Android Creator’s Startup Gets Big Bucks to Take on Apple, Samsung

August 9, 2017, 9:40 PM UTC

Essential Products, the smartphone startup founded by a co-creator of the Android mobile operating system, has raised $300 million in additional funding and signed up retailers to sell its first device.

The $699 phone, with a titanium and ceramic case, will compete directly against new devices from Samsung Electronics and Apple this holiday season. Retailers include Best Buy, Amazon and carriers Sprint in the United States and Telus in Canada, Essential said in a statement.

The company, founded by CEO Andy Rubin in late 2015, said Access Technology Ventures led the funding round, which brought its total investment raised to $330 million.

Strategic investors also included Tencent Holdings, electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn and Amazon, which participated via its Alexa Fund. Previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Playground Global also participated.

The Essential phone will only be displayed in Sprint stores in the United States, compared with the vast distribution network of the market leaders. In September, Samsung is expected to unveil its Galaxy Note 8, and Apple is expected to announce its highly anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone.

Some of the Essential phone’s features, like a detachable 360-degree camera, are also available on Samsung models.

“It’s going to be extraordinarily challenging,” said Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research. “The initial specs of the phone look good, but not necessarily unique. There’s no brand.”

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But carrier discounts could encourage buyers, R. “Ray” Wang of Constellation Research said, adding that Sprint could charge $300 for a two-year contract or $200 for a three-year contract.

Sprint did not immediately return a request for comment.

Wang also said the presence of two strategic investors from Asia signals Essential’s broader goals. Essential has not disclosed distribution plans outside North America.

“It’s not just about U.S. distribution. This is going to be a global phone,” Wang said. “The biggest phone markets are China, India and the U.S.”