Most plant seeds are dispersed in a dry, mature state. If these seeds are non-dormant and the environmental conditions are favourable, they will pass through the complex process of germination. In this review, recent progress made with state-of-the-art techniques including genome-wide gene expression analyses that provided deeper insight into the early phase of seed germination, which includes imbibition and the subsequent plateau phase of water uptake in which metabolism is reactivated, is summarized. The physiological state of a seed is determined, at least in part, by the stored mRNAs that are translated upon imbibition. Very early upon imbibition massive transcriptome changes occur, which are regulated by ambient temperature, light conditions, and plant hormones. The hormones abscisic acid and gibberellins play a major role in regulating early seed germination. The early germination phase of Arabidopsis thaliana culminates in testa rupture, which is followed by the late germination phase and endosperm rupture. An integrated view on the early phase of seed germination is provided and it is shown that it is characterized by dynamic biomechanical changes together with very early alterations in transcript, protein, and hormone levels that set the stage for the later events. Early seed germination thereby contributes to seed and seedling performance important for plant establishment in the natural and agricultural ecosystem.