In these times of economic Armageddon, we almost feel a little awkward reviewing a luxury phone. But, hey, someone’s got to don the white gloves and cast a critical eye on handsets like the £1,400 Motorola Aura – a phone that sees the ailing U.S. manufacturer finally regain its design mojo.
More eagle-eyed phone twitchers will know the Aura’s circular swivel blade design isn’t completely original – it evokes the spirit of the 2002 Motorola V70 – but it’s certainly visually striking and a refreshing change to the standard phone designs peddled by luxury rivals like Vertu, Tag Heuer and Nokia.
Attention to detail
Naturally for a phone of such wallet-busting proportions a lot of time and effort has gone into the handset’s meticulous construction. For starters, the Aura is held together by nickel-chrome plated screws and laser welds, but this level of detail is just the start.
As anticipated, the Aura’s stainless steel torso has reassuring heft but the adorning chemically etched pattern, while fetching, will attract a build-up of grime in its grooves. If you’re precious (and, honestly, who wouldn’t be after blowing a grand and a half), a little faux leather pouch is bundled to keep it pristine.
Inspired by a watch face, the 480 pixel resolution round display is quite stunning, working off an unprecedented 300dpi for razor sharp detail. It’s also protected by a lens of 62 carat sapphire crystal, according to Motorola one of the most scratch resistant materials on the planet.
But while it’s great to look at, a circular screen is not without its annoying foibles, most notably when using it as a camera viewfinder. Because of its round edges, parts of the scene you’re framing are out of the picture, so you won’t know if you got granny in the family portrait until you view the taken photo.
The swivel mechanism is probably the Aura’s most impressive feature, boasting a fluid but incredibly robust spring-loaded action.
Like intricate Swiss-made watches, the custom engineered mechanism consists of 200 individual parts, including 130 ball bearings and steel gears coated with tungsten carbon carbide used in high performance racing engines.
In fact, Motorola is so proud of its craftsmanship, it’s fitted a small rear window so you can see the cogs and inner workings of this rotating mechanism in action.
The fantastic anodized aluminium keypad proved great to thumb and the circular menu system easy to work through, although we did encounter one minor usability issue. With no centre selection on the four-way joypad, it’s left to a flanking OK key to carry out commands; no biggie but it takes time to get used to after being weaned on five-way arrangement.
Unfortunately, true to luxury phone form, the Aura’s remaining features are so insipid they’re nothing more than a footnote.
Led feebly by a fixed focus 2MP camera and woefully slow EDGE download, we expected far more for the asking price. The 2GB internal storage is generous but with no memory card slot, its appeal as a music player is limited.
The Aura’s masterly engineering and daring design are certainly to be admired but it’s difficult to look beyond its vacuous feature set and not feel like you’ve just been severely short changed. Knock about a grand off the price and we might just talk.