Smartphone prices are on a downward trend – but it looks like no-one told Vertu.
The luxury phone company's latest flagship, the Vertu Signature Touch, is an eye-watering £6750 – but then, it's aimed at a very specific clientele. The sort who own oilfields and football teams.
Historically, Vertu phones haven't offered top-tier specs to go with their top-dollar prices – last year's Constellation featured a 720p screen and decidedly mid-range innards. So we're pleased to report that the Signature Touch is at least competing on a level playing field with this year's flagships; you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.3GHz processor, 2GB RAM, a 4.7in 1080p screen delivering 473ppi resolution, 64GB of memory, NFC, Qi wireless charging, a 13MP camera and a 2.1MP front snapper. For travelling types, you get 10 different bands of LTE, while the speakers are tuned by Bang & Olufsen, with Dolby Digital Plus virtual surround sound. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat. This is, in specs terms at least, a good phone.
The devil's in the details, of course; and there are a lot of details. The frame's milled from a single piece of titanium, while the whole screen is protected by sapphire crystal – the near-scratch-proof stuff that Apple pops over its Touch ID sensor. Round the back, it's wrapped in lizard skin or leather – where previous Vertus used automotive-grade leather, the Signature Touch gets "the kind of leather you'd find in luxury goods like handbags," according to Vertu head of product design Ignacio Germade.
It's hefty in the hand, at 192g; the Signature Touch is meant to feel like a hand-built object. "The shapes are always reflecting either the material that's used or how the product was built. For us it's important to tell the story of how this was built by hand, by a single person, from beginning to end," says Germade. Visible screws and stitching on the leather ram the point home.The speakers are particularly impressive; the audio coming out of the phone could cheerfully go toe-to-toe with standalone Bluetooth speakers. The Dolby processing lets you pick from various different modes, including Game and (appropriately) Rich sound, tweaking the audio to suit.
The UI is nicely pared-back; you get a mechanical-style watch face on the home screen (the light plays across it as you tilt the phone, which is rather swish), which displays your calendar appointments around its circumference. The core functions get minimalist icons for calling, music and so forth, while a row of black-and-white icons affords you access to the Vertu Life, Certainty and Concierge apps.
You can also get at Vertu's services by tapping a (real) ruby button on the side of the phone. Here's what you're really paying for; 24-hour access to your very own dedicated concierge – "of course, if they're awake" – plus entry to members' clubs and VIP events (should you have a burning desire to meet Katy Perry, you can).
More tellingly, there's also a full suite of security software including Silent Circle encrypted communications, Wi-Fi access via iPass and Kaspersky anti-theft and antivirus software. The one per cent have secrets to keep, clearly.
Effectively, then, what you're buying isn't an overpriced phone; it's a suite of services with a phone thrown in. Judging it on the hardware alone hardly seems fair, since no phone is worth over six grand – and not being globetrotting billionaire oligarchs, it's hard to say whether the services make up the difference for Vertu's very specific clientele.
One thing's for sure – the Signature Touch isn't going to make Vertu's sliver of market share expand. But then, they seem to like it that way.