Admittedly, many of us here at Engadget have never really had the opportunity to touch a Vertu phone (KIRFs don't count, of course), as the pressure of stepping into a posh Vertu store without the cash can be rather unnerving. That said, over the weekend Vertu launched its Android-powered Ti in Hong Kong, and the British company was gracious enough to let us get up close and personal with all four flavors of its latest luxury device. Verdict? Well, please kindly ask your butler to read on after the break.
Vertu TI hands-on in Hong Kong
As with other Vertu phones, the Ti is the result of days of handcrafting inside a 1,000-strong factory based in England. Even the screen's sapphire crystal takes two to three weeks to grow from a seed crystal, and the yield is only at about 70 percent; but the result is a screen that's four times stronger than the glass used by many other smartphones, as verified by Vertu's own drop impact test using a 110gm ball bearing. We didn't get to do the torture test ourselves, but the execs had apparently been throwing around and hammering with their own Tis -- the prices of which start at $9,600 -- during the press event. Furthermore, the sapphire makes a great optical window for the 3.7-inch 800 x 480 (252ppi) LCD, which looks great straight on but has slight color distortion when viewed from the sides.
The phone's hand-polished Grade 5 titanium alloy body provides a structure that shares similar strength and feel with stainless steel -- a material that Vertu had considered for its latest flagship -- but about 30 percent lighter and a lot more expensive. Accompanying that is the forged 6000 series aluminum alloy internal structure which, together with the titanium body, keeps the phone rigid and therefore further protects the already tough sapphire screen. With so much metal and crystal on the phone, it's no wonder that the Ti is a tad heavier than one would expect given the more ergonomic size of the phone, but it's also just heavy enough to complete the premium and secure feel. We're equally impressed by the immaculate details on the metals, especially given that the phone's all crafted by hand.
The Ti carries many signature features of Vertu devices: the black ceramic ear pillow and buttons, the Vertu ruby key at the top of the left side (more on that later), the ruby bearings underneath the buttons (to enhance touch feedback), the leather or alligator skin accents and the watch screws dotted around the phone. The back of the phone bears a metallic Vertu badge with a unique code printed on it, and popping it up (using the semi-circular flap between the dual-LED light and the 8-megapixel camera) reveals the regular-size SIM card slot, which can also accomodate the smaller micro- and nano-SIMs using the bundled adapters. We almost missed this little nugget, but it turns out that on the other side of the badge you'll find an engraved signature of the craftsman that took care of that device. Pretty cute, right?
On the software side, there wasn't much to fault the near-vanilla Android 4.0.4 -- it ran smoothly on top of Qualcomm's 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 MSM8260A. The only UI customization from Vertu are the odd visual elements and the consistently minimalistic icons for the native apps. But there's also the Vertu services app that can be toggled using the Vertu ruby key on the left side of the phone, and here you have three options: Vertu Life (which curates articles and exclusive event suggestions based on the user's passions and location), Vertu Concierge (a 24/7 independent personal assistance service; basic level is free for the first year, £1,850 or about $2,800 per year afterwards) and Vertu Certainty (a host of security-related services and remote technical assist). We didn't get to truly experience these goodies, but hey, at least the UI looks good.
Alas, given the nature of the product and the brand's positioning, no review units will ever be made available but we do want one very badly. Is it worth the price? This is subjective, of course, but with a sensible leap from Symbian to Android plus a decent set of specs, the Ti is no doubt the first Vertu phone that us geeks can actually start to take seriously. We'll let the CEO explain more in our upcoming interview piece.