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Vertu Aster is a luxury smartphone with 'mid-tier' price, top-tier specs

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Since the launch of the Signature Touch, Vertu CEO Max Pogliani promised that "technology will be more a merging factor and not a differentiation point" for his phones. That's literally the case with the new mid-tier Aster launched today: This titanium Android device is identical to its flagship sibling device internally, just wrapped within a more contemporary and unisex design. We're looking at a 4.7-inch 1080p display, 5.1-inch 117 carat sapphire screen, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset, 13MP/2.1MP cameras (the former certified by Hasselblad), 64GB of internal storage, 2,275mAh battery, front stereo speakers, NFC, Qi wireless charging and great LTE compatibility (though no love for China, for some reason). With the specs out of the way, let's look at why this swanky phone starts from $6,900 or £4,200.

Gallery: Vertu Aster | 9 Photos

While the Aster is technically the successor of the Constellation, the former avoided the path of screen enlargement (from the Ti's 3.7-inch screen to the Constellation's 4.3-inch) while managing to bring back the iconic V-pillow. By keeping the same 4.7-inch screen size on both the Signature Touch and the Aster, Vertu could risk losing appeal to a wider audience, especially in China where phablets are the norm. But Pogliani opted for a more sensible strategy.

"Vertu is not here to follow general mass market mobile trends."

"Vertu is not here to follow general mass market mobile trends; our technology is leading edge but it doesn't have to be bleeding edge. The same goes for the physical design of Vertu products. The nature of our customers and of our products mean that we have to develop what is right for them, not follow generic broader industry design themes that may be more fleeting than those of the luxury market.

"Many of our customers desire and appreciate compact size Vertu products that comfortably fit the inside the pocket of a well-tailored suit or in an expensive clutch bag."

The CEO added that this also has nothing to do with the cost of sapphire, and he even said it's possible that his company might offer larger screen sizes in the future.

Much like the other Vertu handsets, the Aster is offered with a range of skins and colors. The base price gets you calf leather in black, pink or blue, while £5,600/$9,100 gets you shiny snake skin in black or orange (the latter is this author's favorite), and you can max out at £5,900/$9,700 -- a "little" below the Signature Touch's £6,750/$10,300 base price -- for ostrich skin in brown or purple. This is pretty much why the Aster comes in at 11.2mm thick, which is just a tad more than the Signature Touch's.

Going back to the point about differentiation, the Aster is more affordable because it comes with a shorter "Classic Concierge" subscription -- just six months instead of a year and no dedicated agent. This may tempt those who doubt they will make full use of Vertu's signature service; and they can always renew their subscription afterwards. There's also the Vertu Certainty package that offers six months of iPass WiFi hotspots around the world, 12 months of Silent Circle communication encryption and 12 months of Kaspersky mobile security subscription. Vertu Life, a curation service that offers exclusive access to events and venues, will continue to last for 18 months -- a figure based on usage statistics within Vertu's global customer base, according to Pogliani.

"Concierge and services continues to be of significant importance to Vertu and they are a key part of our brand DNA," the exec added. "We are continually developing this aspect of our business and new partnerships with the likes of Bentley indicate the level of our vision and ambition."

On top of that, Vertu is also entering the e-commerce space. The English company will be gradually rolling out its Vertu Digital service between now and early next year, by which point folks around the world will be able to directly order personalized devices online, though they can also collect their new phones at a boutique -- we think the latter is more fun, if there's one nearby. But of course, this alone still won't win the majority of us over -- we're waiting for that more affordable Vertu device that Pogliani is working on.

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