Japan's leading designers combine to create the latest Infobar smartphone

Japanese carrier au by KDDI has been creating tech-as-art for well over a decade with its Infobar line of phones. After starting with a stylish-but-dumb cameraphone in 2003, the brand began offering fully-fledged smartphones with the A01 back in 2011. It's now back with the third iteration of the A series, the A03, and it's as pretty as ever.

Industrial design for the latest Infobar comes from minimalist product designer Naoto Fukasawa, who has worked on the range since its inception, and also created Muji's wall-mounted CD player, part of the MoMA's permanent collection. After the uncharacteristically bland A02, the A03 returns to Infobar's more colorful roots. Encased in anodized aluminum, the A03 has a 4.5-inch 1080p display, 13-megapixel camera, 16GB of storage (expandable with microSD) and capacitive keys for navigation. It's available in a number of hues, but our favorite is undoubtably "nishikigoi," the koi-inspired coloring that Infobar is famous for.

Software has always been a big draw for Infobar. The A03 comes with an Android skin from the award-winning artist and experimental web designer Yugo Nakamura. It's an refresh of Nakamura's "iida" UI that debuted on the A01 and mashes a traditional Android home screen with Windows Phone, putting widgets, social media, and apps all together in a single vertical-scrolling page.

The name-checking doesn't end with Fukasawa and Nakamura, however. Renowned stationary and graphic designer Maria Dahlgren (co-founder of Ordning & Reda) was tapped for hyper-colorful cases; fashion and fabric designer Akira Minagawa (who created couture brand Minä Perhonen) has limited-edition patterned cases; and high-end furniture maker Maruni (which counts Fukasawa as one of its designers) has crafted a wooden dock for the phone. Both the Minä Perhonen and Maruni collaborations will only be available as part of a special package from Japanese department store Isetan. There are even more names involved, but you get the point -- it's a big designer love-in.

Infobar designer accessories

From top left: Maruni wooden dock, Minä Perhonen case and Maria Dahlgren cases.

The A03 comes out next month, but If you're thinking of importing it, be warned: although KDDI says it works across many bands, Japanese carriers are notorious for locking down their handsets. This being Android, you'll probably be able to work around that with some persistence. The A02 was unlockable, but at its heart it was an HTC J Butterfly -- the A03 is built by Kyocera instead. Put simply, this is not a phone you can just buy and pop in your own SIM card, though we're still going to give it a shot.