Luxury has officially joined the 21st century. Instead of bejeweling antiquated feature phones running outdated operating systems, Vertu has created the Signature Touch, the world's most expensive Android smartphone. Priced at $10,800, Signature Touch comes decked out in fine leather and titanium with a durable sapphire crystal display and built-in services worthy of the monied class. The phone is globally unlocked, but in the United States can be used on T-Mobile or AT&T.
But behind all the luxurious trappings beats the heart of a bonafide flagship phone with a powerful Qualcomm 801 processor, 64GB of onboard storage and Android 4.4. Behold the Vertu Signature Touch, the ultimate luxury smartphone.
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When you hear the phrase "luxury smartphone," you might conjure up a device dripping with jewels and ostentatiousness. Thankfully, that is not the case with the Vertu Signature Touch, which is the epitome of understated opulence.
The majority of the rear panel is swathed in buttery soft hand-stitched claret red calf leather. while a couple of titanium panels adorn the top of the phone. A 13-megapixel Hasselblad camera with twin LED flashes sits in the first panel.
You'll find the SIM card slot directly below sequestered behind a matte brushed titanium door. To access the panel, you use the lock mechanism on the door's right. Once opened, I saw the signature of the person who put the phone together (Thanks C. Davis!).
The sides of the phone are gilded in more shiny titanium held in place with just-as-glossy screws. A microUSB port, a power button and a proprietary red Vertu button (more on that later) sit on the right. On the left, you'll find an audio jack and volume buttons.
The front of the phone is occupied by a 4.7-inch display sandwiched between black and silver titanium accents. You'll find a 2.1-MP camera in the top right corner and a pair of speakers along the bottom.
All those premium materials make the 5.7 x 2.71 x 0.43-inch Signature Touch heavier than a normal phone, weighing a hefty 6.7 ounces. The aluminum, 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37-inch HTC One M8 weighs 5.6 ounces while the mostly plastic Samsung Galaxy S5 is 5.1 ounces and 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.31-inches.
If having a red leather phone isn't your thing, the Signature Touch comes in 8 additional styles and colors, including damson purple leather skin and jet black alligator skin.
Click to EnlargeIs the Signature Touch's out-of-the-box look is too pedestrian for you? Vertu gives you the option to personalize your smartphone with a build-your-own Touch feature. You can dress your phone in one of ten shades of alligator skin, including Red Cherry, Dove White and Fuchsia Rose. Tricking your phone out in exotic animal skin raises the Signature Touch's price tag to $23,000. If you want to go ultra-luxe, there's the red gold option for $30,000.
There's an engraving option that lets you etch a 15 character message onto the titanium door hiding the SIM card. Your custom smartphone also includes a matching custom case in a choice of a flip case or a slip cover.
Click to EnlargeLooking to spice up your boring day-to-day routine? Then how about jetting away to Dubai to watch Lady Gaga from the best seats in the Meydan Racecourse arena? Or maybe you want to schedule a diamond consultation with Fabrikant in New York City? What about getting the A-lister treatment at the Kocoon Spa in Beijing?
You can do all that and more with the Vertu Life service. After setting up your interests in the Vertu Account app, Life compiles a list of "experiences," exclusive, expensive events that might pique your fancy. Sort of like a Groupon for rich people, your ownership of a Vertu phone gets you certain perks, like 10 percent off all services in that spa in China.
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Once you've found a few experiences that you'd like to take advantage of, simply hit the Concierge icon and Vertu will assist in setting up an appointment.
The crown jewel of the Vertu experience is the Concierge service. Once your device is activated, you'll be contacted by your dedicated (that's right, I said dedicated) Vertu concierge to set up a 30-minute consultation. I spoke with Marilyn, my assigned concierge, over the phone for an orientation/getting to know you chat.
She quickly explained the ins and outs of the service. Anytime I needed something -- restaurant recommendations, hotel or flight reservations -- she would handle it. Well, at least from Monday to Friday from 9:30am-6:30pm. When her shift was over, one of the other equally qualified concierges would handle my request and leave her a note to keep her in the loop.
Click to EnlargeOnce I had the basics down, Marilynn wanted to get to know me a little better. She asked about my profession, hobbies, food preferences, favorite artists and future aspirations. She dutifully took note of my love of scotch, bourbon and cigars, as well as my inner fan girl for Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and Sade.
It's a little awkward being interviewed, but Marilynn had a knack for putting me at ease. Sure enough, I was sharing a few of my aspirational goals -- namely, to find a good Krav Maga instructor and learn how to make a souffle.
I also shared that I had a string of important birthdays coming up the following week, just in case I would need her to pick out a last-minute gift.
Once the initial interview is completed, you can contact your concierge via text, email or phone 24/7. During my time with the Signature Touch, Marilyn sent along recommendations for gyms and a few Krav Maga instructors that gave private sessions. The service is free for the first year, but jumps to $3,000 a year after that.
Click to EnlargeWhether you're an important business person, celebrity or just incredibly rich, your privacy is tantamount. As the name suggests, Vertu Certainty will give you peace of mind against unscrupulous hackers looking to access your data. (Take note, Apple.)
Certainty is comprised of several apps. The Kaspersky Mobile Security app provides anti-virus and anti-theft protection. Vertu also offers a suite of Silent Circle apps, such as Silent Phone, Silent Contacts and Silent Text. The Phone app lets you encrypt phone calls while Contacts lets you send encrypted files to chosen contacts.
In addition to encrypting text messages, Silent Text offers a Burn Notice feature, which enables the user to delete text messages from the Signature Touch as well as from the phone on the receiving end.
However, all this extra security isn't free. Silent Circle charges a monthly subscription fee for their Call sevice. $24.95 buys you 500 out-of-circle calling minutes to 120 destinations with unlimited received calls and member-to-member calls. The power user plan ups the minutes to 1,000 for $39.95.
Click to EnlargeMy review unit of the Signature Touch came with a red claret calf leather slip case that by itself cost $600. The phone is also bundled with a pair of Vertu-branded ceramic earbuds. Other Vertu accessories include a wireless charger ($700) crafted from aircraft-grade aluminum and leather and a Vertu-branded set of over-ear headphones priced at $750 and Bluetooth speaker for $600.
Click to EnlargeWhen you're paying over $10K for a phone, you expect nothing but the best. The Signature Touch's sapphire crystal display is a mixed bag, providing sharp images on a tough surface, but mediocre colors and shallow viewing angles.
The 4.7-inch, 1920 x 1080 screen promises more durability than the Corning Gorilla Glass that most smartphone makers use. According to the company, the only thing that can scratch this display is a diamond. That's good to know, but I still wouldn't recommend stashing the phone anywhere near your keys. A scratch-proof display is one thing, but keys and buttery-soft leather or expensive alligator skin does not mix.
One thing I immediately noticed about the Touch's display is the level of detail. Text on the phone is very crisp without a trace of jaggies. Watching the 1080p "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer, I could see the individual strands of hair in Glenn Close's curled bone-white bouffant, as well as the furrows of a smirking woman in the background.
Djimon Hounsou's electric blue eyes and Zoe Saldana's green skin looked vivid...until I viewed the same scenes on the One M8 and the Galaxy S5. Sandwiched between the other devices, hues on the Vertu were dull in comparison. I also noticed that the viewing angles shallow compared to the competition.
The Signature Touch produced just 65.7 percent on the sRGB color gamut on our test. That's well behind the iPhone 5s, One M8 and Galaxy S5, which hit 98.4, 112.5 and 151.3 percent respectively.
The Touch performed much better on the Delta-E test, which measures color accuracy, This luxury phone notched 2.5 (0 is best). That's better than the One M8's 5.2, but doesn't come close to the GS5 (0.9) or iPhone 5s (0.05).
Click to EnlargeExpect excellent audio quality and volume from the Signature Touch's pair of front-mounted, high-fidelity speakers. The Touch also employs Dolby's Digital Plus surrund sound software.
Instead of the usual tab you flick on or off in the settings menu, Dolby has created six distinct profiles on the phone (Movie, Game, Voice, Music Open, Music Rich and Music Focused), each of which possesses a distinctive soundscape. The ability to cycle between the settings and find the optimal listening setup for a certain genre of music made this hands-down the best Dolby-assisted smartphone I've had the pleasure of reviewing.
The bass was definitely in my face when I listened to Meghan Trainor's "All That Bass." Hand claps were crisp and easily discernible against the 808s and bass. Trainor's cute vocal shone throughout the track without a hint of distortion. The harmonies were clear as a bell and held their own against the low end of the track.
Fun fact: Each ringtone, alarm and notification on the Touch was recorded using a live orchestra. Waking up to the wind chimy goodness of the Vertu Sandpiper Ventiquattro as my morning alarm was magical.
When the Touch's decibel level was measured, it hit 87 dB with the Dolby software enabled and 88 without. Both scores are higher than the 80 dB category average. The One M8 was nipping at the Touch's heels with 86 dB while the Galaxy S5 scored a mere 70 dB.
Click to EnlargeVertu has a lovely interface to match its stunning exterior. The Signature Touch is running Android 4.4 (KitKat) with a light skinning. The lock screen features a Vertu-branded analog clock above the familiar Android lock. A quick swipe to the left unlocks the camera. I was very amused by the power off animation, a quick wipe transition ending in a flashing V.
The main homescreen features another fancy Vertu analog clock with a Google Search bar and apps for Vertu Life, Certainty and Concierge. Below the Search bar sit five omnipresent apps (Phone, Messages, Apps, Camera and Google Folder). With the exception of the apps icon, you can swap out any of the apps by dragging and dropping. Capacitive buttons (Back, Home and Recent Apps) reside underneath the display.
There are four available homescreens. One has a Vertu Life widget with apps for Vertu Accounts, Apps and the Vertu.com store while another features a Dolby widget.
Click to EnlargeEmploying a less is more approach, Vertu doesn't overwhelm the Signature Touch with pre-installed apps. The ones the company does include -- Concierge, Certainty and Lif -- are extremely useful. In addition, the company offers an app store that displays recommended apps such as Christie's, Splashtop 2 - Remote and an app for the Standard Club, one of the best private cigar bars in the United States.
In the event something goes awry with your Touch, there's the Assist app. This allows a Vertu rep to gain remote access to your device to identify and fix any problems. The Phone Monitor app keeps tabs on the hardware performance.
In case you don't want to keep explaining to friends and family what makes the phone worth $10K, there's an About Vertu app, which has videos about the design, materials, audio performance, optical quality and accompanying Vertu services.
Click to EnlargePacking a 2.3-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, the Vertu Signature Touch is powerfully elegant. The smartphone took 17 seconds to launch N.O.V.A. 3, just outpacing the similarly-specced Samsung Galaxy S5 (18 seconds). Apps opened and closed in less than a second, while the camera fired in the blink of an eye.
During the VidTrim test, the Signature Touch took 4 minutes and 45 seconds to transcode a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p. The HTC One M8 and Galaxy S5, which also have Snapdragon 801 CPUs, finished the task in 5:02 and 4:42.
The Signature Touch held its own during synthetic benchmarks, scoring 2,313 on Geekbench 3 test, besting the 1,996 smartphone average. The One M8 and GS5 notched 2,431 and 2,897 respectively while the iPhone 5s and its 64-bit A7 CPU hit 2,556.
I used a T-Mobile SIM to test the Veru Signature. The handset delivered fairly good data speeds I saw an average download rate of 14 Mbps on the Speedtest.net app near Laptop Mag's Flatiron office. Uploads averages an equally snappy 7 Mbps.
Camera and Camcorder
The Vertu Signature Touch comes with a premium 13-megapixel Haselblad camera, which promises fantastic stills and video. However the Touch came up short in many of my test photos and videos.
In a head-to-head against the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active, the Signature Touch's images were consistently more washed out. In one of my floral shots, the GS5 Active delivered more vibrant magentas, golds and reds than the Signature Touch.
The Touch redeemed itself in terms of detail, as I was able to see more of the unique veins and arteries in the large leaves in the shots. I could also make out more of the ancillary foliage in the shot, as well as the speckles in the ground below.
I was impressed by the level of detail the Touch captured when I shot a 1080p video of a squirrel running through the park. The hexagonal tiles were easy to make out as well as the individual hairs of the squirrel that we captured in the video. I could also see the ridges and bumps in the bark of the tree that the squirrel darted, despite the sky in the background appearing extremely washed out.
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Click to EnlargeUsing the $10,800 smartphone, I shot the most expensive selfie I've ever taken. Once I made sure my hair was in place and my dress was sitting right, I smiled and snapped...and was very pleased with the results. Although the 1080p image was a little dark, my skin tone looked rich and even. The camera accurately captured my ivory and pink dress, even showing a few creases.
The Vertu Signature Touch's TK mAh battery lasted 7 hours and 17 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over 4G LTE with the brightness set to 150 nits). That's just short of the 7:27 smartphone average, but much longer than the iPhone 5s, which tapped out at 5:46. However, the One M8 and Galaxy S5 lasted a whopping 10:50 and 10:57 respectively.
Click to EnlargeFancy exterior, great audio, solid performance and relatively stock Android -- at this point you might be wondering what's the big deal about this smartphone? The answer is simple: the services. The Signature Touch features several apps that help Vertu cater to nearly your every desire.
The Certainty app helps make this one of the most secure Android phones on the market. The amount of prestige and pampering the Concierge and Life deliver are something that most us don't know exists, and haven't experienced. Sure, there are plenty of other Android handsets on the market that are much cheaper and more powerful. But if you have A-list aspirations and a wallet to match, the Vertu Signature Touch is the ultimate luxury smartphone.