A private jet at a moment’s notice. VIP tickets to the Wimbledon finals. Exclusive access to the world’s best clubs without needing a membership. Vertu phones cost between £4,000 and £13,200, but as Alistair Charlton finds out, owning one goes far beyond the titanium and lizard skin phone in your pocket.
Vertu isn’t like any other smartphone maker. Based in England and formerly owned by Nokia, the company produces some of the most expensive smartphones in the world, boasting sapphire crystal screens, calf hide, lizard skin, titanium and a 24-hour concierge service.
Its latest model, the Signature Touch, costs £6,750 and I was lucky enough to use it as my personal phone for three days to discover just what it’s like to use a smartphone which costs more than a small car.
Getting that eye-watering figure out of your head is almost impossible when using the Vertu. It heightened my senses, forcing me to pay special attention to how the phone looks and feels; knowing it costs 12 times more than an iPhone 5s was always at the front of my mind. The Vertu may run an almost unmodified version of Google’s Android 4.4.2 KitKat software, but it’s impossible to treat this phone as anything other than truly special.
At almost 200g the Signature Touch is the heaviest smartphone I’ve ever used, and while its footprint is very similar to the current crop of Sony, HTC and LG flagships, its 10.7mm thickness makes it feel chucky. But then I suppose Vertu isn’t going for slim and light here, it’s going for opulent and extravagant - and that means a big weighty handset, which I think feels right.
Vertu Signature Touch: Titanium, sapphire and lizard skin
The phone’s chassis is a single piece of grade 5 titanium brushed and polished to within an inch of its life, complete with matching exposed screw heads which give the handset a robust and businesslike feel. I’ve previously said the HTC One (M8) looks and feels like a fine Swiss watch, but Vertu takes this comparison to a whole new level.
Where other manufacturers use glass, Vertu has opted for sapphire crystal to protect the 4.7-inch Full-HD display. Scratchable only by diamond, sapphire crystal is immensely strong but its high cost has kept mainstream phone manufacturers away - when you’re charging £7,000, I suspect this is no longer an issue.
But the screen isn’t perfect. It may have a 1080 x 1920 resolution and an iPhone-beating pixel density of 469 per inch, but the Vertu is a magnet for fingerprints and grease left on its titanium and sapphire body.
But these materials - no matter how exclusive - play second fiddle to the purple lizard skin of my review unit. Also available in more subtle shades of calf hide, the back of my Vertu glistened and shimmered as it caught the light. Of course, this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but - here comes the bombshell - I get it.
I understand why Vertu finishes its phones like this. Yes, it’s ostentatious and yes it’s a bit vulgar, but people spending £6,750 on a smartphone aren’t shy retiring types; they don’t do things by halves. It’ll probably match their wallet and the glovebox of their Maserati, and that's fine by me.
The back of the Vertu houses a 13-megapixel camera with autofocus and dual-LED flash, but far more interesting is how you access the phone’s SIM card tray (no, really). Hook your nail under that hinged semi-circle, pull it out, then twist to unlock a door, which swings open to reveal the tray. On the inside of the door is a message stating “Handmade in England”, plus the name and signature of the Vertu employee who made the phone. Just like the plaque found under the bonnet of an Aston Martin. It’s massively over-engineered for a humble SIM card tray, but I love it nonetheless.
What I didn’t love was the squigyness of the Vertu’s power and volume buttons. They require a very firm press and don’t have the clicky, tactile feedback of those on most other smartphones.
Vertu Signature Touch: Your 24-hour personal butler
A Vertu phone isn’t just a shiny object made to make the rest of us jealous - it’s an access-all-areas pass to places the rest of us can’t go.
The included Vertu Life app has tickets for sale that are otherwise impossible to find. Wimbledon men’s singles final (£5,000), a VIP weekend at Glastonbury (£4,350 for two, plus VAT), a private tour of the Maserati factory followed by a day’s driving tuition (€3,900), or access to private members’ clubs around the world.
Booking an event takes you to the next Vertu service - a 24-hour concierge, contactable by phone, email or instant message. A couple of taps put you through and from there you can book an event from the Life app - but more than that, the concierge will help make your life easier.
In February a Vertu customer used his concierge to arrange a last-minute private jet from Cuba to Brazil. Vertu processed the paperwork and had the plane ready in three days. The service can also be used to make restaurant reservations, or arrange “a very exclusive birthday party,” one assistant, called Kalim, told me over the app’s instant messenger.
Vertu customers also get a free room upgrade on arrival at Four Seasons hotels worldwide, plus free breakfast. The concierge service is a hit among footballers, Kalim says, who use it to order gifts for their wives and girlfriends. One French customer trusted Vertu’s services so much he let the company plan his entire wedding.
Vertu Signature Touch: But can it play Angry Birds?
In the past, Vertu was guilty of putting form before function by selling glitzy, underpowered smartphones. Not so with the Signature Touch. The phone is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz and with 2GB of RAM. There’s also 64GB of internal storage, but unfortunately no microSD card slot to increase this.
The phone is 4G compatible and Vertu offers free access to all public Wi-Fi hotspots globally - useful if you private jet has been delayed and you don’t fancy paying for airport Wi-Fi.
Android KitKat runs just as it does on any other high-end phone - and bonus points are awarded here for keeping things close to how Google intended them to be; Vertu has left Android unmodified, apart from a number of home screen widgets, wallpapers, and ringtones created by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Summing up the Vertu Signature Touch is difficult. Although it works just like any other high-end Android, the materials, build quality, exclusivity and Vertu services are simply incomparable with any other handset. To almost everyone, paying £6,750 for a smartphone is obscene, but to the 1% Vertu is targeting they will receive a phone more closely related to their watch and cufflink collections than their computer.
The Vertu can be used to call your wife in the same way a black American Express Centurion card can be used to pay for food at the supermarket, but while both show onlookers you're part of that 1%, the real value is in what's available beneath the skin.