Within 10 hours of receiving my loaner unit of the Vertu Signature Touch, I almost dropped it on a marble floor. It would have been bad. It would have been really bad.
You see, the Vertu Signature Touch starts at $10,300. That’s hard to ignore, even if the phone actually is pretty good. The cost is practically part of the phone’s feature set; Vertu says the Signature Touch is for “high-net-worth individuals,” those who value exclusivity and standing out above all else. The one I tested was the bargain-bin version; there are versions that cost as much as $21,900. It’s a luxury car, a luxury watch, a luxury handbag. Normal consumer logic does not apply.
If the phone had hit the floor, it may well have survived the impact. Its 4.7-inch touchscreen is coated with a pricey sheet of sapphire crystal glass, making it nearly impossible to scratch. It can take anything short of a diamond to the screen and remain unscathed, but it can shatter just like normal glass if you drop it. There was some weight behind that sapphire crystal glass too—the Signature Touch has a heavy-duty titanium frame. Prior to my reflexes kicking in, I took a nanosecond to appreciate how beautiful the phone looked floating in midair. Sapphire and titanium glistened, rotating in zero gravity, unbefouled by human touch. Maximum luxe.
I made a miracle catch, then sat in silence for two minutes. I felt the way you feel when you tip back in a chair too far and stop yourself from falling backward at the last moment. It was pure anxiety, a cold reminder that a $10,300 phone will not suspend Murphy’s Law nor the laws of physics. You can still drop this thing and break it, you can still leave it in a cab, and you can still forget it’s in your pocket when you jump in a pool.
I’ve done all those things with phones, and that’s one of many reasons I’m not the target market for the Vertu Signature Touch. Like most people, I also can’t afford or justify its purchase. The value-shopper in me gets nauseated just thinking about it. I’m too self-conscious to use it. I’m too self-deprecating. It would clash with my carefully curated laid-back wardrobe. We were the Odd Couple, me and the Vertu.
Let’s pretend, though. Let’s pretend a phone that costs as much as an OLED TV is reasonable and well within everybody’s phone-buying budget. Let’s pretend this is just another phone, built to compete with the iPhones and Nexuses and Galaxys of the world. Does it stack up? Hell yes it does. Sort of.
I really have no idea.
Why a $10,300 Phone Is Way Better Than a Normal Phone
The Signature Touch’s Concierge service is what sets it apart from other phones. It’s free for the first year, then jumps to around $3,000 a year. Concierge makes the phone more like an American Express Black Card or a diplomatic passport. It works like this: You request (legal and somewhat reasonable) things via the Concierge app, and then a real, live person makes them happen. You basically have a personal assistant on call at all times. A little button on the side of the phone fires up the Concierge app directly. The assistant who helped me was Celine. She was great.
To commence my Vertu experience, the company offered to book me a dinner reservation at the members-only CORE:Club to show how the Concierge could gain access to exclusive places. I declined that offer, as I wanted to test the Concierge using my own requests.
Instead, I checked OpenTable at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday and found popular restaurants fully booked that day and on the weekend. There was nothing available for dinner at ABC Kitchen in a few hours or brunch at Red Rooster the next morning. I opened the Concierge app and asked for reservations at 7:30pm that night and noon the next day, knowing it would be tricky. No problem, reservations booked. Thanks Celine! On another Saturday night, I was a head-nod away from getting a group of five on the VIP list at a fancy club called Avenue. If we’d been willing to pay $200 apiece for a table and bottle service—and had any intention of actually going—we’d have been in. Coincidentally, $200 is the price of a normal phone.
Concierge does have its limits. I requested a time machine, and Celine replied “I wish I could help you with this request!” There was one mixup: Concierge checked in with me about a flight I was booking to Belgrade, except I never tried to book a flight to Belgrade. I explained this, and they apologized for the misunderstanding.
To get the most out of Concierge, deep pockets come in handy. When you initiate the service, you can set up a profile that includes your credit card number so that you can be billed directly for plane trips, hotel stays, and event tickets booked via Concierge. Another Vertu app called Life offers a curated feed of events and attractions around the globe: Formula 1 races, theater, concerts, and private events with world-class chefs. If you’re interested, you tap an inline “Concierge” button for each event and your magical helper handles the request. There are Concierge teams around the world, working 24/7, to handle the requests.
Concierge was awesome. I miss it. Everything was very polite and professional and resort-like, and I was addressed as “Mr. Moynihan” the whole time. At one point, Celine called me “Mr. Vertu Extraordinary.” I’m not even sure what that meant, but I went ahead and got it tattooed on my back.
More Things That Are Way Better Than Normal Phones
It has a very pleasant odor. The Vertu Signature Touch is easily the best-smelling phone I’ve ever used. The “Claret Calf” version I tested had a stitched calfskin backing on it that emitted a rich, intoxicating leathery scent. I didn’t get any nose-on time with the lizard- and alligator-skin backings, so I can’t speak to their olfactory qualities.
A++ handfeel. All phones should feel as good in the hand as the Vertu Signature Touch. At least twice, my eyes rolled back into my head due to the overwhelmingly pleasant combination of the raised seam running down the back of the phone, the cool touch of the titanium edges, and the satisfyingly hefty 6.77-ounce weight of the device. That’s almost twice the weight of the iPhone 5S. Remember when phones weren’t ridiculously light? This one makes a case for them beefing back up a bit. The best part is the way the heavier build feels with the stronger-than-most haptic feedback from its touchscreen. There’s a deeper, machine-like kick to it that other phones don’t have. So nice.
Materials and build quality. The materials used in the Vertu Signature Touch are appropriately expensive: Strong and durable titanium, a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal screen, a back cloaked in premium animal hide, and a ceramic “pillow” around the earpiece of the handset. All of this accounts for some of its exorbitant price. Even its SIM-card holder has flourish: You fold out a little handle on the back of the phone, twist it, and pop open a swinging door. The underside of that door is signed with an etching by its builder; each phone is assembled by a single person from soup to nuts in Vertu’s factory in England. The one I tested was built by someone named C. Davis, and he (or she) did a good job. It would have made me feel worse if I’d dropped it.
Luxe ‘tones and speakers. When you turn the phone on, your ears are treated to a dope flute riff recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. Every time you receive an incoming message, you hear another sick flute mini-jam mixed in with some bird noises. This phone has top-shelf ‘tones, all recorded by the LSO. The front-firing speakers are also noticeably good, sounding much louder and brighter than most phone speakers. That said, the low-end has no punch. The next version should have a huge subwoofer or a man that follows you around with an 808 machine.
Blackphone-like security. If you really value your privacy, rest assured that the Signature Touch is able to keep your text messages and phone conversations (but not your emails) on lockdown. The Signature Touch comes with voice, video-chat, and text encryption powered by Silent Circle. Just keep in mind that the recipient of the messages must also be running the company’s Silent Phone or Silent Text app to get the full end-to-end encryption. The Silent Circle features are only free for the first year, and you need to register your phone with them.
Things That Are Equal to a Very Good Smartphone
The screen. The Vertu Signature Touch’s 1080p display has a pixel density of 473ppi, and it looks great. The pixels are packed in even tighter than phones like the Google Nexus 5(445ppi), HTC One M8 (441ppi), and Samsung Galaxy S5 (432ppi), but you’d need better eyesight than mine to see a huge difference. It’s a tack-sharp, high-quality screen, but if you were expecting to see holograms and IMAX and money blasting out of its 4.7-inch display, no dice. The size and resolution is wonderful in landscape mode when typing and watching movies. It felt a bit too skinny and long when I typed in portrait mode. Installing SwiftKey helped, just like it does on a normal phone.
Up-to-date OS and features.Believe it or not, previous versions of Vertu’s phones were an even tougher sell, as they didn’t have state-of-the-moment components or operating systems. That’s not a problem with this phone, as the new Signature Touch packs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU, and 2 gigs of RAM. You also get NFC, support for 4G networks across the globe, and Google Now voice-assistant features. The combination of all those things puts the Signature Touch among the current wave of high-end Android phones. At this moment in time, any potential buyer will not be left wanting for speeds and feeds. Then again, this is a $10,300 phone we’re talking about. You should get Android 9.7 Zabaglione and a freon-cooled processor with like a zillion cores.
A very good camera. The Signature Touch’s 13-megapixel camera is also solid, with performance that matched up well to some of the better smartphone cameras I’ve used. Low-light performance is good for a phone—using HDR mode or adjusting its ISO settings manually helps—and the interface was developed in a partnership with Hasselblad. There are some scene modes in the mix, exposure-compensation settings, and white-balance adjustments, too. Is the camera good? Yes. Is it clearly better than the camera in other phones with good cameras? No.
Bad battery life and no expandable storage. The 2,275 mAh battery got me about half a day when I used this phone like a normal phone. You also can’t swap in a fully charged spare, because that battery is sealed in (probably with unicorn glue) under those premium materials. If anyone asks you why you don’t own the Vertu Signature Touch, just pretend it’s because of the battery life. No expandable storage, either—you’re stuck with the 64GB on board.
The back plate gets hot. When the battery was about halfway dead on my test unit, the area around its beautifully handcrafted SIM-card door heated up quite a bit. Not “Yow!” hot, but definitely “Hey, that’s abnormally hot” hot.
The design isn’t for everyone.Superb craftsmanship, premium materials, and A++ handfeel aside, the Signature Touch’s ornamental touches look old-timey. It has a leather-covered front bumper and a car-like “V” logo on its ceramic “pillow” that makes it look like a shrunken-down car console. You don’t get the edge-to-edge screen, narrow bezel, and sleek looks that you get with most phones, which is probably the point. This is a phone that’s built to be noticed on purpose.
It’s stressful. Dropping it is one thing. Do you get nervous when you take your phone out in public places, because maybe someone will steal it? Imagine that nervousness if your phone costs 11 grand—and it was a phone built to attract attention. I never wanted to take it out of my pocket on the subway.
Should You Buy This Phone Or 51.5 Gold iPhones?
This phone and its price are inextricably intertwined, which makes it a non-starter for almost everyone. It’s clearly Vertu’s best device so far, with competitive specs for an Android phone, better build quality (and speakers) than any other phone out there, and a killer feature in the Concierge. For a Monopoly-money lifestyle, maybe the Signature Touch makes sense? If you are dead-set on buying a Vertu phone, this is the one to get.
Still, I wonder if a feature like the Concierge would be as cool or useful to anyone who actually has their own personal assistant—or someone with enough pull to get a table at any restaurant just by showing up. That’s the kind of person this phone is for. The person who doesn’t worry about using it on the subway, because they don’t take the subway.
But I couldn’t help feeling that the Signature Touch might be a peek at the short-term future of the mobile landscape. Maybe there is a wider market for a phone like this that costs $1,000 to $2,000, with a premium build, up-to-date specs, and services that go beyond the usual fare. Pretty much every phone is excellent these days. They’re getting harder to tell apart, because they’re all gravitating toward the same indistinguishably good mobile device with roughly the same features. Now that smartphones are the new normal phones, premium smartphones may be the next step up.
After all, your phone is with you all the time. It’s more visible than a luxury watch or maybe even a luxury handbag. It’s mission-critical.
However, unlike cars and watches and bags, a phone has a two- or three-year shelf life. There’s no Project Araversion of it. And while the Vertu is built to last, its components may seem outdated next month. That’s just how it is with phones.