Vaio, the hardware company Sony spun off in 2014, is releasing a midrange Android phone for the Japanese market.
Sony’s Vaio line of laptops were some of the most impressive on the market. They were the first to use switchable graphics, meaning they could swap between a power-efficient, motherboard-bound integrated GPU and a discrete Nvidia graphics card at the press of a button. And they were the first to incorporate a Blu-ray disc burner. But times change, and as the PC market became increasingly competitive, Sony spun off its PC business as an independent company in 2014. Now, that company’s making smartphones.
On Wednesday, Vaio announced the Phone A, a midrange Android-powered phone. The name is not exactly attention-grabbing, and neither is the hardware — the Phone A features an aluminum unibody and a single rear-firing speaker, a 5.5-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) LCD screen, 13 MP rear camera, and dual SIM slots. Under the hood is an old-in-the-tooth Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor paired with 3GB of RAM, and a measly 16 GB of storage. And the handset’s powered by a smallish 2,800mAh battery.
Otherwise, the Phone A boasts the usual accouterments. There’s a MicroSD card slot on board, and a 4G LTE radio that supports speeds up to 225 Mbps. If you happen to have service on one of the Japanese carriers with voice over LTE (VoLTE), it will tap into that, too.
Vaio has yet to announce pricing, but it’ll likely be in line with the Phone Biz — about $535.
The Phone A isn’t Vaio’s first phone, interestingly — the Sony spin-off launched the Phone Biz, a Windows Phone, in Japan last year. And Vaio also finds itself in the awkward position of competing with the Android-powered phones from its former parent company. Earlier this year, Sony announced the Xperia X and Xperia XA, two budget devices aimed at developing markets.
So far, though, the Phone A doesn’t seem likely to pose a threat. Sony’s smartphones are exceptionally popular in Japan, accounting for 12 percent of the mobile market (putting Sony in 2nd place behind Apple’s 47 percent). And Vaio isn’t mounting much of a marketing effort. As The Verge points out, Vaio hasn’t bothered to change the Phone A’s UI from Windows Phone in promotional shots.
That’s good news for Sony’s embattled mobile division. Last year, the Japanese company posted a meager $4 million profit on sales of 3.1 million smartphones over a three-month period, down drastically from the previous mark of $7.2 million. It expects upcoming products — in particular the HDR-equipped, 4K Xperia XZ — to turn those figures around, but not until later this year, as most of the company’s new models are slated to launch in spring.