When you think about storied British audio brand Marshall, probably the last thing that comes to mind are smartphones. After all, unlike the killer amplifiers which England’s finest has come to be known for, most phones sport tinny speakers and underpowered ports incapable of delivering any real harmonic range. But leave it to Marshall to apply its musical expertise to a product category no one expected it to address. Today it announced the London, its first Android smartphone.
The London isn’t Marshall’s only foray into consumer electronics — it launched a headphone line two years ago and Bluetooth speakers more recently — but it is the amp maker’s first collaboration with Finnish firm design firm Creoir, the favored partner of Nokia and Jolla. The resulting fit and finish couldn’t be more authentically Marshall: the London’s hard-edged frame, which evokes the company’s amp styling, is wrapped in faux leather and accented by brass metal buttons and jacks. And in an even more obvious nod to the London’s parentage, a dimpled gold scroll wheel handles volume adjustment. The design, in a word, is gnarly.
But tear down the stylish exterior and the projection breaks down a bit. At its core, the London is fairly average as far as Android phones are concerned — it sports a 4.7-inch 720p display, quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 2500 mAh removable battery. Even the cameras (2 megapixels on the front and 8 megapixels on the reverse) and storage (16GB) are middling at best.
But the London, Marshall insists, is all about the listening experience. To that end, it packs high-end audio processing — a dedicated Wolfson chip, to be exact — and ships with a pair of the company’s Mode earbuds. The London’s got stereo speakers and dual microphones, too, but what’ll really turn heads is its dual 3.5mm headphone jacks. No need to rustle around for that headphone splitter you left in your old Walkman case — two people can listen to music in stereo.
Supplementing that hardware on the software side are a few apps to get you in the groove. The London’s default music app collates music from a number of sources (Spotify among them), packs equalizer controls, and supports uncompressed audio formats like FLAC. A surprisingly capable DJ app lets you remix queued tracks in the headphones while preceding songs play on speakers. And if you’re creatively inclined, there’s an app, LoopStack, for recording guitar and vocal riffs.
There’s no doubt about it: The London has a stunning design and clear musical emphasis, two things you’d want and expect in smartphone under the Marshall umbrella. But underwhelming internals make it a tough sell, especially at the premium at which Marshall’s pricing it — 4995 Krona in Sweden, or slightly under $600. We’ll get an idea of demand on August 17 when the London debuts overseas, and if it’s voracious, expect Marshall to announce broader availability in the coming weeks.