Hands on: Vertu New Signature Touch

Gull-wing doors may be ridiculous, but this really is Vertu's finest phone yet

With gull wing doors and a host of small improvements, the new Signature Touch may be the best luxury Vertu phone yet.

The New Signature Touch may be the most perfect Vertu phone yet, because it encompasses everything that makes the company interesting and exciting, in the most progressive and thoughtful way yet. This was perfectly illustrated during my time with the phone.

During our visit to check out the new phone, CEO Max Pogliani spoke at length about “new Vertu,” and the difference between the decision to buy a Vertu over something like an iPhone, and I spent an hour with Vertu’s chief of design, Hutch Hutchison, chatting about the technical intricacies of the New Signature Touch.

Building a true smartphone premium brand

Vertu is all about its premium (some may say, insanely expensive) brand. It’s about giving people a reason to want to buy a Vertu phone, whether it’s through added value features like Vertu Life — where else can you buy a James Bond-style trip down the Thames River, before getting your own special IMAX screening of Spectre? — or by making brand partnerships with companies like Bentley.

If you think a Vertu is a jazzed up Nokia, you couldn’t be more wrong.

For those with a certain level of financial comfort, it’s about what fits in with their lifestyle, and an iPhone often doesn’t cut it.

The challenge of building a luxury brand around a piece of technology, rather than a clothing line or automobile, is fascinating, but it’s only half the Vertu story. Behind the scenes, talented engineers are working on the device itself, and it’s like nothing else on the market. It’s the same kind of engineering that one associates with building bespoke sports cars, or a purpose-built aircraft made to smash a world record. If you think a Vertu is a jazzed up Nokia, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Gull wing doors and a sapphire screen

What makes the New Signature Touch different to the old Signature Touch? Comparisons could be made with the Porsche 911, where every iteration is covered with subtle changes, but nothing drastic to ruin a shape that works. That’s Vertu’s thinking.

Take a look at the top of the phone. On the Signature Touch, the pillow — which surrounds the speaker — is split into several parts. For the New Signature Touch, the top is a single ceramic piece; it’s complicated to produce, but aesthetically pleasing. The speakers at the other end of the phone have been hidden under a more subtle “wing,” which has been obsessively milled inside to improve the audio. You can’t see it, but this, along with the larger speaker chambers, give the sound depth and clarity unusual for such a small device.

Flip the phone over and your eye falls on the metal section that houses the 21-megapixel camera lens, and dual-LED flash. Like Vertu phones of the past, a small toggle opens up the SIM card door, but twist it the other way, and a door on the opposite flips open to reveal a MicroSD card slot — a first for Vertu. This whole section contains 53 mechanical parts, the dampened action is a joy, and the angle with which the doors naturally sit (once open) looks fantastic. I’ve been told the Mercedes SLS sports car’s gull wing doors were the inspiration here.

The Mercedes SLS sports car’s gull wing doors were the inspiration.

The 5.2-inch 1080p screen is hidden behind a piece of sapphire glass, as you’d expect, but it has been thinned down to 0.7mm, and Vertu has started to make use of the materials rigidity.

The titanium side panels were redesigned to work with the slimmer sapphire sheet, and form a monocoque design. The result of these changes: an approximate 20-percent increase in overall strength. This is one very tough phone. Just to emphasize the difference between engineering a regular phone and a Vertu, the metal parts used to make just a single device take 12 hours to machine, such is the precision and detail.

Leather and that crazy Snapdragon 810 processor

One of the more controversial decisions is the use of the Snapdragon 810 processor. Leather is apparently better at dispersing heat, and the New Signature Touch is covered in the stuff. It’s the new generation chip, but still had to be turned down during certain tasks to run at a sensible temperature. However, the speed with which the chip starts up makes this an imperceptible change. It’s also accompanied by a whopping 4GB of RAM. The big numbers continue with the antenna picking up 28 different bands — covering 2G, 3G, and international 4G. Finally, there’s a 3160mAh battery inside, potentially fixing the previous Signature Touch’s poor battery life. It’s the largest battery Vertu has used inside one of its phones.

Vertu New Signature Touch
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The New Signature Touch looks slimmer than the old model, but has a similar degree of heft to the body, and is a more mature, subtly stylish device. There are eight different leather and metal looks from which to choose at launch, plus many customization options available through Vertu’s online site. My particular favorite is the combination of Clous de Paris styling and the matt-look, almost rubberized alligator leather. It’s stunning in person.

Last year’s Signature Touch wasn’t perfect. The battery life disappointed, and the camera didn’t live up to our expectations. Vertu has addressed the battery issue, and for the New Signature Touch, decided to go with a separate image processing chip — produced by Fujitsu — and Hasselblad hasn’t tweaked the software. We’re keen to see the results.

The strongest Vertu yet

If Vertu’s aim is to make someone want to buy a Vertu phone — a decision made with the heart, and not with the head — then the New Signature Touch is its strongest proposition yet. It’s the correct mix of luxury lifestyle cool, with a strong specification, and genuinely impressive engineering underneath. It appeals not just on an aspirational level, but a geeky one, too. Luxury living and high tech are colliding. Vertu’s no stranger to either world, but its experience living in both is unparalled — and in the New Signature Touch, it really shows.

The Vertu Signature Touch will come out on Oct 9. It’s price hasn’t been announced, but the last Signature Touch cost $11,500, so you can expect a price tag in that range.

Highs

  • Lovingly hand-made
  • Gorgeous engineering detail
  • High-end specs
  • The potential to make a unique phone

Lows

  • It’s insanely expensive
  • Leather design isn’t for everyone
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