Vertu TI hands-on: The first Vertu phone you’ll want to own, but can’t afford

Vertu TI Android phone

People buy luxury watches and cars, but are they willing to pay big bucks for a fancy phone in a market already dominated by relatively luxurious products like the iPhone 5? This is the question facing Vertu as it launches its $10,700+ Vertu TI – it’s first Android phone.

In many ways, the Vertu TI represents a new beginning for the British company. It’s the first device to be launched since Vertu was sold to the investment firm EQT by Nokia last year, and it’s the first to use a modern smartphone operating system – in this case Google Android. Vertu’s position is unusual. It’s successful – 2013 has seen sales increase for the third year running – but it’s often unfairly maligned, with its products considered high-price trinkets for those with too much disposable cash.

Vertu TI camera

This simply isn’t the case for the Vertu TI, as it’s a proper smartphone each one of us would be glad to have in our pockets; although sadly, unless our bank accounts are particularly full, we aren’t going to be able to afford it. For us mere mortals, the Vertu TI is something to be admired in the same way as an Italian supercar or a beautiful timepiece. What’s more, because it’s also a damn fine smartphone, it’s equally as aspirational.

This starts from the very first moment you set eyes on the Vertu TI; it doesn’t look like any Vertu before it. Forget little screens, alphanumeric keypads, and Symbian software; the TI is gorgeous, understated, and elegant, while remaining purposeful and unique. It’s also nearly as technically accomplished as the Samsung Galaxy S3, one of the best selling smartphones of all time. Vertu has given the TI a 3.7-inch touchscreen, a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, and an 8-megapixel camera. There’s also NFC and 64GB of internal storage, plus a front-facing webcam.

A hand built smartphone for the connoisseur

Though our photos don’t do it justice, pick up the Vertu TI and you’re struck by how substantial it feels, with a weight similar to the Lumia 920. Though where the Nokia phone could be described as hefty, the Vertu TI is different. At the risk of pushing the supercar analogy too far, Vertu’s solid precision reminded us of using the Audi R8’s open gate gearbox, while the Lumia 920 could be compared to an Audi A4’s gearbox motion. Both great, but only one is evocative and memorable.

The phone has a forged aluminum chassis with a polished titanium shell and a sapphire crystal screen. When we’re bombarded by features described as Super this and Ultra that, it’s difficult to separate those terms so beloved by marketing teams and the materials used in the construction of the TI. Take the sapphire crystal screen. Vertu’s head of creative design, Hutch Hutchison (what a name), said glass is to sapphire what “blancmange is to steel,” a fact proven by the TI’s screen absorbing the impact of a 110 gram ball bearing. It’s also scratch proof, and I watched an original Vertu Signature phone being bashed and rubbed against the Vertu TI’s screen to no effect. Sapphire crystal, then, is there for a reason.

Vertu TI next to iPhone 5

The strength of the screen also contributes to the torsional rigidity of the phone, which apparently bends less than 1mm when a 50kg weight is applied, and the device makes absolutely no sound when its twisted or bent. B&O has certified the wonderfully crisp audio system, from the stereo speakers and their chambers down to the microphone. It sounds superb, with a spaciousness which is unusual for a smartphone.

Each Vertu TI is built by hand and the signature of the engineer who does so can be found under a removable cover on the rear of the handset. Final assembly takes 20 minutes, which may not sound all that long, except when you consider most mainstream smartphones take seconds.

Android OS and the ‘Concierge’ button

We were already pretty smitten after merely holding the Vertu TI, but were concerned over how Vertu had implemented Android and its user interface. Luckily, Vertu is mostly up-to-date on Google’s OS. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is installed and it’s smooth and speedy. Video performance was excellent, as was touchscreen responsiveness. The size of the screen is ideal for single handed operation, and the three hardware Android keys below the screen make a welcome change from touch sensitive buttons.

Vertu TI Concierge buttonOn the side of the device is the Concierge button. When pressed, this button opens a dedicated menu where a call can be placed to Vertu’s trademark personal assistant. Rather than feeling tacked on, this section is easy to use and visually matches the Vertu theme and style. Hutchison, Vertu’s head of creative design, emphasized that they didn’t want to spoil Android with a messy, complicated UI, citing Sony Ericsson’s early attempts to modify Android on the Xperia X1 as evidence of how wrong it can go. Instead, alterations are relevant to Vertu’s customers. For example, the analog clock face uses blue highlights to indicate the day’s appointments (synced across from Outlook) and a red arrow shows the time of the alarm. Simple, but very effective.

So. Expensive.

Yes, you may be thinking, all this is great, but the Vertu TI starts at 7,900 euros, or about $10,700. That’ll buy a huge array of mainstream Android or Apple products, which all do the same thing as the Vertu TI and more. How can it possibly be worth that amount of money? It’s all about how it makes you feel. Make no mistake, this is a luxury product, but not in the way Vertu devices are often seen. It’s not gaudy or gauche, it’s refined, elegant, and particularly in the case of the Titanium Pure Black model, downright stylish. Even in the short time we had with the phone, it felt special in a way tech products rarely do. We could see how taking it out of a pocket could have the same appeal as pulling back your sleeve to check the time on a Breitling Navitimer.

For the first time, it seems like we have a luxury smartphone we can aspire to own, and that makes its cost irrelevant.

Product Review

Don't let the bigger iPhones woo you away: The XS is still a masterpiece

Apple’s next smartphone is here -- the iPhone XS. We think it’s the perfect size for an iPhone, and it manages to impress with astounding performance, and sizable camera improvements.
Mobile

Here's the Samsung Galaxy S9's new Android 9.0 Pie interface

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus are here. The flagship devices boast some awesome new features and a powerful new processor. Here's everything you need to know about these Samsung phones.
Mobile

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro's body may wirelessly charge new Bluetooth headphones

Huawei is no stranger when it comes to big phones. And this year it plans to go even bigger with the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. Here's what we think we know about the new range.
Mobile

Find out how Apple's new iPhones measure up to the most bezel-less designs

As the smartphone industry marches toward a bezel-less future, we compare the shrinking bezels on the latest and greatest devices. Find out which manufacturers have the smallest bezels on their smartphone as we measure them side by side.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Mobile

Fitbit’s new health care platform sets out to improve wellness in the workplace

Fitbit's new platform, Fitbit Care, aims to help improve wellness in the workplace. Using wearables, digital health coaching, and a more personalized health care experience, employees can have an easier time staying on top of their health.
Mobile

Samsung looks to Huawei for inspiration, and the new Galaxy A7 is born

Samsung has launched the Galaxy A7 smartphone, its first with a triple-lens rear camera, which, although sounds similar to the one fitted to the Huawei P20 Pro, works in a different way.
Mobile

Our favorite tips and tricks to help you master your Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Apple's not the only game in town when it comes to productivity tablets. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S4 has all the features you'll need to get work done. Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4.
Mobile

Huawei is not-so-subtly trolling Friday’s iPhone launch

Apple launches the iPhone XS range to the public on Friday, but Huawei is out in force to remind the public what they could be missing out on (Hint: It's the Mate 20 Pro) by choosing Apple's latest smartphone.
Mobile

Audio company Bragi is suing OnePlus over the word 'dash'

Despite taking steps to change to "Warp Charge," OnePlus is being sued by audio company Bragi over the phone manufacturer's continued use of the word "dash" in the Dash Charging used in OnePlus phones.
Mobile

The best weather apps for Android will keep you dry no matter where you go

You may not be able to change the weather, but you can at least be prepared for it. Check out our guide to the best weather apps for Android, so you'll always know what to expect when you step out the front door.
Mobile

Android 9.0 Pie is finally rolling out to the OnePlus 6

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Mobile

Apple iPhone XS Max vs. Huawei P20 Pro: Clash of the titans

Anyone seeking a great new smartphone with plenty of money to spend has two amazing options, but which is better for you? We pit the Apple iPhone XS Max vs. Huawei P20 Pro in various categories to help you choose.
Mobile

Hateful software kills our enthusiasm for newcomer Realme’s $155 Android phone

Realme is a new smartphone brand with an interesting start to life, as it closely mirrors that of OnePlus, a brand we admire. The Realme 2 is its second phone, and we've given it a try to see if it's a winner.