Vertu trades flash for restraint in the mature, polished-titanium Aster

I sat down in a calm, and very swish, suite at London’s Ham Yard Hotel, moments away from the insanely busy Piccadilly Circus. I was there to see the new Vertu Aster smartphone, and it was sitting on the table in front of me. In fact, there was a whole collection of them, in a wide variety of colors, all face down. I spent a moment looking at it, and I didn’t really like it.

This was a horrid shock. Every Vertu phone I’ve been faced with in the past has prompted an immediate reaction, but this was the first time one underwhelmed me. It was far less in-your-face than I expected. Although clearly beautifully made, my eyes were examining it for overt flourishes, or a sign of madness; but finding none. If it was an instrument, it would have been a flute, compared to the Signature Touch’s clarinet, or the Vertu TI’s electric guitar.

Beauty that takes time to appreciate

However, over the course of an hour, the Aster became more attractive. Not in a getting-drunk-and-anything-will-do kind of way, but in a the-more-I-look-the-more-beauty-I-see way. The polished titanium side pieces are gorgeous, and have a smoothed out scoop running the length of the phone, interrupted by tiny screws and some finely crafted buttons. At each end, the titanium has been rounded off to perfection. Twist the phone so it catches the light, and it emphasizes the precision of the milling.

There are no swirls, twists, slashes, or lasers; only straight lines to break up the simple panel.

Above the screen is the “pillow” as Vertu calls it, which is split into three sections. On the right is the front facing camera lens — covered in sapphire glass, of course — while the center section uses the V logo for the speaker mouth. It’s a great decision, and one which I hope will find its way onto more Vertu phones in the future. Separating the third section is a notification light. On certain models, two of these sections come in polished titanium, and it looks fantastic.

Turn the phone over and you’re greeted by a rectangular metal panel containing the camera lens, dual-LED flash, and SIM-card door. It’s secured over the leather-clad surface with four screws, and for Vertu, is almost willfully under designed. There are no swirls, twists, slashes, or lasers; only straight lines to break up the simple panel. It’s this which caused my initial reaction. Where is the drama?

Mature and restrained

Even the Constellation was a little bit crazy, especially in bright orange. The Aster is incredibly well-behaved. The subtlety of the design, best described as chic, really does take time to appreciate. This is reflected in the choice of name. An Aster is a daisy-like flower. It’s pretty, colorful, and wonderfully British. It’s not a big show-off like a rose, but a favorite which everyone can appreciate. The Aster smartphone won’t wow like its peers, but there’s a good chance it will win more admirers over time.

It’s possible to funk up the Aster by choosing one of the new ostrich leather options, which are suitably eye-catching, but the unique look won’t be for everyone. Ultimately, the Aster is a Vertu phone for those who don’t want to make a fuss. It’s even more restrained than the Constellation, and the maturity of the design shows Vertu’s becoming more comfortable in the luxury product space.

Technically impressive

The Aster shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement to the Constellation — which lives on in the range — or the poor relative of the Signature Touch. The technical specification is equally as tempting. The 5.1-inch sheet of sapphire crystal glass gives the 4.8-inch 1080p display a beautiful sheen, and a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM keeps the Android 4.4 KitKat OS running very smoothly.

Android is left fairly standard here, aside from some very cool animated wallpapers, plus some specially commissioned pieces taken from the Tate Gallery, the usual high quality ringtones, and the Vertu suite of apps. Unlike the Constellation, Vertu’s famous Concierge is included here, although it’s referred to as the “Classic” service, which means you won’t always speak to the same person.

Following its debut on the Signature Touch, Hasselblad’s back onboard for the Aster, and has been responsible for tuning the images produced by the 13-megapixel rear camera. Vertu and Hasselblad wanted to move away from the bright, overly-saturated, high contrast images which are common in the smartphone world, and edge toward more natural, neutral pictures. The Signature Touch’s camera was perhaps too restrained, but apparently the software has been refined for the Aster, but we’ll have to wait until we spend more time with the phone to offer up judgement. A quick indoor shot taken with the Aster did look great.

My time fondling the Aster was almost at an end, and although it had taken longer than usual, I found myself daydreaming about the color combination I would choose, should I be in the enviable position to buy one. Vertu is introducing a wider range of customization options across its range, making the buying process an even more personal one. On that subject, the Aster will be sold though Vertu’s newly opened, global online store, and should be available from October 2.

Vertu is evolving, and our assumptions about its hardware should evolve with it. There’s no longer any need to raise eyebrows with an outrageous design. The Aster is demure, rather than ostentatious, and requires time to appreciate. To get this reaction from a phone, and not a piece of jewelry or art, is impressive; and the Aster cements Vertu’s place at the very top of the luxury mobile tree.

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