Dolce & Gabbana Motorola Razr and now the Bang & Olufsen Serene, it appears there actually are people with enough money to burn on a pricey, fancy phone. Bang & Olufsen is more well-known to audio enthusiasts as a brand synonymous with high-end consumer electronics, and its new Serene is of a similar vein. Manufactured by Samsung but with Bang & Olufsen style, the Serene has a black clamshell form factor, a rotary-style keypad, and a power-assist internal motor that makes for one of the most uniquely designed phones we've ever laid eyes on. That said, its high price tag, poor design usability, and lackluster functionality makes the Serene more of a showpiece than a real, everyday gadget. The Serene is currently available unlocked for a very high cost of $1,275.
The Bang & Olufsen Serene is all about design. At first glance, it looks a lot like a sculptural work of modern art. When closed, the Serene has a curved trapezoidal clamshell design and appears to be covered in black soft-touch plastic accented with a chrome-finish hinge. A charger jack sits on one side of the top flap while a tiny camera lens is housed on the other. The position of the camera lens is probably one of the worst design decisions we've ever witnessed in a camera phone. Because the lens faces to the phone's side, you can't use it to shoot something directly in front of you. Instead, you have to stand next to your subject and shoot sideways--weird.
You also will notice two screws on either side of the phone, which can be unscrewed using the included plastic screwdriver. You will need to unscrew them to remove the cover and access the battery as well as the SIM card. The screw heads are unique to the phone, so if you lose the screwdriver, you'll have a hard time opening and closing the cover. This is a pretty big misstep on Bang & Olufsen's part--it's already bad enough we have to use a tool to access the battery, but the fact we can only use its own unique screwdriver makes it even worse.
Opening and closing the phone is simply a wonder and is the height of self-indulgence. By nudging the flap slightly, an internal motor takes over and the phone will open and close by itself--Bang & Olufsen claims it is the world's first power-assisted flip phone. This only happens if the phone is already powered on, and it is possible to open and close the phone without the help of an internal motor. While it is undeniably cool to have a phone that can open and close with a slight nudge of your finger, it's more like a gimmick than anything of real use. And we're sure the feature did a lot to bump up the price. It measures 2.5x2.8x0.9 inches and weighs less than 0.4 ounce, resulting in a compact and lightweight feel. Holding the phone in the hand is pretty comfortable thanks to its soft-touch finish, as well as when holding it next to the ear.
When the phone is open, you'll be presented with a rotary-style keypad on the top and the screen on the bottom. This unusual design is supposed to prevent the screen from being smudged by the side of your face, which we didn't think was too dire a problem, but we admit the screen was indeed positioned away from our cheek. If you want, you can reposition the image on the screen so it is upside down for the traditional screen-on-top look, though it's a bit pointless since the microphone and the speaker will remain in the same position.