Vertu's painfully pricey premium smartphone

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/ Updated: February 12, 2013 11:07 AM PST

Vertu, the phone-maker that until recently was the property of Nokia, is best known for making ludicrously expensive mobile handsets that are slathered with gems and precious metals. The Vertu Ti is the firm's latest effort, an Android-powered smartphone that features a titanium chassis and a sapphire-crystal screen.

Starting at $9,600 (with design variants that hike the price up to nearly $20,000), this ridiculous mobile phone will do little to tempt discerning shoppers. If you're curious as to what nearly $10,000 worth of smartphone gets you however, then read on.

Is the Vertu Ti too rich for your blood? Luke Westaway/CNET
Design
Looking like a prop from a bad science fiction serial, the Ti lacks the demure styling of the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3, instead opting for all-out glam. This translates into leather wrapped around the body of the phone, glossy chromatic metal edging, and an angular logo badge atop the screen, which makes the Ti look like it's permanently frowning. On the back there's a chunky module that houses the Ti's 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash.

Vertu boasts that its choice of pricey materials make the Ti practically indestructible. The titanium case, the company claims, is roughly five times tougher than the cases around most cell phones, and flexes less than 1mm when a 500 Newton force is applied.

That's handy if you often find your phone slipping out of your hands, but bear in mind that for a device that's five times more durable than rival mobile devices, you will be dropping down more than 10 times as much cash. Ouch.

Luke Westaway/CNET

Vertu also claims that the Ti's sapphire-crystal screen was thoroughly tested, with a single drop of a 110g ball bearing, in fact -- an experiment I can't see anyone who spends this much on a mobile phone hurrying to replicate. Beyond knowing that your display is several degrees sturdier and fancier than anyone's in the room, however, I suspect there's little real benefit in this panel when it comes to using the touch screen or in terms of picture quality.

Concierge, and Android software
Buying the Ti does net you access to Vertu's white-glove Concierge service, which puts a real-life human on speed-dial for tasks like booking travel tickets or accommodation. Two other Vertu apps are touted: Life, which offers articles and tailored information that Vertu thinks will suit you (perhaps selected editorial from What Palace and Doric Column), and Certainty, which sounds like a cloud storage service for backing up your phone. All three of these fancy-pants services are summoned by tapping the ruby button on the back of the phone.

The Ti is powered by Android, giving you access to thousands of apps via Google Play, and home screens on which to plant widgets and organize apps. Unfortunately the Ti runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, rather than 4.2 Jelly Bean, the latest edition. As such you'll miss out on treats like Photo Sphere and Google Now -- a service that provides information based on factors such as your location and search history.

Not-so high-end hardware
The behind-the-curve features don't end with older Android software, as the Ti is stuffed with components that would see the LG Nexus 4 stifling a grin. You get a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, rather than the quad-core chips that are becoming standard in dramatically cheaper smartphones, and a screen that's smaller than the iPhone 5's.

Luke Westaway/CNET

As well as the 8-megapixel camera on the back (which nabs 1080p video capture), there's a 1.2-megapixel snapper on the front, for video chats with your butler or yacht crew.

Vertu's made room for 64GB of storage inside this phone, however, which is a healthy amount. When you're paying this much, plenty of space for your movies and music is the least you'd expect, though. NFC is also along for the ride, but while this contactless technology has potential and could soon be used to make mobile payments in shops, there's not a great deal you can do with it currently.

Sky-high prices

The Ti starts at $9,600 for the black leather version you can see above, though if you want something really luxurious, there are even more-costly iterations available: $11,500 gets you a "Pure Black" model, and a "Black Alligator" option sets you back $12,800. At the very top of the range is a "Titanium Red Gold Mixed Metals" offering, which costs an eye-watering $19,900. Note that paying more only gets you pricier materials, while the specifications stay the same.

Hands-on

I can verify first hand that the Ti feels quite heavy to hold, likely as a result of all the materials crammed into its chassis. It's chunky too, and is a lot thicker than oh-so-slim mobiles like the iPhone 5. To its credit, while the processor isn't the fastest in the West, the Ti doesn't feel sluggish to use, with menus and apps loading with a pleasing snap.

In the flesh this phone does look -- and feel -- luxurious, thanks to plenty of glistening metal detail and sturdy build quality. It exudes opulence, but glittering jewels and alligator skin won't satisfy those craving a simple, demure smart phone, and the ostentatious look of this phone could put potential buyers off just as quickly as the high price tag.

Would you ever pay thousands of dollars for a phone, or do you find the current crop of top-tier mobiles more than expensive enough already? Fee free to voice your opinion in the comments section.

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Where to Buy

Vertu Ti

Part Number: CNETVertu Ti

MSRP: $9,600.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Weight 5.64 oz
  • Diagonal Size 3.7 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels