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This is what it's like to hold a $15,000 smartphone (hands-on)

It's made of titanium and leather (or carbon), but the Solarin phone's real appeal is a little switch on its back.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
2 min read

A star-studded London launch with actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Premium materials like titanium and leather. These are not the reasons anyone would want to buy a $15,000 phone (or £9,000 or AU$20,000 -- with taxes).

But if Sirin Labs, the creator of the ultrapricey Solarin phone, has its way, a little switch on the back will bring celebrities, government officials and other Very Powerful and Important People flocking. Rich people, who have plenty of cash to spare.

Meet the luxury phone for the super-rich and super-paranoid (pictures)

See all photos

The switch in question turns on an enhanced security mode that encrypts messages and limits much of the Android phone's hardware and software capabilities. You would use this when sharing extremely sensitive information, the kind of heady stuff that Sirin Labs imagines would make Solarin owners a target for hackers.

To that end, the company joined with two other security firms, Zimperium to guard against threats, and Koolspan, which boasts military-grade chip-to-chip encryption with 256-bit AES. Security support waits on 24-hour standby.

Solarin isn't meant for the mass market, which is probably the only thing saving it from being a complete farce. Its core customers are "international business travelers that spend much of their lives on the move," Sirin Labs CEO Tal Cohen told CNN.

The phone comes in four styles, which become increasingly more expensive depending on the material. For example, the crystal white-carbon variant -- which has black diamond, black crystal, white carbon and leather -- costs $15,900 before taxes. If you really wanted to, you could buy the Solarin now online or at a few stores in London.

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Solarin, left, compared with the Apple iPhone 6S.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Solarin's hardware specs

  • 5.5-inch LED display (2,540x1,440 pixel resolution)
  • 23.8-megapixel camera
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera with flash
  • Wi-Gig technology (speeds of up to 4.6Gbps)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • 128GB storage, 4GB RAM

Is it worth the cost?

Phone security is a big deal; nothing highlighted that more than the FBI asking Apple to build a backdoor into its iPhones, and there are other security solutions out there.

Samsung already goes beyond Google's Android security with its Knox software for Galaxy phones and BlackBerry claims boosted security on the Priv phone. The Blackphone promises even greater security, as does Silent Circle's GranitePhone.

Specialty devices, especially those cloaked in fancy materials, typically use claims of keeping confidential information secure to justify a slightly higher cost -- but this sticker price shoots into the realm of the absurd. And clearly draws on the very real fears of an extremely narrow segment of the population.

Without seeing the Solarin in hacker-thwarting action, it's hard to think of it as anything but exploitative -- though of course, we'll reserve our final judgment.