Windows Phone isn't dead yet. It just got a vote of confidence from an unlikely source: Sony spinoff Vaio has just announced a Windows Phone in its home country of Japan.
Vaio used to be Sony's computer brand -- until Sony sold off the underperforming PC division in 2014. Since then, the company has focused on producing premium computers such as the Vaio Z Canvas tablet and Vaio Z Flip convertible. But apparently, Vaio's ambitions don't end with traditional PCs. Now, Vaio has a Windows Phone dubbed the Vaio Phone Biz, which should go on sale in Japan this April.
The Vaio Phone Biz isn't the powerful phone you might expect from a company that just built a reputation cramming speedy processors into exceptionally small Windows PCs. It's more of a midrange smartphone, with a respectable 8-core Snapdragon 617 processor and 3GB of RAM underneath its 5.5-inch 1080p screen, and a 13-megapixel camera around back.
Instead, Vaio is talking up the refined metal design of the phone -- which is cut from a single block of aluminum -- and the lengths that the company's engineers went to to provide a fast LTE-Advanced cellular connection with strong signal strength. The phone will also support Continuum, which lets you connect a Windows 10 phone to a nearby monitor, mouse and keyboard, and use it like a full Windows 10 PC. (There's also a microSD slot for expandable storage and waterproofing in case of accidents.)
It's not clear whether Vaio's Windows Phone will be available outside Japan, particularly since the company's Japanese product page suggests the device's antennas were specifically designed to provide excellent signal strength in Japan's urban settings. Still, the Vaio Z Canvas tablet came to the US and the Vaio Z Flip convertible and Vaio S laptop will arrive in the next few months.
And don't get me wrong: Even if it came to the US, things are still looking pretty bleak for fans of Microsoft's mobile operating system. Major Windows Phone partners such as Samsung and HTC have abandoned the platform and Microsoft's own recent flagshipand handsets have been disappointing at best. Sales have shrunk. But it's interesting that all of a sudden, we're seeing lesser known companies like Vaio commit to Windows Phone.
Sorry, Windows Phone. 110m lifetime sales - 4.5bn iOS & Android phones sold in the same period pic.twitter.com/CO03XWhYJg— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) January 28, 2016
Vaio isn't the only upstart company looking to try its luck at Windows Phone, though. At this year's CES in Las Vegas, we learned that budget smartphone manufacturer Alcatel OneTouch is planning to build multiple Windows Phones this year, including a "superphone" designed to compete against high-end Apple and Android handsets. I'm curious whether other companies will join them.