"Hey, careful, that doesn't look very safe there," I said. Hutch had just placed the phone that he told me cost €7,900 onto a box in which there were assorted components. We were seated at a settee during the presentation of the Vertu Ti at the brand's store on Via Montenapoleone in Milan.
Hutch Hutchison looked at me, picked up the phone, and said, "This has the largest sapphire touchscreen of any smartphone." He turned it over, screen side down, and brought it down hard against the corner of the table. There was a bang that momentarily stopped conversation, but they all quickly started again. The phone survived unscathed, as everyone (except me) knew it would.
In the factory they test them more scientifically, by dropping ball bearings down a metre-long tube onto it. The Vertu Ti survives ball bearings four times heavier than its nearest competitor. Apart from the unscratchable sapphire glass, the phone's incredible strength is due to its materials, above all high-grade titanium, twice as hard as normal titanium, for the edges, and aerospace-standard forged aluminium for the internal frame. "The phone is five times stronger in bend strength than any other phone."
Other materials were chosen for comfort, such as the ceramic cushion that is in contact with your ear. "Ceramic is almost as hard as sapphire, and it feels just right because it conducts heat away at exactly the right speed. Have you ever experienced a plastic smartphone getting hot? That's because it's an insulator, and it doesn't conduct heat fast enough. And just imagine the feel of metal. It's cold, because it conducts heat too fast." And then there is the signature leather on the back. All beautifully contained within a cool, functional series of titanium profiles.
The Vertu Ti includes an important new development in terms of software: Android. When owned by Nokia, the people at Vertu were tied to the Nokia operating system which, alas, was the factor that caused the Finnish company to drop back in the smartphone stakes. Vertu broke away from Nokia in 2012, and so it was able to adopt Android, giving users access to the vast number of apps available. "It's a known winner. It runs at seven gigahertz, which means that even when you watch films, there's no trace of delay." The design team made just a few adjustments, such as the analogue clock display instead of the digital display. "An analogical clock enables you to see time," said Hutch, "so that when you set the alarm, you can see this little pink arrow that reassures you that it's set, and gives you an immediate idea of how much time you have in between. And events that you programme on the calendar also show up on the clock, as blue sectors around the dial."
Vertu is famous for its concierge service, in which the user can receive real-time information on what's available in the city you're in, where to rent a car, bookings for transport, entertainment and upcoming events, and so forth, provided by phone, e-mail or live chat, in nine different languages. Your respondent can even be a one-to-one, totally personal concierge. The city guide within the phone is in itself an amazing resource. The phone takes your own personal profile into consideration and discreetly suggests things and places that you would like, according to your location. This information is not a static city guide compiled by old hacks who have never even been there. It is generated by local experts and then constantly modified by the demand arriving from Vertu users, who are of course in the same category of people. In this way it takes account of the rapid changes in popularity of the most exclusive clubs. "Special privileges and benefits are available at a lot of the venues specifically for Vertu owners. You just have to wave your phone."
"Would you consider this a luxury phone?" I asked. "No. We just wanted to make the best possible mobile phone. We want the aesthetics to be right, and to last. All too often, products end up looking tatty very soon after you've bought them. There's the feel to this phone, the weight and balance."
"And how long did its development take?"
"I would tend to say, 15 years, from when Vertu was founded, but to answer your question, about two years. We're now working not on the next phone, but the one after that."
I asked Hutch whether he could tell us about a typical Vertu phone owner. "Of course, we cater for the top end, which today is rather buoyant. They would typically be the person who would buy a Mercedes AMG for say a hundred grand. They would probably buy a new one after three years. The original idea for Vertu phones was to have a replaceable engine so that it could be upgraded. Our customers didn't want it. We find that a typical Vertu owner soon buys the next model after it has appeared on the market." Other indications are provided by some of the services available in the concierge function. "They have access to state-of-the-art security services, both physical, with very competent ex-military personnel, and virtual. Data that you don't want to be intercepted can be encrypted, whether you are sending it to someone else or to the cloud."
And then, there is sound, a Vertu hallmark right from the start. "We worked with Bang and Olufsen on the sound system," said Hutch, picking up a few pieces from his components box. "You see, at the base of the phone there are two stereo loudspeakers, one on each side. They provide the best possible sound, considering the small amount of space available. There is an additional component that brings back the low frequencies that tend to get lost with such small speakers." He played the trailer for Skyfall, and the crystal-sharp images on the sapphire screen were complemented by the sound quality, satisfyingly audible even in the room packed with a thousand conversations.
"In addition, we have always had a keen interest in ringtones. The Sandpiper ring tone runs right back to our origins, and it has remained a favourite. The Ti has some London Symphony Orchestra versions, and Andrea Griminelli's beautiful solo flute performance. In a quiet environment you can even hear the man breathing."
"But there's one thing that I would like to point out," said Hutch. "On the outside of the phone, there is another microphone here, that picks up the background noise around you – such as all these people talking."
"Huh?" I said, puzzled as to why anyone should want to record background noise. He explained.
"When you're talking on the phone, the software inside compares the audio signal of your voice with the background noise picked up by the second microphone. Then it cancels the background noise, so that the person at the other end only hears your voice without all the rest."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I decided that the Vertu Ti is a really smart phone.
Photos from the Milan Vertu Ti launch: exterior of the boutique in Via Montenapoleone:
Below, Matteo Ceccarini:
Perry Oosting and Guglielmo Miani:
Watch the video below: