Vertu Reality

Courtesy of Prada

It’s made of titanium and comes with a concierge—all for seven grand. Frank Vizard assesses Vertu’s latest luxe phone.

The Vertu Ascent Ti is not the most expensive cell phone ever. Not by a long shot. There are five-figure handsets out there encrusted with enough diamonds to make a Russian tycoon’s mistress blush. What sets the Vertu apart from these blinged-out models is that except for some ruby bearings under the keys, it is jewel free. Why, then, the $7,000 price tag?

Like one of those grand complication, chronograph- and perpetual calendar–laden Swiss watches, the Vertu Ascent Ti is crafted by hand with a staggering number of components: 870, to be exact. In fact, 314 tools had to be specially designed before the first one could even be built. The chassis is made from solid titanium—hence the Ti designation—and the ceramic material that protects space shuttles. A sheet of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal covers the screen.

The Vertu uses 3G, or third-generation, cellular technology, which allows for high-speed data transmission and Internet browsing. As a result the phone works almost anywhere in the world. And many of its features actually target today’s globe-trotter. An in-flight setting deactivates the radio frequency function (which transmits and receives calls) but still allows access to games, an MP3 player, and video and picture files. The phone offers flight updates for 75 airlines, currency conversion programs, and local weather reports. But perhaps handiest of all is the 24/7 concierge service, exclusive to Vertu owners, which is reached at the touch of a button. It can set you up with reservations, tickets, even a plumber. The company also backs up your data to the “Vertu Fortress”—a server located in a former military bunker in the English countryside—so if you lose your phone, everything can be quickly transferred to a replacement.

Designwise, the Vertu Ascent Ti borrows heavily from sports cars. The keypad lights up like a dashboard—this resemblance is reinforced by the onscreen chronograph and leather exterior, available in red or black. (There is also a mocha-colored model with a silver-sapphire screen.) And as in a sports car, the phone’s electronics are shock-mounted to secure them against accidental drops.

If you’re a tech geek, however, you may be disappointed by what’s missing. There is no touch screen, and the 8X-zoom camera’s three-megapixel resolution is a step or two behind some of the latest offerings from mainstream companies. That’s not to say the Vertu Ascent Ti is a technological laggard. It has most of the functions you’d expect and, with a four-gigabyte capacity, plenty of memory for doing anything short of movie-watching, although it lacks a slot for memory cards. Other key features include voice dialing and a speakerphone mode that is remarkably clear, thanks to twin speakers mounted on each side of the handset.

While the Vertu Ascent Ti is clearly a magnificently made product, we had a few qualms. In terms of daily use, the toggle switch that allows you to navigate menus is tiny—you may find yourself growing your thumbnails to facilitate operation. A more philosophical question is whether cell phones such as this one will attain the coveted, collectible status of the Swiss watches they emulate. Although the mechanical components of the phone are designed to last two decades, the fast pace of change in technology is likely to leave you yearning for an upgrade within a couple of years. You can certainly leave your Patek Philippe to your descendants, but your children may not be as keen on receiving a decades-old cell phone. Your call.

For information on where to purchase the Vertu phone, go to

Upwardly Mobile

Apple’s iPhone inspired a fresh look at cell phone design, along with the realization that mobiles are as much a fashion accessory as they are a communications tool. Here, a few that mix high style with functionality.

1. Prada Phone by LG

At less than a half inch thick (precisely, 12mm), the Prada phone could be mistaken for a credit card. Yet it is packed with features: touch-screen operation, a 2-megapixel camera, an MP3 player, and a memory-card slot. While technically not available in the U.S.A., it can be bought on a number of Web sites. But first check with your service provider to make sure all the features will function on your network. $900;

2. Giorgio Armani-Samsung

At 10.5mm, or about .41 inches, thin, Armani’s phone is skinnier than Prada’s and boasts many of the same features, including a touch-sensitive screen. But with a 3-megapixel camera rating, your snapshots may be a little sharper. There is also a microSD card slot for added memory capacity. The phone launched in Europe and should become available in the States this year. $1,180;>

3. ccPhone

Produced in a limited edition of 50 by Citizen:Citizen, a San Francisco–based company, the cc is actually a retooled, tricked-out iPhone. Created by artist Tobias Wong, who loaded it with music, videos, and images, it also comes with Citizen:Citizen’s specialized address book of art, design, and fashion contacts, updated semiannually. $2,000;

4. Stealth

Inspired by aircraft design, Mobiado’s Stealth is built with a single piece of aluminum, a sheet of sapphire crystal that protects the display screen, buttons of stainless steel and sapphire crystal, and a rock-hard ceramic coating. Features include a 2-megapixel camera, a memory slot, an MP3 player, stereo speakers, Internet access, and an animated 3-D menu. Expect it on these shores later this year. $2,500;

5. Serene

This phone has one of those eye-catching designs that are the hallmark of the Danish company Bang & Olufsen. The motorized clamshell opens at a flick of the finger, and its features, such as a camera, are accessed via a navigation wheel, an unusual approach for a cell phone but reminiscent of an iPod. $1,300;