What's inside a $20,000 cellphone?

Having broken apart an extremely expensive cellphone from Vertu, what does one find inside it?

"This is the one that I wasn't able to fix," writes S., who says he buys salvaged cellphones from insurers and repairs them for sale on eBay. "Although I've heard they improved recently, the first generation phone had the same guts as a $20 Nokia handset."

Vertu Signature Dragon cellphone
Behold! Vertu's $200 USB cable


    1. Exactly. It’s the sharp end of the stick for companies wanting to make “luxury” gadgets. The best you can do is serve the same Coke as everyone else in a fancy glass.

      But here they’re serving Chateaux Faygeaux, so even their dumbest customers eventually realize it’s not what the President drinks

      1. So, the high-priced first-gen product of a company founded in 1998 has the guts of a product you can buy for $20 in 2012.

        This may be a slightly less exceptional phenomenon than you think, Rob.

  1. Are we (in the collective we) a bit too obsessed about this phone?

    The insides don’t really matter IMHO when fashion and style come into place.
    A 500 dollar handbag, or even a ‘steam punk’ keyboard, computer when broken down to component parts aren’t the same value about the bits that make up the item.
    A painting is only 9 dollars of paint.
    This isn’t to say that the concept of a 20K cell isn’t outstandingly stupid, or say it approaches high art…but the idea that the components  is reflective of the market value.

    1. The more it costs, the better it is. I didn’t understand that until my sister moved to LA and started working with the movie industry, then she explained it to me. If it costs more, it must be better, because why else would it cost more?

      1. Exactly, however ‘better’ is subjective and is without context.  This phone can be better than a Nokia and still contain the same parts.

        Otherwise all the execs in London would be driving V8 Skoda’s, not BMWs; if all you care about is 0-60 and horse-power.

        I use a Mac and not a PC, even though I could get similar hardware with a PC for a lot less (apart from with my iMac, I still challenge someone to build something as good with the same quality screen/peripherals for the same price, and get an OS to work on it as flawlessly), and this is often the primary argument when winboys spot an article about Apple and rush to the comments section; however I don’t buy a Mac simply due to the amount of RAM I get and the size of the hard-drive – no one does, cause that’d be stupid.

        The difference here of course is that this product is completely ridiculous.  If it had some awesome OS and free calls for life and diamonds for buttons and a 10 year guarantee, I’d maybe understand it. The dragon version for example, at least tries to be fancy.

    2. The fascinating thing (for me)  is that while the exterior is precious, the insides are markedly worse than everything else on the market instead of merely being just the same as everything else.

      If Virtu was selling Android 4.0 models with HD touchscreens, it would be simply breathtaking, cutting edge extravagance.

      But it’s a joke, because — unless I’m very much mistaken — we are on the cusp of Vertu being the last company to sell Symbian phones that are not free with a contract.

      1. The fascinating thing (for me)  is that while the exterior is precious, the insides are markedly worse than everything else on the market instead of merely being just the same as everything else.

        Ain’t that the truth.  Bloody 1%ers.  Oh wait, we’re talking about cell phones?

      2. “Worse” is operative here only in the narrow technical sense of the phones being high-end jewelry wrapped around circa-’99 Nokia commodity electronics (which still work perfectly well for wireless voice). If I’m wealthy beyond belief, why the hell do I need apps?  Thought experiment: for every app on your smartphone, imagine an actual wetware specialist servant (or slave) waiting on-call 24/7 to provide master with that special info you need right now.  Imagine “Siri” in a little black dress… she’s yours.  QED

  2. The most astonishing thing, I think, is just how ugly they are. This isn’t haute couture, it’s like King Midas took on a crap on the worst looking cell phone  he could find from the late 90s.

  3. Thanks Rob. I got sucked in to the Vertu site, reading all about the novel method they invented to create HUGE hunks of sapphires for the screens. About the precision-milled stainless-steel buttons. About the custom-cast titanium frames. And the friggin’ ruby bearings (that are used for all the moving parts inside a cell phone?!). These phones are completely insane. Especially given the fact that they are extra stupid on the inside.

    1. The content of the silicon chips in the $20 Nokia phone guts is way more impressive than anything they can do to make the mechanical parts, being  the result of billions of dollars of engineering and decades of industry refinement.

      1. Tell that to a 70-year old who thinks the best car ever was manufactured in 1960, when people still banged metal into shape with their own hands.

    2. I got sucked in to the Vertu site, reading all about the novel method they invented to create HUGE hunks of sapphires for the screens.

      Did they have Robby the Robot explaining it to Anne Francis?

      1. “Did they have Robby the Robot explaining it to Anne Francis?”

        in different ways, you and I are sooooooooooooooo old dude..

  4. If cellphones were people, Vertu’s lineup would be the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world. Expensive and flashy on the outside, hamster-wheel banal on the inside.

    1. Trashy and expensive would be more apt.

      The great irony of people that buy and wear things based on the price tag is that they end up looking like they shop at a market stall.

    1. Oh they do well enough. Besides, their customers probably forget everything about it in two weeks. 

  5. I dont want to defend the high price of these phones but looking at the device is only one part of it. When you buy a Vertu phone you’re not just part of ‘unique club’ but you receive one years membership of the “Vertu Concierge Service”. 


    A 24 hour real person on had at the press of a button to book, flights, hotels, shows, anything you want. I’ve heard people have tested the Concierge with things like “I want to have dinner with the Queen” and the concierge actually managed to get them tickets to an event (with dinner included) that the Queen was attending.

    It’s still crazy luxury, but the Vertu experience is much more than the “dragon shit” device. This is one of the reasons Vertu has been around for 14 years.

    n.b. I dont have a Vertu phone, or work for them. I’m a service designer and so have looked into ‘luxury experiences’ for various projects over the years.

    1. But that still doesn’t have anything to do with the phone itself. The concierge service could be split off into a separate company, and all the user would have to do is download an app or just add the phone number to their contacts list.

    2. I’d say you’d be better off with a modern phone and the concierge off your Amex Centurion card. Vertu uses the Quintessentially concierge service I believe, which you could join directly and not have to carry around a phone that makes one look like a tasteless moron.

      1. This is true.  But then again the Centurion is invite only now again, and even people with the cash for it are finding they aren’t getting invited. Poor things.

        I guess it would be too much to ask of people that they actually be interesting or do something interesting enough that they don’t have to purchase some shine.

      2. It’s worth remembering that the people dropping this kind of coin are very much the real world Tony Stark’s.  Without a doubt brilliant captains of industry… but they couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery without their PA’s assistance. 

        They COULD get another phone AND the concierge service; but it is simpler to just buy the phone that comes with it and save the trouble.   This sort of person is much more inclined to go off the shelf (or the PA is more inclined to do so at any rate). 

        Keep in mind the 10min to weld the different phone and service together could well be worth more than £20k to these people. 

    3. Does anyone see the hilarity of having to buy a 20,000 phone to wheedle your way into the presence of royalty for a night so you can be reminded of what you aren’t? Because I do. 

  6. You’re paying for the ‘concierge’ service… which basically means you can get hookers or coke wherever you are in the world. Nice.

  7. An article based on a 10 year old product which has been superseded, and updated many times since but can also be repaired by Vertu if sent back to them rather than an unauthorised repairer/cowboy on eBay.
     A company that has been around for 14 years and appears to be doing pretty well even with the negative rubbish being written on sites like this. Vertu make a mobile phone for the luxury industry and is the market leader people buy them knowing deep down that it is a piece of bling, a status symbol for the people who can afford them just like an extensive watch or handbag

    1. “Waaah! Waaah! How dare you make fun of rich people and the overpriced junk they buy! You’re just mad ‘cos spoiled brats and the snake-oil salesmen who take advantage of them are better than you!”

  8. I no way am I defending Vertu, but I did once work on their advertisng account. They’re far more akin to jewellery than technology: the cases are obviously bling metal, they’re finished to a reasonably high standard in terms of polishing and all that jazz… to say that the tech is crap is kind of to miss the point.

    The only places they sell them in any numbers are the Middle East and Moscow. Oil wealth doesn’t really buy taste, you see.

  9. It’s just the rich-and-stupid tax. Personally, I’m glad Vertu and “luxury” companies are able to separate rich idiots from their money. Let’s have more of that.

    1. I’d rather that “tax” actually go to benefit the people who help make and keep the rich rather than just being moved around in the great circle jerk of rich idiots.

  10. Bang! Bang? We didn’t Bang cars into shape!
    We massage the metal into conforming with our conception of perfection.
    Example – 1957 Chevrolet convertible. 

  11. Wait, I think I saw the answer to this on TV the other day.

    It’s got 3 cartridges of acid that will explode and destroy the hard drive if anyone tries to open the case.

    (Also it has a hard drive.)

    1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed that the real Constellation Quest (ick @ Vertu’s naming scheme) -doesn’t have a hard drive-, but a more sensible SSD.

  12. Hmmm, actually the really cool concierge service (real dude siri) does not have to fit into the phone itself. Why are you so bothered by the products anyway – you free not to buy them?

  13. The main problem about buying a “luxury” mobile phone is, that it is to expensive because of the nobel metals used for the case, but the hardware is only about a year up to date.
    If you want to sell luxury phones you have to develop a new marketing strategy, so that this investment would make sense. Maybe the customer has to pay for a contract and they get a new luxury phone every year, but only if they sent their old one back or something like that. But hey, I sure there are enough rich dumbasses who’ll buy this phone nonetheless – just because they can.

  14. When are you launching the BoingBoing Elite Exclusive Centurion Unobtainium Luxury site?  Subscription fee: $10,000 per annum.  Hey, if they’ll buy that phone, they’ll buy anything.

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