|Vertu, maker of expensive phones, recently got some credibility handed to them it seems. The company is marketing their Ascent Motorsport Edition, which is an ultra-luxurious phone made with petroleum-resistant automotive leather inlaid with carbon fiber and Liquidmetal—you know, the stuff the future Terminator was made of. In short, it’s strong. So Vertu claimed the phone could be run over by the very car it was based on: an F1 Porsche. So the New York Times called bull and got one of these phones and ran over that thing five times with a Porsche Boxster. Oh, no! What horrible things happened to the expensive Vertu phone, you ask?! Nothing. Nada. Not a scratch. Score one for Vertu.|
I DROPPED down on all fours and crawled across Denise Salomon's loose-gravel driveway, clutching a Styrofoam pad and one of the world's most expensive cellphones - a $5,700 Vertu Ascent Motorsport.
Denise was already behind the wheel of her silver 2003 Porsche Boxster, wearing jeans, a brown cashmere sweater and a matching pair of two-inch suede heels with beaded rubber soles specifically designed for putting the pedal to the metal.
As I glanced back and forth between cellphone and car, I had to admit that the silver and black Vertu was almost as sleek as the Boxster. That was no coincidence. According to a news release crumpled in the pocket of my corduroys, the design and component parts were based on Formula One Porsche race cars.
The Vertu had an oblong aerodynamic shape: 4.25 inches long and 1.69 inches wide. Its casing was made of petroleum-resistant automotive leather inlaid with carbon fiber and a patented composite material called Liquidmetal, reputed to be twice as hard as stainless steel.
"The Liquidmetal casing of the phone makes it so durable," the release said, "it can even withstand being run over by the very F1 Porsche the design was inspired from."
I snuggled against the bumper of the Boxster, and slipped the Styrofoam pad under the right rear tire. I placed the Vertu face down on the pad to keep its keypad and crystal display from being scratched.
"Make sure you center it," Denise cautioned, rolling down the driver's side window of the car. "Otherwise, the tire will just spit it out."
I adjusted the position of the Vertu per Denise's advice. Then I hopped back up on my feet and sought a broader view from a few feet behind the bumper of the Boxster.
For a variety of scientific, philosophical and emotional reasons, Denise and I had been eagerly anticipating this chance to put the Vertu's durability claims to a real-life test. Perhaps not surprisingly, the good folks back at headquarters were not wild about the idea. Even though the Vertu's marketing materials virtually invited a Porsche rollover, they fretted over potential damage and liability issues.
"What if it smashes to smithereens?" one of them asked.
"It won't," I assured.
I found it more than a little odd that the only one who seemed to have true faith in Vertu was me - and, of course, Denise. Both of us were unrepentant cellphone haters, though her loathing for the devices exceeded mine by at least five volume level bars. "I think they're just horribly annoying, especially the ring tones," she said. "It's just too much technology in our lives."
Despite that Luddite attitude, Denise was also a level-headed businesswoman who had operated an interior design firm based in Sag Harbor for almost a decade, serving clients in New York City as well as on Long Island. "I use my cellphone for business when I'm out of town, and to collect messages," she admitted.
Before starting the durability test, Denise and I had put the Vertu through some more conventional paces. While the results were not a disappointment, they did not beckon an appointment as far as she was concerned. The Vertu weighed just a hair over six ounces. Denise felt that was too heavy for a cellphone. She complained that the razor-thin on-off button would probably break her fingernails if she tried to push it. Although the Vertu had enough storage space for 1,000 phone numbers, it lacked several features that are standard on more moderately priced cellphones and personal digital assistant devices, among them Internet access, e-mail ability and a built-in camera.
The Vertu did, however, boast one undeniably unique feature: a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week international concierge service reachable by merely pressing a button on the left side. I contacted a London-based Vertu concierge named Ola. She told me that her mother was from Nigeria and her father was from Britain, and that she spoke English and German. She said there were about 40 other people in her office who could do almost anything from making restaurant reservations and providing travel assistance to ordering a pizza.
I wasn't hungry for a pizza, but I did feel a need for reportorial balance, so I contacted Kevin Dyson, executive vice president and general manager of Barneys in New York, which sells Vertu phones. He owns one, so I asked him why he bought it. "The first reason was my Barneys employee discount," he replied with refreshing candor.