"Recession? What recession?" would appear to be Motorola's response to the credit crunch. How else to explain the company's lastest wheeze called the AURA – a style-led, low-spec handset costing over a grand?
Who can afford one of those these days? Well, credit where it's due, it's undeniably a good-looking phone, with its hand-etched stainless steel casing and unusual swivel action (last seen on Motorola's V70 back in 2002), albeit with the kind of spec that wouldn't look out of place on an entry-level kids' phone, with no 3G or Wi-Fi, no push email or smart phone accoutrements, and just a 2-megapixel camera.
Low tech, high fashion
Motorola claims the AURA's look is inspired by classic watches, and perhaps it hopes that it will be considered in the same way as those Patek Phillippe ads where the exceptionally well-heeled father passes on his prized analogue chronograph to his son. It certainly seems built to last.
The casework is solid and the swivel action is controlled by a complex series of precision-engineered cogs and bearings, which can be seen through a viewing port on the back of the handset. It feels like a quality device, and in this context, its possible that its lack of the latest hi-tech features could work to its advantage, since it's unlikely to date quickly.
A gentle push to the left activates the smooth swivel action and reveals an aluminium keypad modelled on the flat, metallic style of the RAZR series, with clearly spaced buttons but a small and rather fiddly four-way D-pad flanked by OK and back buttons.
The jewel in the AURA's crown however is its unique circular screen. It features 16 million colours, 480-pixel diameter and sits beneath a grade 1,62-carat sapphire crystal lens which Motorola says is exceptionally scratch-resistant. It looks gorgeous, with pin-sharp detail going all the way to the edge of the elliptical lens.
Pictures look great on the AURA's screen, so it's a pity that the onboard camera is so low grade. It's a basic 2 megapixel model with no dedicated shutter button (you'll need to dig into the menu to find it), no autofocus and no flash, though there is a 4x digital zoom.
Maximum picture resolution is 1600x1200 pixels but the screen's quality magnifies flaws and pics are prone to grain, even in goodish light. Video is even less attractive, with a resolution dropping to a modest 176x144 pixels and blurring very easily with movement.
The music player fares better, though it too is a basic model. It plays all the usual formats, including AAC, AAC+, e-AAC+, MIDI, MP3, WAV and WMA. There's 2GB of memory onboard to accommodate your tunes and pics, but if that's not enough you're stuck, since there's no memory card option.
The supplied headphones aren't bad, offering a better than usual level of clean, clear bass. This is just as well, since there's no 3.5mm jack plug which would allow you to use another pair (though there is an adaptor which allows you to convert Motorola's power slot to mini USB). Or you could add wireless headphones using the stereo Bluetooth connection.
Among the paltry extras are a few basic games (though you can add more Java time-wasters via the WAP internet connection), voice recorder, alarm clock and calculator – not much in other words.
The battery stood up fairly well however, giving us a good three days of moderate use (not that there was very much to use it on). The next few months will tell if the AURA is a flyer or a failure. A decent camera would have really helped take advantage of that gorgeous screen and that keypad could have been a bit easier to use.
But compared to other super-expensive phones with low spec counts such as the Vertu or Nokia's 8800 series, the AURA stands tall in the style department – its distinctive look and unique screen easily put it in front of the competition.