Vertu Ascent

Quick overview:

  • The frame and battery cover are crafted of Liquidmetal, an amorphous (non-crystaline) metal alloy produced by Liquidmetal Technologies.  This alloy is stronger than aerospace grade titanium.

  • The 12-bit color LCD display, with Crystal Fine Technology, is covered by a pane of synthetic sapphire, which is virtually scratch proof.  This is the same substance that is used for fine watch crystals.

  • The keypad contains over 150 constituent parts.  The keys themselves are manufactured by injecting a stainless steel mixture at high temperature and pressure into an oversize mould, then letting it cool.  As the keys cool they shrink by 14% to produce the beveled design.  Each key operates smoothly on two ruby bearings, similar to those used in fine watch movements.

  • The ear pillow is crafted of a durable and tough ceramic compound similar to that used to protect the outside of the Space Shuttle.  The surface is polished to a mirror finish using diamond tipped tools, and the complete polishing process takes several days to complete.

  • The Vertu logo is applied to the ear pillow using Physical Vapor Deposition.  With PVD the logo is coated on the surface in a vacuum chamber at temperatures of up to 300C.  PVD produces an image that is indelible and impervious to wear.

  • The speaker phone output and rigntones are generated by a Yamaha polyphonic synthesizer driving an AKG speaker within an acoustic cavity for optimal harmonic tonal quality and outstanding clarity.

  • The dedicated button on the left side of the phone is for the Vertu Concierge, a global personal support system based in London and available twenty-four hours a day, worldwide.

* * *

The original Ascent was introduced in 2004 as the second line of hand-crafted mobile phones produced by Vertu, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nokia.  My Vertu Ascent is a 2007 model and was purchased to replace my trusty Nokia 3595.

The Ascent is not the phone for technophiles, nor for people who want or need an appliance that serves as a PDA, phone, camera, mp3 player, web browser, e-mail client, etc., etc.  It is, quite simply, a cell phone.  And as such, it excels.  Reception and sound quality are exceptional.  The features that one would typically expect with a cell phone qua cell phone are there, and if you are familiar with a typical Nokia interface, you will feel right at home with the Ascent.  The one area where the Ascent can be criticized is battery life.  The battery needs recharging every other day for me.  I am an attorney and I typically spend at least two hours a day on my cell phone, a lot of that time on the speaker phone.  I suppose the Yamaha synthesizer driving that 20mm speaker uses quite a bit more power than the amplifier of a normal Nokia phone.

If Vertu phones in general, and the Ascent in particular, don't appeal to mobile phone users who crave the latest gee-whiz gizmos (the type who will camp out in front of the Apple store 36 hours before the latest iPhone is scheduled to debut), then who is the target consumer for these phones?  I suppose there are really two answers to that question. Vertu phones, by virtue of their price and perceived exclusivity, will always appeal to certain people for those reasons alone.  These are the same people who wear a Rolex but don't have a clue about the rich horological history of that famous Geneva manufacture.  But for others, like me, a Vertu is appealing because of the way it is made, the materials used to make it, and the tactile delight it is because of those two factors. The simplicity of the Vertu also appeals to me.  I don't send text messages.  I don't accept text messages.  If I want to check my e-mail, I use my computer.  If I want to browse the web, I use my computer.  I have a dedicated PDA I use for scheduling and notes.  And for a phone, I want a phone.

As strange as this may sound, just handling the Ascent is as enjoyable as using it.  You really have to hold one in your hand to know what I mean.  This phone doesn't "feel" like any other cell phone I've ever encountered or owned.  The combination of supple Napa grade leather, ceramic, stainless steel, and the Liquidmetal all come together to yield a unique tactile experience every time you pick up the Ascent.  When you use the keypad, the distinctive click and smooth action of the keys is unlike anything you will feel on any other cell phone.

I'm not unduly hard on my cell phones, but I don't baby them either.  The Ascent has held up as well as or better than any other phone I've owned.  The leather is still soft and supple--maybe because I do occasionally treat it with leather conditioner.  The metal surfaces do show some minor scuffing.  The phone has been dropped twice, both times when handing it to someone who "wanted to take a look at it."  At over six ounces (173 grams), most people don't realize just how weighty the Ascent is and when you hand it to them they are prone to drop it if they are expecting to grasp a phone that weighs what a typical cell phone of this size weighs.  

While the ceramic ear pillow is a marvel to look at and touch, it is probably the most fragile external component of the phone.  It's extremely scratch resistant, but like any ceramic, it is brittle and will crack if subjected to a strong enough blow--which is exactly what happened when my phone was dropped onto a concrete sidewalk.  The Vertu logo, however, shows absolutely no signs of wear--a testament to the durability of the PVD process used to apply it. The casualty from the other fall to a gravel driveway is a small ding to the battery cover.  The sapphire pane over the display, however, is as clear and scratch-free as it was fresh out of the box.  The Liquidmetal frame and battery cover, as well as the stainless steel keys, have a satin finish that resists minor scuffing and scratches fairly well, as you can tell from the photos.

In darkness or low light the Ascent is a real pleasure to view.  The perforations for the characters in the stainless steel keys are actually tiny holes drilled by a laser, over 500 in all for the entire keypad. The holes are then filled in by hand with an optically clear laquer resin.  The backlighting for the keypad is white, and the effect of the light coming through all those laser-drilled holes is quite striking.

It's unfortunate that Vertu has decided to discontinue the original Ascent in favor of the Ascent Ti.  While the Ascent Ti offers more in the way of technology, with the new design, gone are the exotic Vitreloy frame and battery cover, the ruby bearings for each key, and the laser-drilled, backlit keypad.

Sometime in the next year I will be sending my Ascent back to the Vertu factory in England to have an overall "freshening up" and get the ceramic ear pillow and the battery cover replaced.  The cost for this will run in the neighborhood of $800 to $1000 US.  I will post a follow-up review then to show the result.


General Tri-band GSM 900/1800/1900 (RHV-3); GSM 850/1800/1900 (RHV-5)
Announced 2004
Status Discontinued
Size Dimensions 108 x 44 x 22 mm
Weight 173 g
Display Type  LCD
Size 116 x 148 pixels
  - Crystal Fine technology
- Scratch-resistant surface
Sound Alert types Vibration; Polyphonic ringtones
Speakerphone Yes
Memory Phonebook 1000 entries
Call records  
Card slot No
  - 220 calendar notes
- 100 SMS
Data GPRS Yes
3G No
Bluetooth Yes
Infrared port No
Camera No
Features Messaging SMS, MMS, Email
Browser WAP
Radio No
Games Yes
Colors Yellow, Blue, Red, Black, Brown, Tan
Languages English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese
Java No
  - T9
- Organizer
- Voice dial
Battery   Standard battery, Li-Ion 780 mAh
Stand-by Up to 150 h
Talk time Up to 4 h