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Moto plunges into luxury handset market with $2,000 ‘Aura’ : Gadget sports ‘hand-sculpted richness’

Motorola Inc., struggling to return to sustainable profitability, will bring the Aura handset to market this quarter, the company said.
With “state-of-the-art handcraftsmanship,” the device will set you back two (really) big ones – that’s $2,000.
The launch’s timing aside – for many, the price tag may clash a bit with headlines of financial disasters sweeping the globe – the Aura appeared to reflect Motorola’s determination to make a design-oriented comeback of sorts.
No word yet on the device’s sales channel. But don’t expect it to turn up at one of the major carriers. Most luxury phones are sold through specialty stores or high-end department stores.
Indeed, the luxury phone segment is projected to garner as much as $11 billion by next year, according to ABI Research. That figure is expected to nearly quadruple in five years, the market research firm reported in August.
The profitable, luxury handset market already is being exploited by Motorola’s rival, Nokia Corp., whose luxury-line subsidiary, Vertu, is long established. Motorola, in fact, has already dabbled in the sector with a gold-plated Dolce & Gabbana Razr v3i, which sold at about $300 at the height of Razr-mania. In many cases, handset vendors have teamed with established luxury brands to include mobile phones in the latter’s product lines. (The LG Prada is an example.)
But Motorola’s latest foray appeared targeted at the low-end of the high-end market. The Aura’s $2,000 price tag pales in comparison to Vertu handsets that sell for up to $300,000. The Russian firm of JSC Ancort appeared to set the record when it once offered (no word on sales) a platinum-cased, gem-encrusted handset for $1.3 million.
So what does one get in the Aura?
The device, like many luxury handsets, appears to place design and CMF – colors, materials and finishes – above functionality.
The device offers a circular external display – the industry’s first, Motorola claimed – made of “Grade 1, 62-carat sapphire crystal lens,” which swivels open laterally. The swivel mechanism doesn’t just swing open, it uses a Swiss-made main bearing, “gears composed of Rockwell 50-55 hardened steel” and 130 ball bearings to create an “assisted-opening blade” (that’s the cover with the circular display). The effect is “more like opening a luxury car door than accessing a mobile device,” Motorola said in its announcement. (No doubt our readers know exactly what all this means. Finally, you don’t have to struggle to open those mobile devices!)
The stainless steel housing is chemically etched and hand polished, naturally.
The vendor touted its CrystalTalk technology – Motorola’s noise-reduction, voice-enhancing software – on the Aura, lending credence to the view that luxury phone owners are not, say, texting monsters. Nonetheless, the device offers SMS, MMS and e-mail, a variety of digital music formats, a 2-megapixel camera, 2 GB of onboard memory, an open-source browser and video capture and playback. The phone runs on GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks on the 850/900/1800/1900 bands – thus anyone in the United States or Europe with a couple thousand dollars laying around may soon lay their hands on the device.
Then it’s up to you to figure out where and when to flash it. (Insert jokes here about bread lines on Wall Street.)

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