It's a stunning piece of industrial design, and Motorola's AURA is also the world's first mobile phone with a circular display. Described as a "high-tier" mobile device, the AURA's feature aren't exactly premium — it's not even 3G-capable — but who cares when it looks this good, right?
With an RRP of $3200, the Motorola AURA mobile phone certainly doesn't come cheap. In fact, there are only 250 available in Australia, so it's very unlikely you'll be able to get your hands on one. The reason for the exorbitant cost is slider, which uses a Swiss-made main bearing and more than 200 parts. It sounds impressive and it looks impressive, too: Motorola has left a circular glass window on the back of the AURA so users can see the cogs in action.
The Motorola AURA is made from stainless steel and features etched patterns on the front and rear. It looks strange, but you'll quickly become accustomed to it. Flicking the swivel slider open with the push of your thumb gives a reassuring click. The rear battery cover is a problem — ours was loose and rattled when pressed, and it's also a fingerprint magnet. We're willing to give the AURA the benefit of the doubt when it comes to build quality though, as our review unit was an engineering prototype.
The circular display is one of the AURA's outstanding features. The screen is 62-carat sapphire-crystal. The display is rather small when compared to most conventional mobile phones, but it's sharp, clear and produces vibrant colours. Because the screen isn't flat, it sometimes appears as though you're looking at 3D images.
Swivelled open, the Motorola AURA mobile phone reveals a flat keypad similar to those seen on past Motorola models, including the MOTORAZR2 V8 and MOTORAZR2 V9. We love the brighter backlight when pressing a key and the design matches the rest of the AURA's aesthetic, but the keys aren't well spaced and require a firm press to activate. In particular, the * and # keys are tiny compared to the others and this is particularly frustrating when typing messages.
Predictably, the AURA's user interface is mostly circular. It’s a slightly tweaked version of the Linux-based OS used in many of the company's non-premium handsets and suffers some of the same problems. Although the circular main menu looks superb on the AURA's round display, it's slow to navigate as there is no click wheel. Instead, users have to press the left and right directional keys. To select an icon on the opposite side of the circle, you'll need to press the key multiple times.
Thankfully, Motorola has included a shortcuts menu on the home screen, allowing quick access to notifications, create message, camera mode, setting the alarm, changing the clock display and adding a new contact.
Considering the Motorola AURA's excessive price tag, the features are disappointing to say the least. There's no 3G connectivity, no Wi-Fi, no GPS, no standard 3.5mm headphone jack and no memory card slot, though the AURA does come with 2GB of internal memory. Though we realise this is a niche product, it just seems odd to produce a phone with such excellent craftsmanship that lacks even the most basic features.
The AURA does have a 2-megapixel camera, a basic Web browser and a music and video player, but these functions are hindered by the circular display. When taking photos, the corners of the viewfinder aren’t visible due to the display, so you can only see the edges of your image after its been taken. There's also no flash or autofocus function. Browsing photos, Web pages and watching videos is awkward on the oddly shaped screen, while the lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and media card slot hinders the AURA's use as a music player.
Perhaps the best use of the circular display is the Motorola AURA's clock function. There are five clock styles to choose from and all of them look superb, so much so that we found ourselves pulling the AURA out of our pocket to check the time when we were wearing a watch.
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