Why luxury brands should stop making smartphones

After Huawei announced its Porsche Design Mate 9, we felt the need to speak out.

Meryl D'Souza November 23, 2016

Earlier this month, Huawei unveiled the Mate 9 smartphone. The timing of the launch was particularly interesting given Samsung’s Note 7 problems.

Huawei’s new flagship phone comes armed with a dual rear camera system, 5.9-inch full-HD display, 4,000 mAh battery, fingerprint sensor, USB Type-C, 4GB of RAM, and Huawei's own Kirin 960 processor (its fastest ever). It was basically a combination of the company’s previous flagship the M9 and everything Samsung promised you the Note 7 would be.

With the exploding Note 7 out of the picture, Huawei – already the third-largest smartphone maker in the world – looks set to capture the European market.

It's baffling then, that the Chinese company thought it was also the right time to throw in an uber-lux variant of its Mate 9 in partnership with a sports car manufacturer's creative offshoot: the Porsche Design Mate 9.

The limited edition device – priced at $1,450 compared to the basic's $600 – boasts a 5.5-inch curved screen, 6GB of RAM and internal memory of 256GB compared to the base version’s paltry 64GB. It all sounds rather revolutionary until you dig deeper and realise that both phones are sporting rear 20-megapixel and 12-megapixel cameras, powered by similar 4000 mAh batteries and running Android 7.0. In other words, consumers are paying an extra $800 for the Porsche Design brand name alone, rather than any upgraded tech. 

But that seems to be common with most handsets that are the product of a phone maker and luxury brand collaboration. Most of these devices are aimed just to cash-in on the wealth and prestige of consumers who want nothing more than to simply be associated with a luxury product. It’s a power play to prove to those watching that they’re better and can afford non-vital, expensive toys.

Here are a few examples of luxury brands that have delved into manufacturing smartphones, and if their differences were worth it. 

Galaxy Ace Hugo Boss edition
What was different? The phone came in a matte black finish and featured special Hugo Boss wallpapers.

LG Prada
What was different? It was a stunning – for that time – touchscreen phone. However, the virtual keypad didn’t have a QWERTY keyboard layout, so users had to type out text messages with a virtual alphanumeric keypad just like on a normal phone.

BlackBerry Porsche Design P'9981
What was different? The phone came with a forged stainless steel frame and a hand-wrapped leather back cover.

Samsung Armani
What was different? This smartphone was so compact we’re certain Nick Woodman was inspired by it.

Acer Liquid E Ferrari Special Edition
What was so different? It was exactly the same as Acer’s Liquid E but with a Ferrari red paint job.

After reading through those partnerships, it’s abundantly clear that these phones don’t boast anything other than a luxury name tag and slightly different materials. There's certainly no added security features like on the $14,000 DiCaprio-endorsed Solarin phone or even a concierge button as on Vertus - both pictured below. The reality is, few luxury smartphones offer anything different from the prevailing Samsung or Apple devices in the market. 

This isn’t like the rise of smartwatches where the overlap is obvious. It made sense for luxury brands like TAG Heuer and Breitling to get into smartwatch territory; they partner with a tech brand and voila, the product is there. (TAG did briefly foray into luxury phone territory a few years back, although it was more individual than the partnerships above, but thankfully CEO Jean-Claude Biver dropped them.) 

Luxury smartphone collaborations are nothing more than your average smash-and-grab by the parties involved. If you really are filthy rich and want to flaunt your money, you’re better off buying the latest Apple product and having it gold-plated or encrusted with diamonds. Sure it'll look tacky as hell, but it will be truly individual.

Better yet, save your money and invest it in something only rich people spend money on. Trust us, that is way better than throwing away your money on a smartphone that loses its value the second you buy it.