If you're a startup launching into the hyper-competitive smartphone market, then -- as well as plenty of funding and nerves of steel -- you'll need to target a sector with room for yet another vendor.
Sirin Labs, co-founded in 2013 by Kenes Rakishev (chairman), Moshe Hogeg (president) and Tal Cohen (CEO), is funded to the tune of $72 million (£49.6m) and launched its first product, Solarin -- which Hogeg confidently described as "the best phone ever made, and for sure the most secure phone ever made" -- in central London today.
Solarin is also one of the most expensive smartphones ever made, starting at £9,500/$14,800 plus taxes.
Of course, expensive smartphones are available from the likes of Vertu, and secure ones from Silent Circle and others, so Sirin Labs isn't exactly entering virgin territory. But if you're a business leader, entrepreneur or financier with a lot of confidential information, a lot of communication needs, and the wherewithal to drop ten grand (sterling) on a phone, then Sirin Labs thinks you're a potential customer.
Despite its price, Solarin isn't an over-decorated 'bling' phone. Indeed, this Swedish-designed-and-built Android (5.1) handset looks relatively restrained. It packs a decent, if not always cutting-edge, specification, including:
- A 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core SoC with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage;
- A 5.5-inch Gorilla Glass 4-protected IPS LCD with 2,560 by 1,440 resolution (538ppi), delivering 120 percent of the sRGB colour gamut, 1,500:1 typical contrast ratio and 600cd/m2 typical brightness;
- A 24-megapixel main camera with laser autofocus, quad-tone flash, optical image stabilisation and 4k video recording at 30fps, plus an 8-megapixel front camera with flash, electrical image stabilisation and HD video recording at 60fps;
- An audio subsystem comprising three bass-boosted speakers and four microphones, plus a smart amplifier designed to maximise volume while minimising distortion;
- Support for 24 LTE bands, 802.11ac wi-fi with 2x2 MU-MIMO and 60GHz WiGig; and
- A 4,040mAh li-ion battery with claimed talk time of 31 hours (UMTS), standby time of 'over 2 weeks' and Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 support
"Whenever you see something in our spec that isn't the latest, there's a very good reason for that," said CEO Tal Cohen at the launch, citing the 2k screen's combination of brightness, colour gamut and power consumption as an advantage over a 4k screen as an example.
The Solarin measures 78mm wide by 159.8mm deep by 11.1mm thick, weighs 243g, is water/dust resistant to IP54 level and comes in Fibre Black Carbon Titanium, Fibre Black Carbon DLC, Fibre Black Carbon Yellow Gold and Crystal White Carbon DLC variants.
Security is Sirin Labs' main focus, and its solution for the Solarin phone comprises three main elements:
- Mobile threat protection from Zimperium, offering continuous protection against network, host-based and physical attacks;
- Encrypted email powered by ProtonMail, which combines public-key cryptography with symmetric encryption protocols to offer end-to-end encryption via a 2-password system; and
- Security Shield from KoolSpan, which enables hardware-based, end-to-end encrypted VoIP calls and messages using military-grade AES-256, FIPS 140-2 encryption. Security Shield mode is activated via a sliding Security Switch above the camera lens (diamond-inlaid, naturally), which also shuts down unnecessary operations on the phone.
Is Sirin Labs' Solarin the best and most secure phone ever made, as co-founder and president Moshe Hogeg claims? Given the price, it'll need to be, and we look forward to investigating further in a full review in due course.
If that ten grand is burning a hole in your pocket, the Solarin is available online now, at Sirin Labs' store in London's Mayfair (34 Bruton Place) from 1 June, and from Harrods in Knightsbridge from 30 June.
Update, June 2 2016
Vertu is the best-known name in the 'luxury technology' market, and ZDNet asked CEO Gordon Watson for his reactions to Sirin Labs' Solarin launch:
"Vertu is always interested to see new entrants in the luxury technology space and we welcome competition to the market. While that category has had many players over the years, Vertu has often been a lone voice within it. However, while the luxury technology category is growing, competing within it is tough, particularly with high-end or luxury mobile phones. Vertu has been honing its business for 18 years and continues to innovate in order to keep pace with changes in both the technology and luxury industries," said Watson.
On the Solarin phone's emphasis on security and design/build quality rather than overtly luxurious features, Watson had this to say:
"At this stage we've not seen the product first hand, so it would be impossible to judge it fairly. Vertu's smartphone products have been the brand's best sellers over the last three years and these combine leading-edge technology, precision-engineered build and a suite of personalised and curated services -- the combination of these three elements are vital to Vertu and allow us to offer a unique proposition."
"We also believe that e-commerce, a global retail network and strong after-sales care add significantly to the consumer experience. Security has been a fundamental of the Vertu brand since the launch of its Signature S model in 2002 and the company continues to work closely with in-house security experts as well as external partners -- not least Google -- to ensure that customers are fully protected."
And on Vertu's roadmap:
"Vertu switched investment partners in the last quarter of 2015, moving to a team with knowledge of both the technology industry and the evolving Asian luxury market. The benefits of this new investment and expertise will be seen with a series of product launches in the latter part of 2016 and beyond."