Today, Japanese design company Balmuda announced its first smartphone at a Tokyo press conference. Balmuda Technologies’ debut product is simply called Balmuda Phone. This new division was previously known as Balmuda Technologies for making stylish, premium home appliances such rice cookers, air purifiers, and rice cookers. Balmuda’s toaster in particular has a cult following in Japan.
As you’d expect, the Balmuda Phone is quite a bit different to other phones on the market. Gen Terao, CEO of Balmuda Phone, stated that smartphones have become too large and cumbersome in recent years. Therefore, the Balmuda Phone was created with simplicity and elegance as its primary goals. It has a very sharp 4.9-inch 16:9 1080p display and is roughly comparable to a 4.7-inch iPhone SE; the display is slightly bigger and the phone is 2mm wider, but the smaller bezels mean it’s 15mm shorter.
The Balmuda Phone measures 13.7mm thick at its thickest point. However, the back panel taper down to the edges. There’s a single large camera with a 48-megapixel sensor in the top right corner, and a similar-looking cutout in the top left houses a fingerprint sensor. The 8-megapixel selfie cam is housed in a hole punched cutout at the top left of the screen.
The phone’s specs are generally mid-range. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 and there’s 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The battery is just 2,500mAh, which will hopefully be offset somewhat by the lower-power processor, though we’ll have to test for ourselves to see. The phone does have wireless charging.
Balmuda’s design is where it really stands out. It’s a well-worn tech writing cliche to say that something “feels good in the hand,” but that was clearly Balmuda’s intent here with the compact size and curved back that nestles into your palm like a pebble. Even though I have big hands, I think this is more comfortable than the heavy 6-inch slabs we all carry around these days. While the case is plastic, build quality feels solid and there’s a nice contrast between the textured back panel and the glossy edges. All in all it’s a cute, attractive object.
The software, based on Android 11, is also very different to what you’d find on most Android phones today. There’s an interactive home screen with various elements of the wallpaper customizable for different shortcuts; for example, you could swipe on one of the lines to launch Google Maps. Horizontal swipes allow you to move between various built-in programs, such as a calendar, notes app, or calculator. All of these had neat design touches, like the notes app’s visual timeline of photos and memos, or the calculator app’s built-in currency conversion and ability to handle large Japanese numbers that are counted in the 10,000s rather than the thousands.
The Balmuda Phone is expected to be available in Japan with SoftBank contract later this month. Balmuda will also be selling an unlocked model for 104 800 yen (roughly $920). It might seem expensive for a small Android 11 phone with these specs. However, $329 is a reasonable price for a toaster. In both cases, you’re paying for the design and the user experience rather than the bill of materials, and this clearly isn’t aimed at anyone who wants a conventional Android flagship. As someone who does own Balmuda’s toaster, I’m looking forward to finding out how well the phone holds up under general use — because much as I like the toaster, a smartphone is a lot more important to my life.
Source: The Verge