Turing Appassionato first look: a solid phone from a company with a shaky past

The last few years for Turing Robotics Industries (TRI) have been… complicated, chaotic even. The company’s debut device, the Turing Phone, was highly anticipated by many thanks to some bold claims Turing made, but all the hype turned out to be for nothing, as the company struggled to meet milestones and left most of its customers disappointed.

Since then, Turing moved to Finland, inexplicably switched from Android to Sailfish OS, and teased two phones with – quite literally – unbelievable spec sheets (more on this later).

Two years after we looked at the original Turing Phone, the company is back with the Appassionato, a new phone that goes back to the original Android promise, while jumping on the increasingly crowded AI bandwagon.

The Appassionato is definitely a unique and flashy phone, but Turing never really lacked in those departments. What the company did lack, however, was the ability to keep promises. So, should you trust Turing when they say this time is different? We wouldn’t blame anyone for asking that. The company got a credibility boost thanks to a partnership with TCL, but even so, we’re taking its promises with a good pinch of salt and we suggest you do the same.

Before we give you our take on the company, let’s see what the Turing Appassionato is all about.

Turing Appassionato hands-on

If you remember the first Turing Phone, the Appassionato (from the Italian word for “impassioned”) is a departure from much of what that phone attempted to introduce.

The Appassionato is still made of liquidmorphium, an alloy that Turing claims is one of the strongest materials used on any smartphone. But that is almost all that the Appassionato has in common with its ill-fated predecessor.

TRI ditched the proprietary connectors in favor of a USB Type-C port and headphone jack

Before, there was a professed focus on security inside and out, with many ports being replaced by a troublesome proprietary charging port. Now, USB Type-C and a headphone jack are available, making for a general experience that is more on par with what most users expect.

One word came to mind the moment I got my hands on TRI’s sophomore attempt: shiny. There are a couple of versions of the Appassionato that come with black and silver chassis, though I was given a limited gold edition that will not be making it to the market until a later date. In all versions, the metallic body is complemented by Gorilla Glass on both sides and an artsy feathered pattern etched beneath the glass.

The Quad HD AMOLED display is 5.5 inches in size, making the phone just a bit bigger than is comfortable for one-handed usage. The sheen of the frame and backing don’t help too much with handling either, as the phone can slip about a little bit. But the AMOLED display is a good step forward for bumped-up color saturation and an enjoyable experience for the Android iteration it projects.

Underneath it all, the phone sports some high-end specifications. Though a Snapdragon 821 puts the phone a bit behind the current crop of flagships, 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage are sure to make most users quite happy. And for audiophiles, an amp is included with the built-in DAC that really drives headphones, tuned by a company called Arkamys. I tried a pair of headphones during my test and it got louder than most smartphones we have now.

An amp is included with the built-in DAC that helps drive headphones, tuned by a company called Arkamys

That camera, by the way, is similar in specs with the camera from the Pixel, coming in with a 12 MP sensor and all of the typical modes that you would expect, including HDR Auto and 4K video recording.

This brings us to the software, which was a big part of the story on the Turing Phone due to the security features that the company hawked. For unclear reasons, Android got nixed right before the phone was meant to come out and replaced with Sailfish OS. Two years later, security is no longer a major selling point, as TRI admits that Android security is on an adequate level with Nougat.

TRI has wisely decided to provide as streamlined an experience as possible

TRI has wisely decided to provide as streamlined an experience as possible. The icon pack has been changed, but for the most part, this is a very stock Android experience. You even swipe up on the home screen to bring up the app drawer, much like you’d see on the Pixel. There are no bells and whistles added onto the stock experience, which should make this a much more accessible version of Android compared to the highly-modified version we saw last time.

Keeping the software guts simple allows for the Appassionato to really showcase its most distinctive feature, Sir ALAN. This “digital knight,” as Turing calls it, is – you probably guessed it – AI software. Like seemingly every company these days, TRI is trying to add pizzazz to its device via artificial intelligence, though the company tries to stand out by calling it “amplified intelligence” and by adding a twist.

TRI is attempting to offer the best of two worlds – Google Assistant is available as the familiar digital AI assistant, but, for everything else, Sir ALAN puts a concierge at your beck and call.

A team of human assistants will actually be able to anticipate needs of users and follow up on them

Built into the app are suggestions for local spots and events that users might be interested in, though right now they seem to be available only for the major cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. But what if you need to take things further? TRI says a team of human assistants will actually be able to anticipate needs of users and follow up on them. These assistants are not only available through the Sir ALAN interface, but they can even be contacted via e-mail or phone. You can call a Sir ALAN representative whenever you need just about anything and they will do their best to make it happen.

Imagine using Google Assistant to discover a concert that is happening in a week. Instead of scouring the Internet yourself for the best ticket, a quick call to Sir ALAN will put your assistant to work for you. Flipping the two, Sir ALAN can help users plan out and actually put together an entire trip itinerary and then Google Assistant can have that information available for notifications when the time comes.

Though concierge service sounds like a very expensive feature to add (many similar services start out at a few thousand dollars a year), a two-year subscription is actually included into the price of the Appassionato.

And that price is $999, available this fall. Though plenty of users might take that release date and price with a pinch of salt (and rightly so), the company is doing a few things to try to improve its current situation and make up for its shaky past.

Are they for real this time?

Listen, it’s hard not to get excited about a phone that seems to have so much potential. It looks great, the software is a pleasure to use, and Sir ALAN seems to be very promising, but none of that matters if you can’t trust the company that’s selling it. And right now, we can’t tell you definitively that you should.

TRI has built up an extremely shaky track record over the years

TRI has built up an extremely shaky track record over the years. To recap, we took a look at the original Turing Phone back in July 2015. That phone was later delayed in December 2015, and the company began issuing refunds to pre-orderers. In case that wasn’t bad enough, TRI actually changed the phone’s operating system to Sailfish OS on a whim… and that wasn’t okay.

To make things seem even more fishy, the company later announced the Turing Phone Cadenza in early September 2016, and just five days later announced the Turing Monolith Chaconne. The former was supposedly going to feature dual Snapdragon 830 processors and three batteries, while the latter would reportedly come with three Snapdragon 830s, a 4K display, and 18 GB of RAM. These phones outlandish and are as hard to believe now as ever.

And that brings us to today. Is this phone going to be more than a pipe dream? This is a real concern that users have, and we’ll do our best to alleviate that here. Based on their track record, it’s hard to say that you should trust the company. But things seem to be different this time around, and that’s mostly thanks to a new partnership with TCL – the same folks that manufacture BlackBerry and Alcatel devices.

TCL would not partner with TRI if they didn’t trust them to deliver. It’s two companies’ necks on the line if this phone doesn’t ship, and to be frank, TCL is a trustworthy company in its own right. From what we’ve gathered, TCL is alleviating a lot of the logistical issues TRI ran into with their first phone.

TCL would not partner with TRI if they didn't trust them to deliver.... It's two companies' necks on the line if this phone doesn't ship

Moreover, TRI is determined to rebuild the bridges it knocked down with its previous customers. Every single person who paid for the first Turing Phone (and didn’t get a refund), whether they received their unit or not, will receive a free Turing Appassionato, no questions asked.

So here’s the thing — we can’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t trust TRI. All we can say is that a seemingly untrustworthy brand has now partnered with a trustworthy one, and it sounds like they’re doing their part to make things right. The next couple months will be some of the most important ones in TRI’s history, and we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Vertu’s next highly expensive smartphones will have TCL’s technology inside

Vertu, the UK-based company that’s been making hand crafted, highly expensive mobile phones for 15 years, is going to be using technology provided by a familiar business in its next Android devices. Vertu has announced it has reached an agreement with TCL Communication to use its tech inside Vertu’s next 30,000 phones.

See also:

Best Android phones

2 weeks ago

China-based TCL has been designing and manufacturing smartphones for companies such as Alcatel and, more recently, BlackBerry, including its new KEYone phone. Vertu’s phones will continue to be hand made at its UK factory, which is located in Church Crookham, Hampshire. The company added the deal with TCL is worth $40 million. The specific details of the technology that TCL will provide for Vertu’s phones were not revealed.

This new partnership is the first to be announced by Vertu since the company was acquired in March by entrepreneur Hakan Uzan, a member of the wealthy, and also rather controversial, Turkish family. At that time, Uzan bought Vertu for £50 million (about $63 million). In today’s press release, Vertu says that under his leadership, it has been busy restructuring its business units to help it become a “powerful global brand”. The company will start selling new, special edition Constellation X smartphones sometime in mid-July.

It will be interested to see if Vertu can actually make money with these deals and changes that are being made by its new leader. Its last financial report, which was filed publicly in 2014, showed it lost a whopping £53 million. Today’s press release stated its new phones will have a starting price of £7,500 (about $9,500). Hopefully this new TCL agreement will see higher end hardware specs in those phones, which have been criticized in the past of being well behind those inside most consumer devices.

TCL addresses BlackBerry KEYone screen separation issue

As already reported a few days ago, JerryRigEverything got their hands on the BlackBerry KEYone smartphone and tested it out to see just how durable it is. The end result wasn’t really that great, as the device’s screen popped out of its frame during a bend test. It appears that there’s just virtually no adhesive on the back of the screen that would keep it from coming out. You can check out the video below and see for yourself.

In hopes of calming down its customers, the company has now released a statement on the issue. TCL Communication said that it uses strong, durable, premium materials and has conducted rigorous stress tests on the KEYone before it started selling it. The company added it is aware of the problem regarding the smartphone’s screen and that out of the thousands of KEYone devices sold so far, only a small handful of users have experienced this issue.

See also:

BlackBerry KEYone review: Getting stuff done

May 4, 2017

Nevertheless, TCL Communication claims that its teams are currently examining additional adhesive measures that will hopefully solve the problem and keep the screen from popping out. Those of you who have experienced the mentioned problem with your BlackBerry KEYone are encouraged to contact the company for a device warranty replacement.

It’s nice to hear TCL Communication has admitted that the problem does exist and that it will try its best to fix it. However, something like this shouldn’t happen in the first place, especially when considering that the KEYone retails for $550. Not using enough adhesive to keep the screen from popping out just seems like a rookie mistake.

Aside from the screen separation issue, the BlackBerry KEYone has been received great so far. The demand for the device has been high, as it sold out quickly after being released in the US.

BlackBerry KEYone launches in the U.S. and Canada on May 31

Back in January we got the first look at the BlackBerry KEYone, the newest physical keyboard-equipped Android handset, which is manufactured by TCL Communication.

It wouldn’t be until February that we got all the proper details and specifications for the handset, which was expected to launch sometime in April when it was officially unveiled. The launch date was then pushed to May, and now we’ve got an exact release date for the KEYone.

The BlackBerry KEYone will be available in the United States and Canada on May 31. In the U.S., buyers will be able to get an unlocked CDMA or GSM handset for $549. If you can wait a bit longer, the KEYone will be arriving on some U.S.-based carriers, including Sprint, sometime this Summer.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the KEYone will be available from SaskTel, Telus, Rogers, and Bell, and will cost $199 CAD on a two-year contract.

As a refresher, the BlackBerry KEYone will run Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box and feature a 4.5-inch 1620×1080 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 12-megapixel camera on the back with a Sony IMX378 sensor. We also know it will cost $549 whenever it launches.

Expect BlackBerry KeyONE US pricing to be announced this week

TCL Communications‘ Steve Cistulli has been hitting Twitter again with some BlackBerry KeyONE teasers. This time though, it looks pretty clear that the US availability and pricing information for the KeyONE will be announced next week. You can see the tweet below, but considering the phone is resting atop a retail box and we were already expecting a May 5 announcement, joining the dots isn’t so difficult.

Unfortunately, the delay between the KeyONE’s announcement back at MWC 2017 and everything that has happened in between – the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 launches for example – means the KeyONE has a lot more competition now than it would have had earlier in the year. But BlackBerry’s typical audience is not necessarily the same as it is for those other devices, even if the price points are likely going to wind up fairly similar. The KeyONE is openly targeted at enterprise clients, and so it should be.

Unfortunately though, Android fans interested in dipping their toes in the BlackBerry pool will likely have been a little put off by the KeyONE’s high price and mid-range chipset. But there’s no denying the Blackberry KeyONE is one of the more interesting device releases this year. It feels rock solid, has plenty of only-BlackBerry-could-do-it features and is surprisingly nimble and easy to handle at the same time as being easy on the eye. Let’s just hope BlackBerry has an eye toward the average consumer too and puts a US price tag on it that’s reasonable for the hardware package on offer.