Japanese design firm Balmuda today announced its first smartphone at a press event in Tokyo. The exact title Balmuda Phone is the debut product from Balmuda Technologies, a new division of the company that was previously known for stylish, first-class household appliances such as air purifiers and rice cookers. Balmuda’s toaster in particular has a cult following in Japan.
As you might expect, the Balmuda phone is a whole lot different from other phones in the market. CEO Gen Terao said on stage that he felt that smartphones have become too big and unwieldy in recent years, so the Balmuda Phone was designed with compactness and elegance as the primary goals. It has a very sharp 4.9-inch 16: 9 1080p screen and is roughly comparable to a 4.7-inch iPhone SE; the screen is slightly larger and the phone is 2 mm wider, but the smaller frame means it is 15 mm shorter.
The Balmuda phone is a full 13 mm thick in the thickest part, but the back panel tapers sharply towards the edges. There is a single large camera with a 48-megapixel sensor in the upper right corner, and it is mirrored by a fingerprint sensor in the upper left. The 8-megapixel selfie camera is housed in a hollow cutout at the top right of the screen.
The specifications of the phone are generally mid-range. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 and there is 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage space. The battery is only 2,500 mAh, which will hopefully be offset by the less powerful processor, although we will have to test to see. Fortunately, the phone has wireless charging.
Where Balmuda really differentiates is with design. It’s a worn technical writing cliché to say that something “feels good in the hand”, but that was clearly Balmuda’s intention here with the compact size and curved back that snuggles into your palm like a pebble. I have big hands, admittedly, but I think almost everyone would find this more comfortable to use than the hefty 6-inch plates most of us carry around these days. Although the cabinet is plastic, the build quality feels solid and there is a nice contrast between the textured back panel and the glossy edges. All in all, it is a cute, attractive object.
The software based on Android 11 is also very different from the one you find on most Android phones today. There is an interactive home screen with different elements of the wallpaper that can be customized for different shortcuts; for example, you can swipe one of the lines to launch Google Maps. Horizontal swipes move you between some of the built-in software, such as a calendar, a note-taking app, and a calculator. All of these had a nice design, such as. the note app’s visual timeline with photos and memos, or the calculator’s built-in currency conversion and ability to handle large Japanese numbers that count in the 10,000s instead of thousands.
The Balmuda phone will be available in Japan on contract with SoftBank later this month, and Balmuda itself is selling an unlocked model for 104,800 yen (about $ 920). It might sound like a lot for a compact Android 11 phone with these specs, but then $ 250 probably sounds like a lot for a toaster too. In either case, you pay for the design and user experience rather than the bill of materials, and this is clearly not aimed at anyone who wants a conventional Android flagship. As someone who owns Balmuda’s toaster, I look forward to finding out how well the phone holds up during normal use – as much as I like the toaster, a smartphone is much more important to my life.