In February 2016, VAIO - the company formed when Sony sold off its PC business - unveiled the Phone Biz, a premium Windows 10 Mobile handset with an aluminum body. As its name suggested, the device was aimed primarily at business customers, and featured a decent set of upper-mid-range specs.
Today, VAIO unveiled a new smartphone... except that it's not really a new smartphone at all.
Since the Phone Biz launched last year, Windows 10 Mobile has continued to sink like a stone in the global smartphone market; according to IDC, Microsoft's OS grabbed just 0.1% market share around the world in 2017. The Phone Biz has only ever been sold in Japan, where the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech indicates that Windows has a slightly better 1.5% share of the country's smartphone market.
Almost half of all smartphones sold in Japan are iPhones, while around 49% is made up of Android handsets. Given that demand for Android devices is significantly larger than for Windows phones, it's no great surprise that VAIO's second smartphone isn't running Microsoft's operating system, but Google's instead.
But what is certain to raise an eyebrow or two is the fact that the new VAIO Phone A, which the company announced today, is nearly identical to the Phone Biz that it released almost a year ago. And we're not just talking about its design - the new Android model has almost exactly the same specs as last year's Windows 10 Mobile version.
While its key specs were perfectly acceptable a year ago, the mobile world moves quickly, and the Phone A's specs look far less impressive today in what VAIO is presenting as a 'new' phone:
Here's an overview of the key specs of the VAIO Phone A:
- 5.5-inch LCD with Full HD (1920x1080px) resolution
- Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor (1.5GHz + 1.2GHz)
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB storage (plus microSD card support up to 64GB)
- 13MP rear camera
- 5MP front-facing camera
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 4G LTE connectivity (bands 1, 3, 8, 19, 21)
- microUSB 2.0
- Mono speaker
- 2800mAh battery
- 156.1 x 77 x 8.3mm; 167g
In fact, the only significant difference between the Phone A and the older Phone Biz is that the new model supports dual SIM cards.
Worse still, the Phone A isn't even running one of the latest versions of Android. Google released Android 7.0 Nougat seven months ago, and the newest publicly available version is 7.1.1, while 7.1.2 is currently being beta-tested. VAIO is shipping the Phone A with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which Google originally made available in December 2015.
When the Phone Biz launched last year, it was priced at ¥50,000 JPY (around $450 USD at current exchange rates). Its price has since fallen to just under ¥32,200 (roughly $290). Pricing for the VAIO Phone A hasn't yet been announced, but if you're actually considering buying this device, you'll be able to reserve one from March 30, ahead of general availability on April 7. Somewhat optimistically, VAIO has set up a toll-free phone number for those wishing to discuss purchases.