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

We've just taken a first look at Turing's new phone, the Appassionato. But should you even trust this company anymore?

Published onAugust 10, 2017

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.

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