For those of us who used to cherish Sony’s once proud VAIO brand, 2014 was a truly depressing year, as it saw the VAIO line’s rights sold off to a third party company. Fast-forwarding to today, VAIO is a solo company, and arguably just a shadow of what it once was. As a way of garnering a little extra attention, the company is now moving past producing just computers and into the realm of phones.
We first heard about the idea of a VAIO phone late last year. The device was said to be priced between a low-end and a flagship product, with plans to sell on Japan’s b-Mobile MVNO service. Two and a half months later, the phone is now a reality, although in some ways it’s more of a mosaic, for it gets messier the moment you take the product at anything beyond face value. Picture a Nexus 4, then add in microSD card support, LTE, drop a few things like NFC, and you basically have the VAIO phone.
The VAIO phone, known as the VA-10J, will be released on March 20th with b-Mobile for the startling price of 51,000 yen (or, roughly $420), however it’s also going to be sold on a monthly installment plan. The phone has truly mid-ranged specs that include a 5-inch, 720X1280 IPS display, an unspecified 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a 2,500 mAh battery, a 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front camera, and Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box.
While the design certainly seems to mimic the Nexus 4, the phone is in fact not much more than a rebadged Panasonic Eluga U2. Coming with the same components as the Eluga and produced by the same company, Quanta Computer. While rebranding isn’t a crime in and of itself, it is a bit frustrating that the Eluga U2 offers essentially the same experience for a fraction of the price ($254)! The only real difference between VAIO’s offering and Panasonic’s U2 is the software, with Panasonic touting its modified Android UX, while the VAIO Corporation has apparently done nothing, slapping vanilla Android on its offering. Granted many people actually love AOSP builds, but paying so much more for what is essentially less is quite far from what the VAIO brand once stood for.
The Problem at Hand
Aside from the mounting criticism from around the web that paints the VAIO phone as a Nexus 4 clone, the question needs to be raised as to just what VAIO Corporation is thinking here. While it’s easy to assert that Japanese consumers will buy anything so long as its a domestically “produced” product (as sadly almost no electronics are still actually made in Japan these days), this situation is a bit different.
MVNOs are extremely fringe at the moment; despite their offering fantastic prices for services on-par with those of the three main established mobile carriers, the mainstream customer has either never heard of them or else doesn’t plan to actually use one. Indeed it is this conservative nature that is part-and-parcel with Japan, and ironically should it rear it’s head here, the VA-10J might end up in the bargain bin, slashed to prices that Panasonic’s Eluga would be laughing at.
So now that you have the details, what do you think of the situation at hand? Is this product worth over $500 for the simple privilege of the VAIO logo?