Today, Japanese design company Balmuda announced its first smartphone at a press event in Tokyo. The directly titled Balmuda Phone is the debut product from a new division of the company previously known for stylish, premium home appliances like air purifiers and rice cookers. Balmuda’s toaster particularly has a cult following in Japan.
As you’d expect, the Balmuda Phone is quite different from other phones on the market. CEO Gen Terao said on stage that he felt that smartphones have gotten way too big and inept to handle 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 display and is slightly comparable to a 4.7-inch iPhone SE. The display is slightly bigger and the phone is 2mm wider, but the smaller bezels mean it’s 15mm shorter.
The Balmuda Phone is 13.7mm thick at its thickest point, but the back panel tapers down heavily toward the edges. It has a single large camera with a 48-megapixel sensor in the top right corner, and a similar-looking cutout in the top left houses the fingerprint sensor. An 8-megapixel selfie camera is built in a hole-punch cutout at the top right of the screen.
The phone’s specs are generally mid-range. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 and there’s 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The battery is just 2,500mAh, which will hopefully be optimized somewhat by the lower-power processor, though we’ll have to wait for the device to be tested. The phone thankfully does have wireless charging.
Where Balmuda really differentiates itself is with design. It’s a well-worn tech writing cliche to say that something “feels good in the hand,” but that was clearly Balmuda’s intent here with the compact size and curved back that sits in your palm like a pebble. Although I have big hands, I think just about anyone would find this device more comfortable to use than the hefty 6-inch slabs most of us carry around these days. Though the case is plastic, the build quality seems solid and there’s a nice contrast between the textured back panel and the glossy edges. All in all, it’s a cute, attractive device.
The software, though based on Android 11, is also very different to what you’d find on most Android phones today. There’s an interactive home screen where various elements of the wallpaper are customizable for different shortcuts. For example, you could swipe on one line to launch Google Maps. Horizontal swipe moves you between some of the built-in software, like a calendar, a notes app, and a calculator. All of these have neat design touches, like the notes app’s visual timeline of photos and memos, or the calculator app’s built-in currency conversion and ability to handle large Japanese numbers that are counted in the 10,000s rather than the thousands.
The Balmuda Phone will be available in Japan on contract with SoftBank later this month, and Balmuda is selling an unlocked model for 104,800 yen (about $920). That might sound excessive for a compact Android 11 phone with these specs, but then $329 probably sounds expensive for a toaster, too. In both cases, you’re paying for the design and the user experience rather than the bill of materials, and this clearly isn’t aimed at anyone who wants a conventional Android flagship. I’m looking forward to finding out how well the phone holds up under general use.