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Motorola's Aura caused a sharp intake of breath from the first moment I heard about it because of its price tag. At £1,300 it is even more expensive than Nokia's 8800 Carbon Arte. The Nokia was a triumph of style over substance, and so, I have to say at the very outset, is the Motorola Aura. Unlike Nokia's costly offering the Aura does have something very different about its design, but it is short on features.
Motorola says the Aura has the world's first circular display. Err, can't the company remember its own V70, or the Toshiba G450? Clearly, it can't.
Anyway, the Aura does have a round display. Furthermore, like the V70, this is a phone with a rotating top section that flips round 180 degrees to reveal the keyboard. This flip mechanism is beautifully smooth. It responds to the merest push from either the left or right side, though I think Motorola is over-egging the custard to suggest that the feel is more like opening a luxury car door than accessing a mobile device.
The mechanism can be seen under a viewing hatch on the backplate and it looks rather like the innards of a watch thanks to its cogs. Various clock-like patterns can be set to pop up on screen as the phone goes into standby mode, and what with the round display you won't be surprised to learn that Motorola is trumpeting the Aura's watch-like appearance. It boasts a Swiss-made main bearing and apparently more than 200 parts are involved in the opening mechanism, including 130 ball bearings.
Thanks to its polished steel shell, the Aura feels heavy in-hand (a point confirmed by the 141g weight) and is etched with a rather nice patterning both front and back. It's a little on the chunky side, too, at 96.87mm tall x 47.6mm wide and 18.55mm thick.
Measuring 1.55 inches and 480 pixels across the diameter, the screen is an excellent one. Its sapphire crystal fascia is very scratch resistant and it does a fair job of presenting information, though on occasions it is irritating. For example, Web browsing is not a very satisfactory experience. Like many other viewing options, (pictures, video) Motorola has to force a rectangular peg into a round hole; the result is often lots of unused space.