Not in Awe of Motorola's Glittery Aura

The overpriced Aura cell phone is a rehash of the Razr.
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Motorola's (MOT) new Aura cell phone is a great-looking piece of eye candy. But upon inspection, I'm not so sure about the design. In fact, I don't even need to hold the device to know all about it.

The Motorola Aura

Motorola says it is the first cell phone to have a 1.55-inch, 16-million color round screen. Some previous Motorola designs sported rectangular displays in a round enclosure. The Aura has a truly round screen, covered with a scratch-resistant, 62-carat sapphire lens. All of this makes the Aura the perfect cell phone to show you the time on a round clockface when you're not making calls.

According to Motorola, the Aura's mirror-polished, stainless steel housing with chemically etched textures and patterns takes nearly two weeks to sculpt, etch and polish.

The case also has what seems to be an innovative, motorized, "swivel/flip-open" cover. At its center is a Swiss-made main bearing -- with tungsten-carbide coated gears -- that "serves as the foundation allowing the blade to rotate with seamless precision."

Motorola also highlights the fact that the keypad is made of aluminum and that the Aura is made up of more than 700 separate components, including upscale, nickel-chrome-plated exposed screws.

Are you beginning to see a trend here? Motorola is telling you how great its new phone is without telling you much about how the phone operates. That's because underneath all the glitz and bling, the Aura is another rehash of the tried and true RAZR phone.

If you read down the specifications page, you see what's inside the Aura's great-looking, small, lightweight enclosure: a 2.5G GSM/GPRS/EDGE world phone that can handle POP/IMAP mail, a 2 megapixel camera, music player, open-source Web browser and stereo Bluetooth support. The small battery is said to provide more than seven hours of talk and 400 hours of stand-by time. That is the end of the Aura's features list.

Motorola seems to have reverted to its old form. When the Razr was originally released (nearly a million years ago in cell-phone years), it was first marketed as "bling" for the beautiful people. Moto made sure the phone was seen with film and music stars. And Moto gave them away so that the phones would be seen and mentioned as those people walked down red carpets. That way, demand would be high, as could the price the company could charge "little people" for the Razr.

That worked for a while and Motorola flourished. But instead of innovating, Motorola just kept riding the Razr wave. It was able to keep making a profit with that phone (in various guises) in less-developed countries but Motorola was never able to come up with a better design.

The rest is history. Demand dropped. Prices dropped. Consumers began demanding more and more features.

Palm

(PALM)

,

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

,

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

,

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

,

LG

,

Samsung

,

SonyEricsson

,

Pantech

and others were ready, willing and able to fill the void. You know the rest.

Back to the Aura. In the finest Motorola tradition, it is charging what seems to be an almost obscene amount of money for this nice-looking, technologically backward, non-smartphone design. They want $2,000 for this device. I'm not kidding. In these tough economic times!

Amazingly, none of the U.S. cellular providers want to handle this phone.

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

,

T-Mobile

(DT) - Get Report

,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

and

Sprint

(S) - Get Report

have all decided not to market the phone. That means, if you're interested, you have to buy an unlocked handset from Motorola and provide your own SIM card.

The Aura might be interesting if it were $1,500 cheaper. At $2K, I just wonder what they're thinking. But I'm beginning to understand why they won't let me play with one.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.