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Hands-on with Marshall's rock'n'roll Android smartphone

Earlier this year, Marshall surprised the tech community by unveiling the London smartphone — a conventional Android device with quite unconventional styling. At the time, Marshall was lauded for doing something different in the rather staid smartphone world (or rather, the Swedish firm Zound Industries was praised for not messing up the brand they'd licensed), but how does the London stand up to closer scrutiny?

We had a play with the would-be rock'n'roll smartphone at IFA and found that while the handset is certainly not a disappointment, it's perhaps not the design tour-de-force some were hoping for. Overall, the look of the London is effective. Familiar tropes like the knurled scroll wheel of a volume knob, the tire-tread grip around the edge of the case, and the gold and red accents all contribute to a stylish — if clichéd — aesthetic.

But taken individually, these elements aren't quite as impressive. The scroll wheel is just a little too loose and the cross-hatched grip is non-allergenic plastic, not leather. There's an optional case that adds a soft red fabric lining with slots for credit cards, and gives the device a bit more heft, but the regular back is a thin piece of plastic that clicks in and out and when tapped sounds every so slightly hollow. Basically, it feels like a smartphone. Perhaps it's my fault for expecting the device to have some of the feel of the heavy-as-a-rock amps that Marshall's reputation is founded on (and that features heavily in the London's marketing), but the phone just didn't have much presence.

But that's certainly not a terrible thing. The London is a smartphone, after all, not a speaker, and Zound Industries has certainly taken care with the device's functionality. Although the specs are nothing to call home about (a 4.7-inch 720p display, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, and an 8-megapixel camera), the company has deployed a barely-touched Android Lollipop OS that runs briskly, and the London certainly looks attractive compared to most of the market.

There are also some nice audio-orientated extras, like dual headphone jacks for sharing music and DJ'ing with your phone (not very rock'n'roll surely); a dedicated "M" button at the top of the device that gives you quick access to your music, a global equalizer, or an audio recorder; and dual front-facing speakers at the front of the smartphone. And while the device wouldn't survive long in a mosh pit, a line of white plastic piping around the display means it can be dropped on its front without going to pieces. Overall, the feel is of a practical device for people who just want something a little different in their pockets. The London isn't a legend in the making, but it's got personality and that can go a long way.

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