Remember Saygus? We got an exclusive sit-down with founder and CEO Chad Sayers
It has been roughly 18-months since we have written anything about Saygus. You remember Saygus don’t you? It’s okay if you forgot about them.
I forgot about Saygus too, until I found myself in Salt Lake City, Utah on other business (not mobile related, but cutting edge science, from which I am fortunate to be part of a very small group of people to benefit from). Late last year, I was driving down the Interstate-15 freeway en route to Provo when I saw a big Saygus logo on the side of a building, the company’s headquarters. I reminded myself that I would have to check out their digs when I returned to Utah.
Revisiting CES 2015
Saygus was all the buzz at CES two years ago, the company had earned an innovation award and its smartphone proposition at the time was very promising. The Saygus V2 (aka V-Squared) was everything any enthusiast could want, top spec Snapdragon 801, front facing speakers, high-resolution cameras, and premium build with actual buttons. I got to have some hands-on time with engineering builds of the device at CES, and the package, given the mobile landscape at the time, was impressive.
All the pieces seemed to be in place, the company was set to open pre-orders within weeks of CES, with promised delivery by that spring. Pre-orders opened, as promised, less than a month after everyone cleared out of Las Vegas.
Nothing. Nothing happened after some exciting coverage. The order process was not the smoothest, but it also was not a disaster either. Order receipts were sent out, and eager customers waited, and waited, and waited.
A short while later, Saygus sent out an update saying that shipping had to be pushed back. That was probably not a surprise to anyone with a reasonable assessment of a company trying to break into the highly competitive smartphone market with a spec-leading device. However, shipping got pushed again. Then it was pushed again with a hope to begin deliveries by the autumn of 2015.
For those that offered up $550 to pre-order, the delays were hard to accept. The company allowed refunds from pre-orders, but even that option was not ideal because what enthusiasts really wanted was the V-Squared.
Sadly, the second half of 2015 and all of 2016 would pass with only sporadic, non-specific updates.
Let’s just walk in for a visit
It was hard not to generate a preconceived notion of what I would see when I walked in. The building is small-ish office complex, with multiple tenants. Saygus was the “anchor tenant” with its branding on the building, and it occupied the whole fifth floor.
The elevator doors opened, and as I stepped out, I was met with silence. I looked to find the receptionist desk behind a set of glass doors empty, with a little sign that said, “Out for a bit, please call…” If it had been lunch hour, that sign would have made sense, but it was 3:30 in the afternoon. Were the doors unlocked?
You can imagine how this write-up might have gone if the offices were locked in the middle of the business day, in the middle of the week. Thankfully, the doors were unlocked, so I stepped in, and called the number the placard noted. I listened to the office phones ring, and then no one answered. However, I could hear voices in discussion somewhere down the hall. It turned out they were coming from the conference room, so I knocked on the door and lo-and-behold, there is Chad Sayers, the founder and CEO of Saygus.
I wasn’t in the mood to try and ambush, and in fact, he remembered me from CES two years before. He asked me to wait a few minutes while he finished his meeting.
I asked point-blank after listening to some of the decision points that were made over the past two years, “At what point do you sh** or get off the pot so you can finally begin building and shipping?” Chad responded frankly, “Have we failed? Yes.” It is not often you hear direct ownership of a situation like that. Not only did Chad say that, he also made a point for me to quote him. Of course, he added that he and the team have learned from these failures.
Why has it been so problematic for Saygus to get its V-Squared handset built and shipped? In 2015, it was the manufacturing partners and the design of certain components. “My biggest concern was getting [the radios] right,” Chad said.
Saygus had to switch ODM (original design manufacturer) partners a couple times, and ultimately lined up a small in-house team to make things happen. Of course, that process added time to the project since it required being able to develop proficiency in the manufacturing process.
Other challenges stemmed from the UI, a thin layer over Android, but that was just stomping bugs. Apparently, rigging a smartphone to accommodate a second microSD card reader presented a new set of challenges. Saygus also designed its own board to run things underneath which introduced problems. Minor redesigns were required with the antenna set-up. By themselves, these are not necessarily severe problems, but cumulatively, the result has been a predictable tempo of moving the timeline ever-farther to the right as other players arrive on the scene with new concepts (like the Nextbit Robin), and deliver to market.
Not bringing a product to market is not an option according to Chad. The V-Squared is the sole focus. The V-Squared seems to be finally poised to clear the FCC, and be ready for AT&T and T-Mobile networks (suggested to be ready in a matter of weeks). Indeed, Saygus is confident it will generate renewed enthusiasm when it finally has things ready.
What about the hardware? The Snapdragon 801, as solid a CPU from Qualcomm as it is, is basically at the end of its life. Saygus promises a lofty, free exchange for V-Squared owners. Sometime after the current-spec model is released, those that pre-ordered will be able to trade in their V-Squared for a new device with beefier specs, namely a Snapdragon 820 CPU (same device, upgraded components). We will not share the suggested timeline as it was simply not believable given the past two years (though if it is fulfilled, I'll write a mea culpa).
The V-Squared now
The UI flowed well. In my limited time looking through things, there were no glaring omissions in the experience. The 5-inch display looked great, the UI allows for a 5x5 app arrangement on the homescreens, and there are two front-facing speakers. The potential of the V-Squared is still a compelling package, even today with the older chipset.
I was excited about the V-Squared two years ago. I am still excited about it today, or the idea of it anyway. OEMs seem to be abandoning all the little things I loved about the past couple generations of smartphones, with front facing speakers being one of my favorite features. Other users have long desired to have the ability to remove and replace their phone’s battery, and have dual-SIM capacity, the V-Squared fits that bill too. Many of those features have been left by the wayside by just about everyone.
Since Saygus presented the promise of the V-Squared, we have seen not one, but two new generations of devices, plus the emergence of a new premium segment with a $400 price-tag. Is there room for a new player with a $500-600 device? Can Saygus pull it off?
Those that pre-ordered the device should have known there would be an inherent risk when backing a small company trying to make a big impact. Delays are to be expected, delays are common. A barrage of delays that continues for two-years is something else.
I won’t lie, despite my excitement, and despite the reassurances from Chad, I continue to maintain a healthy level of cynicism. The pattern of broken promises stemming from broken timelines over the past two years is impossible to ignore. The company’s communication to its customers has been nothing short of a disaster. Chad knows this, his company endures a continuous onslaught of flames from customers and onlookers on Twitter. If you spent $550 to pre-order a V-Squared, and you still hold out hope, your anger is certainly justified.
Despite all that, I still want a V-Squared.