Hands-On: Sharp Aquos Crystal for Sprint
Sharp debuted its first phone for the U.S. market in years this week. The Aquos Crystal boasts a nearly bezel-less design in a compact form factor. Here are our initial impressions.
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Sprint is relying on the economies of scale afforded by its parent company, SoftBank, in order to bring the Sharp Aquos Crystal to the U.S. The mid-range device, which will sell for $240 at full retail (and even cheaper via Sprint's prepaid channels), promises a unique experience thanks to its edge-to-edge display.
The Aquos Crystal stands alone in the current smartphone market for several reasons. To start, Sharp hasn't sold any devices in the U.S. for years. This is a second coming for the company, in a way, which would never have made it back to the U.S. without the support of Sprint owner SoftBank. Both SoftBank and Sharp are based in Japan. Sharp has a huge presence in its home market and, well, null here in America.
The other reason the Aquos Crystal stands apart is of course the design. It's novel in that it uses nearly bezel-less display. The amount of framing above and to either side of the display is minimal. We're talking scant millimeters, if that much. All the elements usually found sprinkled around a phone's display (sensors, speakers, etc.) have been squashed into an extra-large bezel that forms the bottom of the phone. To that end, the bottom section of the device is busy with sensors, buttons, and controls. It makes for a one-of-a-kind look, that's for sure.
The bezels, such as they are, are chamfered a bit, but not in the attractive way Apple and HTC are able to pull it off. In fact, to my eyes, they created a weird distortion along the edges of the screen itself - probably because they are made of plastic and not metal.
I found the phone to be compact as far as length and width are concerned, but it comes across as rather thick compared to most modern smartphones. It's not terribly beefy, but it isn't svelte, either. The back has a nice, curved shape to it in order to make it more palm friendly, and the narrow width (for a 5-inch screen) helps the phone fit snugly in the hand. It is lightweight, and certainly won't have any trouble fitting into most pockets.
I'm not a fan of the materials. Number one: the display. It's not made of glass, it's made of plastic. Sharp said the plastic material is a cheaper, less weighty alternative to glass, and is still resistant to breakage (no word on scratching). Lemme tell ya, it feels cheaper, too, and not in a good way. The plastics that form the outer shell aren't any better. Sharp opted for a dimpled pattern akin to that of the Samsung Galaxy S5. The plastics don't feel high end at all. In other words, it feels like a $240 phone should, and not a high-end flagship.
The screen itself is just not impressive. It's a 5-incher with only 720p HD resolution. To my eyes, pixels were jumping out all over the place. The pixel density isn't great and says loud and clear, "I'm a low-cost screen!" Viewing angles are OK, but not awesome. I noticed a significant drop off in brightness when tilted side-to-side, though the colors remained accurate.
The outer edge has chrome coloring, but is made from polycarbonate and not any type of metal. The volume toggle is on the left edge. It has a nice profile and excellent travel and feedback. There are no buttons - not even a camera button - on the right edge of the phone. The screen lock/power button is on the top. It also has a good profile and decent travel/feedback. The micro-USB port is on the bottom.
The battery cover is removable, although the battery itself is not. Both the SIM card tray and slot for memory cards are accessible when the cover is removed. The cover pops off with no problem, and doesn't feel too flimsy.
The UI came across as mostly stock Android to me. The home screens, of which there are five, are generally unadulterated. There are several widgets preinstalled by Sprint and the dock and notification trays work as expected. The main app menu and settings menus are both stock Android and behave just as you'd expect from an Android 4.4 KitKat phone. Perhaps the one app that really stood out as different to me is the camera. It's littered with controls and toggles along the left and top edges. The bottom edge is clean, and the right edge is reserved for the shutter buttons. It comes across as slightly cluttered, especially with the grid lines turned on (which is the default behavior). I found that turning off the grid lines really helped reduce the visual distractions.
As for speed, the Aquos Crystal performed fine. It has a quad-core 1.2-GHz Snapdragon 400 under the hood. This is a solid chip from Qualcomm that works well in budget handsets.
Is the Aquos Crystal a good buy? Well, it makes more sense if you're a Boost or Virgin customer, as they are selling the phone for just $150 without a contract. I'd feel less easy about recommending it to Sprint's post-paid customers, even though the full retail is just $240.
reminds me a lot
I like this device
The battery cover is removable, but the battery itself is not.
The article has been corrected. Thanks for pointing it out!