Bezels are ugly. They exist to protect the edges of the display, but we, as smartphone owners, want the screen in all its glory — as much of it as possible. Bezels just get in the way, mostly.
That’s where Sharp’s latest smartphone, the company’s first since 2011, sets itself apart.
The Sharp Aquos Crystal borrows the same “Aquos” moniker from its popular line of liquid-crystal television sets, and the name certainly applies here. This phone is all about its 5-inch 720p display, which is almost completely edge-to-edge. (There’s still a frame, but you hardly notice it.)
The screen is gorgeous, though it’s not superdense pixel-wise. Colours look good, and it can get pretty bright — though not nearly as bright as the iPhone 6.
Its price point is almost as attractive: It costs just $US240 off-contract. Sprint is the exclusive carrier of the Aquos Crystal, so with a two-year contract, it’s just $US20 (plus taxes and fees).
Those are pretty much the phone’s selling points.
The phone has a bigger screen than the iPhone 6’s, and it’s exactly as wide. But the Aquos Crystal is much more of a rectangle, and you notice its width when you try holding it in one hand: The corners of the phone press into your palm, which isn’t all that comfortable.
Sharp also put the power button on top of the phone, whereas most large-screened phones have this button on the side, which makes it easy to reach with your thumb. Since this is the same button you’ll use to wake the device from sleep, it’s annoying and not very easy to turn on the device; you need to completely shift your hand so your index finger can reach the top, and then shift back to a normal holding position.
Hardware-wise, the phone is also a bit thick, although the back is a soft faux-leather so it’s nice to hold. I really liked 85% of the Aquos Crystal’s front face, but the bottom of the device — the chin — is not a pleasure to look at. Sharp needs the chin to power the display and other aspects of the phone, but it’s certainly an eyesore.
In the cameras department, the 8-megapixel rear shooter is pretty good, but the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera is just OK. It’s annoying because it won’t work unless you turn your phone upside down, since the front camera is on the bottom of the phone. Huh.
The phone runs Android 4.4 KitKat, which works pretty well. The actions are a bit slow, however. When you swipe or input text, there’s a very slight delay. It’s not too surprising, considering the specs here are pretty standard for a low- to midrange phone: It has a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, 1.5GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage (though it can support up to 128GB).
But again, for an affordable smartphone that has a really attractive screen, this isn’t a bad trade-off.
The Aquos Crystal is has solid battery life, and a few interesting bells and whistles behind the scenes that you’ll rarely notice. For example, the phone doesn’t have an actual earpiece. Instead, Sharp vibrates the entire front panel so you can hear your calls no matter how you’re holding the phone. It works OK, though the sound quality wasn’t that great.
The Aquos Crystal is a unique smartphone, there’s no doubt about that. Sharp definitely took some chances on this phone, trying to make it beautiful but also accessible, particularly in the Age of the Big Phone. But it’s only an OK performer, and the camera is decent but nowhere near the best smartphone shooters on the market.
The best thing I can say about the Aquos Crystal is that it’s trying to do something different, particularly with the display — a welcome sight in an endless sea of similar-looking phones. If Sharp can perform some chin surgery and beef up the specs, it might just be a real contender.