It's rare that a "cheap" smartphone catches your attention. Sure, Nokia's entry-level Lumia devices come in a variety of bright colors, but much like Motorola's Moto G handsets, most essentially boil down to relatively boring, plastic rectangle slabs with run-of-the-mill screen technology. But the Aquos Crystal from Sharp—yes, Sharp makes smartphones—is anything but run-of-the-mill.
Bringing home the point even further, the glass that covers the 5-inch LCD screen has chamfered edges that cover what little bezel is there, giving the illusion that the display really does extend to the physical confines of the device. While the bottom bezel looks unproportionately long when compared to the rest of the phone, it isn't nearly as awkward to hold or see in person. Actually, due to the phone's compact design, the Aquos Crystal is noticably shorter than the slim-bezeled, 5.2-inch LG G2.
The Crystal's 720p resolution is decent for a phone this size, resulting in a pixel density of roughly 294ppi—Apple's iPhone 5S, for comparison, has a 326ppi screen. Although the Edgeless Display is generally impressive, especially at this price point, it isn't without flaws. When viewing the Aquos Crystal from more extreme angles, like when glancing at the phone while it rested on my desk, I was able to see light bleeding from the edges of the display, something not typically seen on current smartphones. The base level for automatic screen brightness is also set far too high, and looking at the device while in the dark was a rather unpleasant experience. This can obviously be fixed via an update, but I found that manually adjusting brightness was much more effective, despite it being an inconvenience.
The Edgeless Display forced Sharp to make some rather interesting decisions to other parts of the phone's design as well. The front-facing camera, for example, is located on the bottom bezel, so when launching the camera app users are advised to hold the phone upside down to make the most of their selfies. Far more intuitive, though, is the device's speaker when handling calls. The speaker is placed directly beneath the display, with Sharp fine-tuning the technology so that sound resonates throughout the entire screen. When using the handset to listen to a call, I was able to place my ear anywhere on the screen and listen to the other end without any issues. Call quality was noticeably better than my LG G2 for both myself and the recipient of my call, but well below the high-fidelity audio heard with newer technologies like Verizon's HD Voice. When utilizing speaker phone or bumping music without a headset, however, sound traveled through a standard speaker on the rear side of the device.
When connected to a Bluetooth unit or external speakers through the 3.5mm jack, the Aquos Crystal gives the option to enable enhanced audio tweaked by Harman Kardon—Sprint has used the same partnership to offer an exclusive variant of the HTC One (M8) as well. The Clari-Fi technology is meant to improve compressed media files, and the optional LiveStage mode is supposed to deliver a more life-like listening experience. The Harmon Kardon settings did make music sound better, whether enjoying some tunes through wired earbuds, wireless headphones, or my car's Bose stereo system, and the sound profile is more versatile and less bass-heavy than Beats Audio.
While the Aquos Crystal's screen and audio do work as positive selling points, internally the device is much less impressive. The phone is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip and 1.5GB of RAM, making it ever-so-slightly more powerful than the 2014 and 2013 Moto G smartphones and their 1GB of RAM. The device mostly handled normal navigation around Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat without any major issues, although there was noticeable lag when hopping between a number of apps and when using the Android keyboard, resulting in some undetected keypresses—the phone uses the Swype keyboard by default, which performed normally. In our benchmark tests, Sharp's latest scored roughly the same as Motorola's similarly-equipped entry-level phone.
Sharp loaded with the Aquos Crystal with a near-stock version of Android, with only a few tweaks made to the OS: waking the phone can be done by swiping up from the bottom bezel, screenshots can be captured by swiping horizontally along the status bar, and the screen can be set to stay on when the device is being held. Other than that, you're looking at a pretty bare-bones version of Google's mobile operating system, along with a smorgasbord of Sprint bloatware.
On the rear of the phone is a removable backing that gives access to a microSD card slot. The phone is only sold with an option for 8GB of storage space with only about 4GB available for users, so you'll almost certainly want some extra space if you pick up this phone, especially if you like playing mobile games or locally loading up music. While not replaceable, the 2,040 mAh battery provides plenty of energy. Heavy users will definitely need to top-up later on the day, but moderate and light users should have no problems reaching their nightly charging sessions.
An 8-megapixel camera is also housed on the back of the Aquos Crystal, and like many phones in this price range, it's expectedly mediocre and unimpressive. Photos taken in the daytime or when there is adequate light turned out fine when viewing them through the gallery app or on social networks that compress image quality, but zooming in shows a lack of sharpness, detail, and bold colors. In low-light situations, the camera performed rather poorly, with noise and graininess appearing throughout the photos. On the plus side, Sharp's camera app includes a plethora of photo and video options (including one specifically for pictures of food, if that's your thing).
At just $240 outright through Sprint—or $150 through Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile—the Aquos Crystal delivers a lot of style for a reasonably low price. Android power users should stay away from this particular phone and its entry-level specs, but for those who would rather not spend a ton of cash or commit to a 2-year contract, Sharp's nearly bezel-free smartphone is not only a head-turner, but a money-saver as well.
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