Breaking into the Smartphone market is no easy task – the key vendors are pretty well established and are updating and refining models at a fast enough pace to ensure wannabe competitors will have a tough time justifying their credentials. One way to shake things up is to introduce a headline feature that has enough “wow” factor to catch someone’s eye, and this is certainly the case with Sharp’s new almost bezel-less Aquos Crystal.
Contrary to what you might expect this isn’t a bells and whistles uber -hone, rather a mid-range device that’s pretty much aiming at the budget market. For this reason it isn’t specced up to the eyeballs, running Android 4.4.2 and sporting a rather modest 720p 5” edge-to-edge display, a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 8GB of storage inside with a microSD for expansion and an 8MP camera with a 1.2MP front facer. There are a few nice touches here though, such as HD voice, Wi-Fi calling and the employment of Harmon Kardon to set up some nice audio enhancements, though these will be more for headphones due to the rather small, single, rear-mounted speaker.
TechRadar went hands-on with the Aquos and was immediately impressed by the futuristic look and almost bezel-free design, calling it “one of the most sophisticated and futuristic-looking budget phones that I’ve seen”. It wasn’t all plain sailing when it came to design though, as the plastic screen and body betrayed its position as a mid-range device: “When holding one of these in your hand, it becomes almost immediately clear that this is a budget-friendly device, albeit a greatly upscaled one.” The capacitive touchscreen does get some plaudits despite its cheap feel, but further criticism was drawn from the placement of the camera lens, which being at the bottom may not sit well with the “selfie” generation, a clear sacrifice that had to me made for the headline feature.
Elsewhere Gizmodo highlights an innovation that comes as a result – with no speaker at the top for voice calls, Sharp is using “a direct wave receiver, which actually vibrates the screen next to your ear to transmit sound” – pretty cool. Elsewhere it commended the practical nature of the screen design, describing how “I purposefully tried to make accidental touches around the edges to see if the absence of bezel caused usability problems. It never happened once.” Though it comments that middle of the road specs may not appeal to those seeking a high end device, they make perfect sense when producing a mid-range handset with such aggressive pricing – in the US it’ll cost just $240 contract-free, which is pretty impressive if you won’t take advantage of the benefits of bleeding-edge tech.
Finally Mashable goes to town on the Sprint network’s version of the Aquos and is similarly enamoured by the edgeless display: “Everything looks great on the screen — little surprise considering Sharp’s display expertise — though there is, perhaps, a bit more screen reflection than we would like.” It also points out some cool little features such as the ability to take a screenshot simply by moving your finger to the left hand corner diagonally, the ability to send the phone to sleep with a shake and wake it up by sliding your finger up from below the bottom edge and the presence of Sharp’s own voice assistant – Speaktoit.
All in all it seems like a successful first foray for Sharp. If you treat it like a mid-range phone and accept that you won’t have the kind of camera, processing power or range of features of high-end devices, the display is stunning, there’s plenty to like and it doesn’t let itself down particularly in any area. If the price is translated reasonably to the UK market we can see Sharp having a little sleeper hit on its hands over here.