Sharp's Aquos Crystal phone concentrates on design with an edgeless screen

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We haven't seen a smartphone from Sharp in the US for years, but now the company is back with a new model with a unique design. Today, Sprint and Sharp announced the Aquos Crystal, which sports a display that spans almost the entire face of the phone. There's a tiny bezel, but mostly all you see is screen.

A barely-there border

Most smartphones on the market have a small bezel around their screens, separating the display from the physical edge of the phone. However, Sharp says the Aquos Crystal is different because it has a 5-inch 1,280x720-pixel (293ppi) LCD frameless display; up close, the screen does appear to fill the front of the phone, leaving no unused space. While it has a stunning design, the 720p screen resolution on the 5-inch display won't look as sharp as the 1080p screens on today's flagship phones, such as the HTC One M8.

There is, in fact, a tiny bezel, but it's not immediately obvious when you pick up the phone. Aside from looking neat, the edge-to-edge display also gives you just a bit more screen space to browse websites, play games, and generally use the phone.

Looking at the phone, there's no light sensor or camera lens along the top edge, like you find on most devices. Instead those features are either at the bottom-front of the phone, or on the back. There's no cutout ear piece either and that's because the Aquos Crystal employs a unique bit of technology which uses the entire front panel to create sound, meaning you can hold your ear to the screen to hear a phone call.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Modern specs

Outside, the phone has a cutting-edge design, but inside, it's a little dated. While the phone is running Android KitKat 4.4.2, the latest version of the the OS, it's powered 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and comes with 8GB of storage. Other specs include a 2,040mAh battery, 1.5GB of on-board RAM, and a microSD card slot that can support up to 128GB in additional storage.

It's packing Harman Kardon audio technology, which is designed to enhance your listening experience with headphones. There are a few software extras, including taking a screenshot by swiping across the top of the screen, and App Pass, a $5 monthly subscription from Sprint to access apps and games.

The Aquos Crystal has an 8-megapixel main camera that can shoot 1080p video at 30 frames per second, and there's a front-facing 1.2-megapixel shooter that records 720p video for video chatting. The camera packs a few features to help you capture better photos. One is called night catch, which enhances lighting for poorly lit nighttime shots, and there's a smile mode that takes a photo when the camera detects a smile.

The phone comes in four colors; white, black, pink or blue, and has a dimpled texture on the back cover, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S5. Sprint will only get the black and white versions.

Japan is getting a variant of the Aquos Crystal, the Crystal X, which will have a 5.5-inch screen. There's no word yet if or when that phone will arrive in the US.


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Sarah Tew

Availability

The Aquos Crystal will launch on Sprint in the US, as well as prepaid carriers Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. It will also be available in Japan through wireless carrier SoftBank. The phone will go on sale in Japan on August 29, but there is no official US release date yet.

On Sprint in the US, the phone will support 4G LTE, HD Voice enhancements, and Wi-Fi calling.

Pricing breaks down like this: With a new two-year contract on Sprint, the phone costs $20, plus takes and fees. You can also pick up the phone for zero dollars down and make $10 monthly payments for 24 months if you don't want to sign a contract with Sprint. On Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile, you can get it for $149 plus taxes. And last, if you want the phone flat-out, it'll cost $239.

Outlook

Sharp, which is better known for making TVs in the US than smartphones, is bringing some of the same technology it uses for its HD displays to its new mobile device. However, it's lack of brand recognition among HTC, Samsung, and LG might be a hurdle for the company to get American buyers interested.

With so many premium and mid-range phones available in the US, such as the LG G3 and Motorola Moto X, it'll be tough for the Aquos Crystal to stand out. However, the phone's eye-catching screen, budget-friendly price, and satisfactory specs will help. That's especially true when you consider that high-end smartphones with similar internal guts sell for $500 or more.

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Where to Buy

Sharp Aquos Crystal (black)

Part Number: AQUOSCRYSTALBLK
Pricing is currently unavailable.