Sprint eyes budget-minded customers with the Sharp Aquos Crystal

As it attempts a turnaround under a new CEO, the wireless carrier aims to be an affordable option to its competition. Offering Sharp's newest smartphone is part of that plan.

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The Sharp Aquos Crystal smartphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sprint's focus under new CEO Marcelo Claure looks to be all about affordability.

After unveiling a handful of Sprint price and plan promotions on Monday, the company on Tuesday followed up by announcing an agreement to bring the Sharp Aquos Crystal smartphone exclusively to the wireless carrier. The phone has a modern-looking, nearly frameless 5-inch display but a budget-friendly price of $150 for prepaid customers.

"This is perfect for the prepaid segment," David Owens, senior vice president for product development at Sprint, said in an interview Tuesday. He added that prepaid customers, such as those using Sprint's Boost or Virgin Mobile brands, "look for ... the latest technology but at an affordable price."

The new phone could help Sprint stave off steady customer losses by helping the company pitch itself as a more affordable carrier to competitors such as Verizon and AT&T. Still, it will be harder for it to try undercutting T-Mobile, which has successfully drawn in millions of customers by positioning itself as a cheaper option to those larger players. Regardless of whether Sprint's tactic works, the effort adds to a pricing war going on among carriers that's helping pressure stubbornly rising subscriber costs.

The biggest draw for the phone is the 1,280x720 pixel LCD display with almost no frames along the sides. Still, Sprint is able to charge a lot less than the cost of a top-tier smartphone by offering a more dated internal design, including the aforementioned 720p (rather than 1080p or better) screen, a 1.2 gigahertz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor, and 1.5 gigabytes of on-board RAM.

"We're really pressing the envelope of how low can we get the cost of these devices," while still providing a good display, Owens said.

With Sprint's Easy Pay option, the phone will cost no money down and $10 a month for 24 months -- more in total than the prepaid option. The device will also cost just $20 under a traditional two-year contract.

The company unveiled plans for the new phone after it came out on Monday with an offer to reimburse customers for early termination fees if they switch to Sprint -- following a similar move by T-Mobile in January -- and to provide more data for the same price as competitors.

To attract new customers to the network, the company also introduced two new shorter-term promotions that provide even more data for the same price as the competing options.

 

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