It's been a very long time since we've seen a phone come out of Sharp's pipeline. So when the Japanese-based company announced its Aquos Crystal, I was not only surprised that Sharp released a new handset, but that said handset also had a wow factor worth paying attention to. Namely, the phone has an "bezel-less" screen.
At last, the mobile consumer pipe-dream to have an edge-to-edge display handset isn't so elusive anymore, and when it was announced, the Aquos Crystal made waves for its compelling design. But beyond its interesting aesthetic, the device is distinctly midrange. Instead of having an ultrasharp 1080p display, Sharp settled for a 720p display. The phone also has an average 1.2GHz processor and a solid, but not overly-impressive, 8-megapixel camera.
That doesn't make it a bad phone -- in fact, it performs quite well. And at $150 prepaid from Boost Mobile, or free with a two-year agreement with Sprint, the device is affordable. Indeed, it's definitely one of the best looking mid-range phone available today, even if it's not banging on all four cylinders inside.
Although mobile manufacturers often boast about how thin their smartphone bezels are, the Aquos Crystal's 5-inch edge-to-edge displays runs right up to the sides of the device. Though there is no practical use for this feature, it definitely makes the handset unique. Gimmicky or not, I really like it. It makes the phone look both futuristic and downright cool. And though I assumed that this lack of a bezel would make the Crystal difficult to operate, that really wasn't the case. Whenever I navigated through the device, I didn't run into any problems with accidental taps and swipes.
Of course, with this lack of a bezel, some things have to be adjusted. At more than a half an inch thick, the device's chin is deep, and it houses the 1.2-megapixel camera and microphone. (To take a selfie, a small dialog pops up that instructs you to flip the handset upside down -- helpful if you want to avoid an unsightly double-chin.) There also isn't an in-ear speaker, which is usually located above the display. Instead, the phone uses audio wave technology (more on that later).
Other than the fact that it's edgeless, however, the display is pretty standard: It has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 293ppi. That means that while images and videos look smooth and are easily viewable, they don't look as razor-sharp compared to phones with 1080p or 1440p resolutions.
The Crystal measures 5.2 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide and 0.4-inch thick, and it weighs 5 ounces. Compared to the big-screen devices of today, its size is extremely pocketable, one-handed navigation is easy to manage, and I had no problem sliding it into front jean pockets. Its back arcs ever so slightly, rendering it comfortable to hold as well. On the left edge is a volume rocker, while the top houses a 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button. The micro-USB port for charging is located on the bottom edge.
The back houses an 8-megapixel lens and flash, and below is a small slit for the rear speaker. Inside, you'll find a microSD card slot that's expandable up to 128GB and an embedded 2,040mAh battery. For power users, an irremovable battery is a bit of a downer -- it means you can't replace or switch out the battery when the need arises.
Another unfortunate design choice is the battery door. As sleek and modern as this handset looks, the battery door is a thin plastic shell. To be honest, this material feels cheap, and its dimpled design doesn't do much to help with the fact that it undercuts the overall chic aesthetic of the phone.
Some of the Aquos Crystal's unique software features include a gesture motion called "Clip Now." In addition to holding the bottom volume key and power button to take a screenshot, users can swipe the top edge of the display and save screenshots into a Clip Now image folder.
The device is also equipped with Harman Kardon audio technology, which promises to boost the sound quality of various media content such as music and videos.The Livestage feature boosts the audio experience when headphones are plugged in, and Clari-fi improves the quality of compressed digital music files. If you want to "see" Clari-fi working as audio is playing, you can turn on its visualizer window as well.
The device ships with Android 4.4.2 KitKat and comes with a number of Google's services, like the Chrome Web browser, Drive, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, Photos and YouTube. The Google Play stores for apps, Books, Games, Movies and TV, Music and Newsstand are included as well.
There are other several preloaded apps too like the 1Weather, the social-networking portal AirG, a digital voice assistant aptly called "Assistant," Amazon, the backup service Gadget Guardian, NBA Game Time, Next Radio, OfficeSuite and the navigation app Scout. Fortunately, if you don't find many of these apps useful or relevant, you can uninstall them.
Boost Mobile threw in some of its own apps like Boost Music, Boost Mobile Wallet and Boost Zone where you can check your usage and account information and stay updated with carrier news. Lastly, there's Mobile ID, which enables users to download preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose.
Of course, there are basic apps too, such as a native email client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a voice dialer, and an audio recorder.
Camera and video
Camera quality for the 8-megapixel camera is decent, and the shutter refreshes quickly after every click. Colors looked accurate, and understandably, pictures with ample natural lighting look best, with objects appearing sharp and in-focus. Photos taken indoors showed some digital noise and blurred edges, but were still easy to make out. Macro focus could be sharper too; when I took photos of a flower up close, the orchid had fuzzy, grainy edges. For more on photo quality, check out the images below and click on each individual picture to see it at its full resolution.