It's good to see tier-one carriers giving smaller manufacturers a chance. The Sharp FX Plus for AT&T follows in the footsteps of the original. Like its predecessor, the "Plus" version is also a side-slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, but with it, Sharp moves into the smartphone realm by giving the FX Plus an Android engine. Sure, it's only Android 2.2 Froyo instead of the most recent Gingerbread, but Android's reliability and openness go a long way toward making the FX Plus competitive for Wal-Mart customers, where it's sold exclusively in retail stores and online at Walmart.com.
Although we had serious concerns about the handset's battery life, the price is a sub-$30 steal at $28.88.
Physically, the all-black Sharp FX Plus is a toned-down version of the original Sharp FX; its body is a rounder rectangle and apart from the glossy, smudge-prone black face, most of the finish is soft-touch and matte black. The slide-out handset stands 4.7 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6-inch thick, though only the center portion of the screen slides out, which leaves grippable "ears" above and below the display. It's a comfortable phone to hold in both vertical and horizontal directions, although heavy for its size at 5.3 ounces.
The Sharp FX Plus has a 3.2-inch HVGA TFT touch screen with 480x320-pixel resolution and support for 262,000 colors. Its virtual keyboard comes in two flavors, the Android keyboard by default or Swype (switch over by pressing and holding in any text field, then selecting "input method.") The screen is adequately vibrant and colorful, though it doesn't match any of these smartphones with stellar screens.
An Android 2.2 Gingerbread phone, the FX Plus comes with seven customizable home screens. Although it mostly uses the stock Android look and feel, there's a stylized, static toolbar at the bottom of the screen, which contains icons for the phone book, messaging, the WebKit browser, and the application tray.
Below the display are four narrow buttons for the Menu, Home, Back, and Search functions. The power button and camera trigger are on the right spine; on the left is the volume rocker and the Micro-USB charging port. You'll find the 3.5 millimeter headset jack up top, the 3-megapixel camera lens on the back, and the microSD card slot beneath the back cover. The FX Plus comes with a 2GB card slot preinstalled, but holds up to 32GB total.
Slide over the phone face and you'll see the recessed four-row QWERTY keyboard with round, slightly raised keys. The keyboard is quite compact, which suited our fingers just fine and made reaching for keys easy. However, the individual buttons were a little flat, which slowed us down a tad when composing longer texts and e-mails. We did appreciate the sensible placement of some oft-used punctuation keys, like the dedicated comma and period buttons on either side of the space bar.
Running Android has its advantages, like a phone book size that's limited only by your available memory, plus multiple inbox support, and the range of connectivity and communication options--Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and text and multimedia messaging. Plus, there's the usual host of connected Google services at your fingertips: maps, voice navigation, Places, Google Talk, Calendar, YouTube, and Gmail. There's also voice search, and essential apps like a clock, an alarm, a sound recorder, voice commands, and a calculator. The default music player is on board as well, with its simple, straightforward controls to play, pause, skip, sort songs, create playlists, and access an equalizer.
In addition are other preloaded apps, like AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator, Facebook, Twitter, Live TV, Yellow Pages Mobile, and Polaris Office.
There's no wireless hot-spot support in this model, but there is USB tethering. You can also sniff out and connect to AT&T hot spots in your area.