Sharp Aquos Crystal (Boost Mobile) review: Ordinary features bolstered by a daring, edgeless design
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.
Video recording also fared well. Both moving and still objects were in focus, colors were true-to-life, and lighting adjusted fairly quickly as I moved the camera. However, although nearby audio was picked up well, background noise sounded a bit muffled, almost as if I was hearing the video from underwater. However, this distortion was subtle and didn't detract too much from the overall video quality.
A few camera tools include a digital zoom, several gridline options (rule-of-thirds, golden spiral and many others), HDR shooting, five sizes (from 640x480 to 3,264x2,448-pixel resolution), geotagging, 14 shootings modes like night portrait and panorama, six ISO levels, four white balances and a timer. You can record four different sizes (from 320x240 to 1080p full HD) as well as time lapse videos.
Though the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera doesn't have as many editing features as the rear one, it still has some tools like digital zooming, panoramic shooting and a timer. It can also take picture in three different sizes (640x480 to 1,280x720-pixel resolution), and shoot up to 720p video.
I tested the Aquos Crystal in our San Francisco offices, and call quality was disappointing. Although none of my calls dropped, I didn't pick up any extraneous noise and buzzing, and my connection remained consistent and stable, audio quality was poor. My calling partner's voice was thin and hollow, and despite turning up the volume, she still came off too quiet and muffled. My partner also sounded as if she was far away from the receiver.
Unfortunately, this is a pretty common experience with devices equipped with in-ear sound wave receivers. This audio technology uses a transducer within the handset that channels sound waves into a user's inner-ear, which eliminates the need for a visible in-ear speaker at the top of the phone. The Aquos Crystal incorporates this technology due to its lack of a top bezel, and many waterproof Kyocera devices have used this to cut down on the number of vulnerable seams built into its handsets. Unfortunately, conversations on said phones don't sound as clear, and as I mentioned before, audio comes off pinched and muted.
Audio speaker, however, yielded better results. My calling partner sounded louder, and her voice had a bit more depth to it. Volume range was also appropriately adequate. As for her end, she told me that my voice sounded muffled and distant too, but when speaker was turned on, audio improved and my voice sounded much more clear.
|Average 4G LTE download speed||9.73Mbps|
|Average 4G LTE upload speed||2.55Mbps|
|Temple Run 2 app download (43.70MB)||1 minute|
|CNET mobile site load||6 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||12 seconds|
|Restart time||31 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.12 seconds|
Aquos Crystal features Sprint's brand of high-speed 4G LTE called Spark, and it clocked in decent times for general Web browsing. However, for network speeds marketed as ultrafast, they weren't overly impressive. For example, it took 6 and 12 seconds to load CNET's mobile and desktop sites, respectively. The New York Times' mobile page finished loading after 11 seconds and its desktop version loaded in 6. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 6 seconds, and 10 seconds passed for the full Web page. The 43.70MB game Temple Run 2 finished downloading and installing in about 1 minute on average. Download rates averaged out on Ookla's speed test app to 9.73Mbps, while upload rates showed 2.55Mbps.
Powering the device is a quad-core, 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, which can execute daily and necessary tasks easily. Calling up the keyboard, returning to the homescreen, and changing between portrait and landscape mode yielded no issues. And while I've seen higher frame rates playing the graphics intensive game Riptide GP 2, gameplay was still smooth and free from any stutters.
Benchmark tests reflected these real-world experiences as well. The handset's best Quadrant score was 8,530, which puts it in the same class as the Samsung Galaxy Light and Kyocera Hydro Vibe , which scored 8,499 and 8,526, respectively. Its best multithread Linpack score was 211.097MFLOPs in 0.8-second. Lastly, the Aquos Crystal took 2.12 seconds to launch the camera and 31 seconds to restart, on average.
Anecdotal observations for the 2,040mAh battery has been decent so far. It easily lasted a weekend on standby, and with medium to high usage, it can survive a workday without a charge as well. It has a reported talk time of up to 13 hours, and during our lab test for continuous video playback, it lasted 10 hours and 42 minutes. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has a SAR rating of 0.94W/kg.
For a phone that made such a splash at its August announcement, the Sharp Aquos Crystal doesn't sport the kind of powerful hardware you see in current flagships. But among devices in its class, the $150 phone is a worthy buy. Its stand-out design makes it one of the most unique-looking handsets available, the 8-megapixel camera takes good photos, and LTE data speeds were consistent in my real-world testing.
I much prefer it over the LG Optimus F3 . Even though that phone is $50 cheaper, the F3 has a smaller 4-inch display and runs an older version of Android. In addition, the Crystal edges out the dated ZTE Force and Warp Sequent . Both devices have the same $150 price tag, but the former has a slower processor and poorer camera, and the latter is only 3G enabled.
True, Sharp may not be a big player in the mobile industry, with its smartphone releases coming few and far between. But with its Aquos Crystal handset, it has proved that it can make a stylish and reliable device that can compete with the midrange phones of today. And with the Crystal's edge-to-edge touchscreen, the company knows what it takes turn the heads of even the most casual smartphone consumer.