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Sharp Aquos Crystal (Boost Mobile) review: Ordinary features bolstered by a daring, edgeless design

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This indoor photo contains a notable amount of digital noise, though colors here are accurately represented. Lynn La/CNET
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In this closeup photo, the outlines on these orchid petals could stand to be sharper. Lynn La/CNET
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Though objects are in focus, you can see the flash's subtle blue hue in our standard studio picture. Lynn La/CNET

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.

Performance

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.

Sharp Aquos Crystal (Boost Mobile) call quality sample

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.

Sharp Aquos Crystal (Boost Mobile) Performance Times

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.

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Some of the device's 4G LTE data times on Boost Mobile (left) and its highest Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

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.

Conclusion

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.

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