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Sharp FX Plus (AT&T) review: Sharp FX Plus (AT&T)

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Sharp FX Plus (AT&T)
6.6

Sharp FX Plus (AT&T)

The Good

The <b>Sharp FX Plus</b> is a side-sliding Android smartphone with a decent keyboard, good call quality, and 2GB external memory preloaded.

The Bad

Battery life is short on Sharp's FX Plus, and the 600MHz processor slows things down. The keyboard keys are also a tad flat.

The Bottom Line

The Sharp FX Plus is a budget Android 2.2 smartphone for certain first-timers, but when it comes to some features, you get what you pay for.

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 Sharp FX. 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.

Design
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 is a budget-conscious messaging smartphone that runs Android 2.2 Froyo.

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.

Features
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.


Sharp's FX sequel, the FX Plus, has a rounder look than its predecessor, from its slopier edges to its oval keyboard keys.

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.


The 3-megapixel camera took disappointing indoor photos, but outdoor shots were better.

It's a good idea to temper your expectations in the FX Plus' 3-megapixel camera, and even more so in its camcorder. The Android software offers presets and options for white balance, color effects, and so on. Since there's no flash, well-lit and outdoor photos will do better than indoor pictures. The latter tended to have a yellow glow depending on the light source. Since the camera shutter takes so long to snap, photos have a tendency to come out blurry if you jiggle your arm or move the camera before it completes its lengthier exposure--for all types of shots. Suffice it to say, achieving a perfect focus was an issue, although we were able to take some photos with nice color and brightness.

The camcorder took jerky, frequently grainy movies that also had a harder time staying true to color. While sometimes the point of a video is to simply tell a story, we'd have hoped for a less pixelated tale. The same goes for the voice quality with on-device playback. It was loud enough, but also tinny.

You'll have 512MB internal memory for multimedia, plus up to 32GB external storage through the microSD card slot.

Performance
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sharp FX Plus in the San Francisco Bay Area. Call quality was good in areas of strong signal and predictably terrible in AT&T dead zones, where calls cut out. In the coverage zone, those on both sides of the call thought it sounded very good. Both we and our caller noted strong volume and natural-sounding voices. There wasn't any distortion or background noise, though the voice clarity was just slightly muffled.

Sharp FX Plus call quality sample Listen now: "="">

Speakerphone also had good volume and strong call clarity--without any white noise or digital distortion. Both sides found that voices sounded hollow, tinny, and echoey. On their end, our caller also said we sounded muffled, like we were holding a hand over our mouth. Some of this is to be expected with speakerphone.

On the phone's performance side, the FX Plus' 600MHz processor, unfortunately, lagged behind. Programs took a beat or two longer to open and to switch functions. As we mentioned, the camera seemed to be the biggest casualty, with capture time taking a little longer than normal.

3G fluctuated during our test period, ranging from no 3G to strong 3G paired with full signal bars. With three bars of signal, CNET's mobile site loaded in about 20 seconds, and the graphically heavy full CNET.com loaded in about 35 seconds. Later, with just one signal bar, it took the typically faster-loading New York Times mobile site to load in 37 seconds. Over a minute later, the complete New York Times Web site loaded, also with just one bar of signal.

Battery life is a pressing issue on any phone, and it's too bad that Sharp didn't take this opportunity to lengthen the lifespan on its Sharp FX. Like its predecessor, the FX has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10 days standby time on its 1240mAh battery. FCC tests measure the FX Plus' digital SAR at 0.60 watts per kilogram at the head.

Conclusion
Kudos to Sharp for giving the Sharp FX Plus a visual and OS refresh. Android 2.2 Froyo isn't the most current of Google's mobile operating systems, but AT&T, Wal-Mart, and Sharp all know that smartphones, especially Android ones, have a certain reliability and market allure. It has going for it a compact keyboard, an Android OS, a pleasing body, and an affordable price. Unfortunately, there's also a check list of features where the device falls a little short--the camera for one, performance speed for another, and battery life for a third. Don't get us wrong--this isn't among the phones you'd best avoid, but it is an entry-level phone best-suited to first-time smartphone owners who aren't particularly looking for anything fancy.

Sharp FX Plus (AT&T)
6.6

Sharp FX Plus (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6