“What smartphone is that?” is the reaction I’ve received over and over this past week.
Big screen without big dimensions
none have come as close to achieving an edge-to-edge design as Sharp has with the Aquos Crystal
none have come as close to achieving an edge-to-edge design as Sharp has with the Aquos Crystal.
When laid next to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, you’d think the Aquos Crystal also has the same size screen. Nope! The Aquos Crystal has a 5-inch display with 1,280 x 720 resolution.
I thought the 5-inch LG G2 with its ultra-slim bezels was an impressive engineering feat last year, but the Aquos Crystal takes things to another level. Without any plastic surrounding the top and sides of the screen, the phone’s dimensions are smaller than other smartphones with 5-inch displays. It’s sleek in a way only Hollywood has portrayed bezel-less screens.
And because the phone has a smaller footprint, it’s actually easier to hold with one hand. This is how you design a 5-inch smartphone for one-handed use. I had no trouble stretching my thumb from one lower corner to the opposing top corner. The Aquos Crystal’s size also means it fits in my pants pockets without looking like I have a brick in there.
The screen isn’t without weaknesses though. I question its durability since there aren’t bezels to absorb shocks if it takes a drop to the ground. (I noticed that a small chip started to form at the top after a few days of pocketing it.) The screen also suffers from light leakage — the backlight starts bleeding into the screen, thus distracting from the content.
The Aquos Crystal’s performance is good, but it’s not blazing fast. Android 4.4.2 KitKat runs well enough with the 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor if all you’re doing is browsing the web, checking email, sending messages and streaming HD YouTube videos. But its limitations start becoming apparent when you push it harder for things like mobile gaming.
Playing 3D graphic-intensive games like Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt Overdrive leaves much to be desired. They’re playable, but when the zombie hordes start piling on and the car crashes get spectacular, the graphics stutter a bunch. Loading times are also not as speedy as higher-end smartphones.
Internal storage is limited to a paltry 8GB. And you really only get 3.87GB since the Android operating system and the preloaded carrier apps take up the other half. To my surprise, I was able to uninstall some (but not all) of the pre-installed apps. It’s not all bad news; there’s a microSD card slot hidden underneath the back cover which supports memory cards up to 128GB.
The Aquos Crystal is equipped with a 2,040 milliamp-hour (mAh) non-removable battery, which Sharp says is good for up to 13 hours of talk time. In my week of testing, I got around 8-9 hours (brightness set to 50%) pushing the device hard with emails, web browsing, checking social networks and taking pictures. You can stretch that up to about 10 hours if you relax on certain activities and lower the brightness even more.
Harman Kardon-enhanced sound
If you look carefully at the Aquos Crystal’s front, you’ll notice one thing is missing: there is no earpiece. So how, exactly, do you hear phone calls? The Aquos Crystal uses a technology called “Direct Wave Receiver” — the entire screen vibrates sound directly into your ear. Sharp says the feature makes conversations clearer, but I found the opposite to be true.
Calls sounded distorted and more tinny than on other budget Android smartphones
Calls sounded distorted and more tinny than on other budget Android smartphones like the second-generation Moto G. The Direct Wave Receiver technology didn’t improve call clarity when in louder environments, either. I actually found it harder to hear voices on the Aquos Crystal than on devices with an actual earpiece.
The Direct Wave Receiver isn’t the only attempt at improving sound on the Aquos Crystal. Sharp also tossed in Harman Kardon LiveStage and Clari-Fi audio enhancements. LiveStage is supposed to make headphone listening feel like you’re standing right in front of a stage with an artist performing, and Clari-Fi is supposed to restore compressed digital music to the way artists first recorded them in the studio.
I don’t consider myself an expert audiophile, but I enjoyed having Clari-Fi switched on — vocals sounded richer to my ears. I didn’t care much for the LiveStage setting. That said, I asked a six people — three friends and three family members aged 13-37 — to take a listen with both settings turned on and off, and five out of six of them said they didn’t notice a difference.
Pro photographer Chase Jarvis popularized the saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” These days, that camera is our smartphone. Android smartphones are notorious for skimping on the camera and the Aquos Crystal is no exception.
The 8-megapixel rear camera produces some of the grainiest photos I’ve seen on a smartphone. Regardless of lighting, the camera’s imaging chops disappoint. Pictures have so much image noise that they’re not worth looking at on a computer screen.
The 1.2MP front-facing camera isn’t great, either. Not only do selfies look gross (skins tones have all sorts of pixelation), they’re tougher to take than on regular smartphone because the camera itself is located on the bottom chin. It’s recommended that you flip the phone upside down in order to do so. How annoying.
There are 15 shooting modes in total, from the expected “Auto,” “Night Scenery,” and “Monochrome” modes to unnecessary “Food” and “Bleach Bypass” modes. One of the shootings modes called “Mirror” is even more baffling — it’s supposed to “switch cameras from front to back,” but it only ever showed the front camera, and tapping it only froze things.
Decent for $150
The Aquos Crystal is a stylish Android smartphone that definitely gets heads to turn in public. Its lack of bezels around three sides of the display is a big plus for one-handed usage, the Harman Kardon-enhanced sound is a nice touch (if you can hear the difference) and its specs are sufficient for general mobile computing (as long as it isn’t 3D gaming). The only real disappointments are the horrible cameras and the tinny-sounding Direct Wave Receiver technology. Really, they’re just — yuck.
Sharp’s decision to partner with Sprint, the lagging fourth-place U.S. carrier with the least wired 4G LTE coverage, and its prepaid partners, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, also limit the Aquos Crystal’s potential.
Regardless, for $149.99 and no contract on Boost Mobile (Sprint and Virgin Mobile will get it later), the Aquos Crystal is a good deal, as long as you don’t care about taking pretty pictures. If you do care about prettier pictures, it may be worth looking into the $179.99 second-gen Moto G. They’re more or less in the same performance range.
Sharp Aquos Crystal ($149.99)
Bezel-less display on three sides • Harman Kardon Clari-Fi audio boost is nice • Good battery life
Display edges have almost no protection • Mediocre front and rear cameras • Direct Wave Receiver sound isn’t very clear
The Bottom Line
The Sharp Aquos Crystal is a sleek smartphone with a display that looks like it came straight out of Star Wars, however, its display durability is questionable and the cameras on the front and back are just awful.