It's sure been a long time since Sharp shipped a smartphone to American consumers. And, let's be honest with ourselves, the FX Plus wasn't exactly taking the market by storm. The Sidekick-esque slider was dated even by 2011 standards. But the company is hoping its AQUOS Crystal will have better fortunes. The (almost) bezel-less device offers high-end looks with decidedly mid-range internals. The 1.2GHz chip inside isn't going to set land-speed records, but it should be enough for most folks. The most important feature, though, is the edge-to-edge 5-inch display. While Sharp's description of it as a "groundbreaking" device might be a little over the top, we must admit it's quite a stunning panel -- especially for being five inches and only 720p.
While we've seen plenty of devices before that claim to be free of bezel, the AQUOS Crystal comes the closest to actually fulfilling that claim. There's only the tiniest sliver of silver around the edges. In fact, it felt much smaller in the hand than many 4.7-inch phones. Even my tiny hands were easily able to reach across the display (a feat that's a bit of a stretch on my aging Galaxy Nexus). Sharp's expertise in building LCDs is obvious when you look at the phone. The screen is bright; the blacks are deep; colors are vibrant; and the viewing angles are solid (though just short of what we'd call impressive). Really the only complaint is that the high-gloss coating produced a ton of reflection and glare in even moderately lit environments.
Fans of the OG Nexus 7 will love the dimpled plastic back. It's not a soft-touch plastic, but the little indents look nice and offer a good amount of grip. You'll appreciate every little bit of traction since this thing is so light you could forget you're holding it. Thankfully, even though it's primarily plastic and weighs about as much as a small bundle of feathers, it still manages to avoid feeling cheap. We wouldn't quite call it "premium," but it certainly doesn't feel like Sharp cut too many corners on the construction. And that's important since this is the company's big reintroduction to American smartphone consumers.
Sharp and Sprint also go easy on the customization, which is nice. There's minimal bloatware and only minor UI tweaks. Otherwise this is the KitKat you've come to know and love. What few changes there are here are actually welcome additions to the Android UI. For instance, swiping diagonally from the top-left corner will take a screenshot and save it to a clipboard along with a related URL for quick and easy sharing. You'll also find Harman's Clari-Fi inside, which is designed to improve the audio quality of compressed audio tracks, like those you'd stream from Spotify. Perhaps most importantly though, it works on Sprint's speedy Spark network.
The AQUOS Crystal will hit Sprint and its prepaid sub-brands soon, though we don't have an exact date just yet. If you pick it up on Sprint, it'll cost you $10 a month with a service plan, or you can get it for $150 from Boost or Virgin.