Sharp FX Plus venturing beyond Walmart this month, we go hands-on

If you haven't heard of the Sharp FX Plus, you must not be the type to troll the halls of your local Walmart. The phone went on sale there a few weeks back, and a PCD rep just confirmed it'll soon venture outside Walmart's massive aisles, hitting select AT&T stores "channels" by the end of the month. We spotted it tonight as we were wandering around a New York City media event. There it was, sitting on a lone table, overshadowed by the likes of the HTC Thunderbolt and Incredible 2. Alas, the device on hand wasn't active, so we didn't get to peek the software / performance, but hit the break for some quickie impressions of just how much hardware this free phone'll get you.

At first glance, this Sidekick-esque phone might not seem worth a second look, what with its Froyo and skimpy 512MB of internal memory. Indeed, a flagship handset this is not, but we still came away rather impressed by the build quality. What sold us is the spring-loaded sliding action -- the 3.2-inch display pushes open with a good deal of bounce, but it still feels firm, controlled. Even the keys aren't bad, though they are flat enough that we can see ourselves tiring of them for long texting sessions. Those front-facing physical buttons -- menu, home, backward and search keys -- all have a pleasant, tactile feel to them -- not too mushy, but not stiff and chintzy either.

All told, it's not bad, considering it's free with a two-year agreement (it's $350 without). We'll be honest: we're skeptical that it beats the Motorola Triumph on Virgin Mobile, which costs $300 off contract, has a slimmer design, a larger 4.1-inch display, 2GB of internal storage and -- wonder of all wonders -- vanilla Android. Still, it seems like a surprisingly well built phone considering it comes gratis. Peek our hands-on photos and if you're Walmart-averse, fear no more.