Welcome to future, and it's brought to you by a midrange phone from a company whose last U.S. handset came in 2012. As ridiculous as that may sound, with its bezel-less display, bone-conduction speaker and unusual front camera placement, the Sharp Aquos Crystal for Boost Mobile is one of the boldest smartphones of the year. Although its internals aren't the latest and greatest, the Aquos combines an entrancing 5-inch bezel-less display and $150 price tag (off-contract) for a phone that offers 2018 good looks at a price you can afford now.
Pricing and Plans
On Boost Mobile, the Aquos Crystal costs $150 upfront, with the choice of three tiers of plan pricing. The lowest $35-per-month plan features unlimited talk, and text with 1 GB of 3G/4G data. The next plan up costs $45 a month and increases the data to 5 GB per month, while the most expensive plan costs $55 a month for 10 GB of data.
I love the way Sharp pushes innovative design with the Aquos Crystal, and its appearance is nothing short of first class. The bezel-less display feels like one of those infinity swimming pools: the screen goes on and on until it suddenly disappears. The Crystal is sleek and modern in a way that satisfies contemporary aesthetics and the sci-fi-inspired future I dreamed about as a child. And the fun doesn't stop with the display.
Since the screen is bordered on three sides by nothing but air, there's no room for an earpiece at the top of the phone. Sharp turned the entire 5-inch display into a bone-conduction speaker. Even though it feels a little strange at first, calls sounded crisp and clear, like a voice beamed straight into your head.
The back features a removable white plastic cover with an eggshell-like texture. Going behind the cover reveals the microSIM and microSD card slots, although the battery remains hidden behind a black adhesive shroud.
At 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.39 inches and weighing 4.97 ounces, the Aquos Crystal is noticeably smaller and lighter than the HTC One M8, despite both phones having 5-inch screens. The Crystal is also smaller than the Moto X 2014 (5.2-inch screen). It's even smaller than the 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.27-inch and 4.6-ounce iPhone 6, despite the iPhone's smaller 4.7-inch display, although the Sharp is a little bit thicker and heavier.
Sharp saved some coin on the Aquos Crystal's 5-inch screen by using a 1280 x 720 display, as opposed to the more common 1920 x 1080 displays seen on the Moto X and the HTC One M8. While images and videos aren't quite as crisp as I would have liked, this concession is understandable considering the price.
When I watched Marvel's trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, I noticed a slight orange tint to both Iron Man's shiny red armor and Hulk's normally pea-green skin when compared with other phones. Aside from that, the display features strong blacks, although sometimes images bordered on being a bit too dark. My only other complaint is that at certain acute angles, you can see the white backlight peeking out from the edges of the screen.
At 337 nits, the Aquos Crystal is brighter than the Moto X (268 nits) and the Moto G (300 nits), but falls short of the smartphone average of 366 nits. The HTC One M8 (368) is brighter, while the iPhone 6 shines at 559 nits.
The Aquos Crystal's panel recreated 85.6 percent of the sRGB spectrum on our testing. It's a little disappointing, as Sharp is best known for its display technology. The Moto G (94.2 percent), the HTC One M8 (116.1 percent) and the Moto X (164.7 percent) all do a better job of displaying a wider range of colors.
The Aquos' color accuracy is also slightly below average. Its Delta-E rating of 5.6 (zero is best) is slightly behind the smartphone average of 4.3, the HTC One M8 (4.1), and the Moto G (4.5), and even further behind the iPhone 6 (3.0) and the Moto X (2.5).
The Aquos Crystal's rear-mounted speaker isn't very loud, producing just 68 decibels of volume when measured from 13 inches away. That's nowhere near the volume produced by the HTC One M8 (86 dB), the Moto X 2014 (86 dB), the Moto G (84 dB), or even the IPhone 6 (81 dB).
When I listened to Justice's "New Lands," the highs sounded tinny, with an airy quality that made the music sound vague and indistinct. The sound effects for the brutal hits and tackles also lacked the impact I heard on the One M8 and the iPhone 6.
OS and Interface
The Aquos Crystal runs a fairly standard version of Android 4.4.2, which is now two versions old. Sharp swaps out the standard toolbar for the Lumen toolbar located in the settings, along with a few superficial changes to the UI. You can still access notifications and quick settings with a quick swipe down from the top of the screen, but it takes a couple extra presses to disable features such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, compared to more recent versions of Android.
The home screen is pretty standard, with a toolbar across the bottom for commonly used apps, and a preloaded widget for weather. I would have preferred not to have the Boost Mobile Top Apps widget throwing useless apps in my face, but a simple hold-and-drag is all that's needed to remove it.
The Aquos Crystal wasn't designed to win any speed contests, but its 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU and 1.5GB of RAM had no problem streaming 720p videos from YouTube or playing casual games like Plague Inc. The Crystal also comes with just 8 GB of onboard flash memory, which can be expanded by 128 GB via the microSD Card slot.
As expected, the Crystal's synthetic benchmark scores weren't stellar but fairly good given its low price. On Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, the device scored 1,152, far short of the category average (2,183), but the same as the $180 unlocked Moto G (Snapdragon 400 and 1GB of RAM), which scored 1,153.
The Aquos Crystal fared similarly on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, posting a score of 4,712. That's just a third of the category average, but similar to the Moto G's score of 4,717. This means games like Candy Crush or Dots work just fine, but playing more graphically intense will be more of a challenge.
The Sharp struggled on our video-editing test, taking nearly 11 minutes to convert a 1080p video clip to 480p using the VidTrim app. That's faster than the Moto G's 11:42 but still longer than the 7-minute average.
The Aquos Crystal features two cameras: an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and a 1.2-MP camera up front. The rear camera surprised me with sharp, crisp photos on a par with competing phones like the Moto X, despite having fewer megapixels. The only issue I ran into while shooting was occasional confusion with white balance.
A picture of some apples at the farmers' market in Union Square came out looking pale and with a sickly green tint. On the second shot, the Aquos corrected the white balance to display the luscious red apples in their full juicy freshness. Another shot of some nearby root vegetables showed good exposure, with the Aquos taking care not to blow out the parsnips or the white tarp, while retaining detail in the dark red beets.
One of camera's best features is its framing adviser, which displays lines to help you compose your shots. The Aquos also has additional shooting modes, such as HDR, as well as scene selections for Night, Panorama, Fisheye and more.
The front 1.2-MP camera struggled even with simple shots in good lighting. In a self-portrait, rainbow speckles appeared throughout the picture, while the rest of the photo lacked detail in my hair and shirt, and there was too much softness. And because of the front camera's placement below the display, Sharp suggests you rotate the phone 180 degrees, which is awkward and annoying.
The rear camera also shoots 1280 x 720 videos at 30 fps. In my clip of New York City traffic in the rain, the camera had difficulty maintaining consistent focus, and overall quality was a little softer than I'd like. I liked being able to see raindrops splash on the puddle in front, but audio sounded vague and with too much echo.
Boost Mobile 4G LTE Performance
The Aquos Crystal is exclusive to Sprint and its associated network of carriers, such as Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile. Our Aquos Crystal on Boost saw 4G LTE data rates of 8.8 Mbps down and 3.2 Mbps up at our office in New York City's Flatiron District. This is somewhat faster than what we traditionally get from Sprint; we've seen other handsets barely muster 3 Mbps up or down.
The Sharp Aquos Crystal comes with a few useful apps, such as Clip Now and Office Suite 8. Clip now embeds URLs into your pictures and screen shots, making it easy to share photos on the Web, and Office Suite 8 lets you view and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations.