Sharp FX Review| By Hillary Borrud
Sharp tries to do many things with its new FX, the successor to the Sidekick line, carried by AT&T. It's a touch screen phone, a texting phone with a slide-out keyboard and a 3G world phone with high-speed voice and data service.
Perhaps as a result of this, many of its components, such as the camera, are sufficient to get the job done for most tasks, but not particularly impressive. The FX also is not particularly eye-catching. On the positive side, this cousin of the Sidekick brand of handsets does feel like it's solidly built, the keyboard is nice for avid texters and the speaker plays back loud, well-rounded audio.
AT&T is currently offering the FX for $100, when you sign a two-year agreement with a minimum $20 messaging service or a qualifying combination of messaging and data services and a $50 mail-in-rebate. Without that deal, the carrier is selling the phone for $300.
The price point is actually a key problem with the Sharp FX. Apple rolled out the iPhone 4 and dropped the price of the 3G to $100, so bar has been raised for other phones in this price range. With AT&T offering the FX for $100 with a contract, the iPhone 3G, with its superior camera and other technology, might be a better deal, unless you really want a keyboard.
When it comes to style, the FX is more is more utilitarian than sexy. It's a bit clunky, and looks like Sharp bundled together the features it wanted without much consideration for aesthetic details to tie them together.
The FX has a matte black exterior, with a slightly rubbery feel, and there are a couple of silver details around the earpiece and one of the navigation buttons. Blue and white backlit keys at a touch of color. The three-inch touch screen appears to resist finger prints, which is nice.
A slide-out keyboard is no longer enough for even handsets targeted at serious texters, and the FX follows the trend of a touch screen and combination. Other examples include the Motorola Droid 2 and Samsung Rogue. Raised keys on the handset's keyboard make it easier for texters to dial or type by touch.
At approximately 5 ounces, the FX is actually slightly lighter than the roughly 6-ounce Droid 2. And in comparison to the range of other slide-out keyboard phones currently on the market, the FX weighs in somewhere in the middle. The FX measures 2.2-by-4.5-by-0.6 inches, making it slightly narrower and shorter than the Droid 2, although just a hair thicker.
The touch screen dial-pad has large, easy-to-use keys and the screen itself is very responsive. As a result, it was easy to dial numbers correctly. The backlit keys on the keyboard are raised to help you text by touch, and they feel solid and well-made. It does take a strong, intentional touch to dial these keys, which minimizes mistakes. It's easy to correct errors made on the keyboard, because the touch screen displays an option to "clear" mistakes.
A couple of difficulties with the keyboard include that number keys are located on the right side of the keyboard, which makes dialing difficult for left handed people who want to use the keys. At least the numbers are laid out in the same, intuitive pattern as a normal handset keypad. Another potential problem with the slide-out keyboard is that the top row of keys is very close to the touch screen, so people with large fingers might struggle to use those particular keys.
In addition to the keyboard, there are three navigation keys on the exterior bottom end of the handset. This includes, from left to right, a send key, a back and multitask key, and an end key. A tiny microphone is located just to the left of these buttons. There is a headset jack on the lower left side of the phone, a volume rocker key on the upper left side of the phone, and a 2-megapixel camera on the upper back of the phone.
On the right side of the phone, there is a lock key near the top to illuminate the screen and bring up animation that prompts you to unlock the screen. And there is a camera key on the bottom right side to activate the camera and camcorder. The back panel on the FX slides off easily with only gentle pressure applied to the lower end of the phone, so it is simple to replace the battery or install or remove a microSD card.
While the FX is clunky in form, it appears to be built to survive a lot of use, with a solid and well-made appearance. A handset with a slide-out keyboard that projects slightly above the rest of the phone, even in its closed position, cannot be called sleek. But the keyboard slides out with a satisfying "thunk" and does not feel like it will break any time soon. Out of the box, the FX comes with a USB cable and power outlet adaptor so the cord can be used to charge the phone. It also comes with a quick start guide and a CD loaded with a manual, interactive tutorial, games and applications.
The 2-megapixel camera on the Sharp FX has 4x zoom and produces images and video with generally realistic colors. However, this handset lacks a flash and the resolution lags behind current market leaders. Want other slide-out keyboard competitors with higher resolution cameras? The Samsung Moment from Sprint has 3.2-megapixels, the Rogue from Verizon with 3-megapixel and Motorola Droid and Droid 2 from Verizon at 5-megapixels. Also, they all feature flashes.
Low resolution has an impact on images and video produced with the FX, which were slightly grainy in indoor light. Color was generally good, but slightly cool toned and overall, images resembled those produced by cutting edge handsets a couple of years ago -- not today's competitors.
The FX camcorder captures video at 15 frames per second -- half the rate of the similarly priced iPhone 3GS video, at 30 frames per second. One benefit of the FX is that you can send live or recorded video during a phone call. Editing options on the FX include white balance, image effects such as sepia and negative and resolution. The image effects also compare poorly to those on other phones, for example sepia colors the image a bright saffron yellow. There is also a self-timer. Video editing options also include effects, resolution and quality. When video was recorded indoors, it was very blurry.
The FX's interface is fairly simple, but not especially attractive or advanced. On the home screen, there is a phone call widget on the left, a shortcut to contacts, a shortcut to AT&T Social Net -- which connects you to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace -- and a main menu widget that brings up a list of applications and functions.
A tap of the finger on the main menu widget brings up a grid of applications, similar to the iPhone layout, and you can similarly swipe left or right to navigate through apps, such as AT&T Navigator, which is available for $10 a month, Mobile Web, AT&T Music to purchase new tracks and play existing ones, Settings, a calculator, trial-version games and Mobile Email. There's also a link to the AppCenter to purchase and download new programs. And you can customize wallpaper and other aspects of the home screen by going to the main menu and selecting settings.
The FX also comes loaded with a full range of AT&T apps, including AT&T Address Book and a music player. It also features an alarm, calendar, notes, to-do list, phone and address book, and AT&T Navigator is available for $10 a month. Voice features on the FX include a hands-free speaker phone, conference calling and call forwarding.
You can multitask with the FX, by using voice and data functions simultaneously. To do so while using one app, simply click on the multitask key at the bottom of the handset. This will bring up a list of common applications and a link to the main menu and home screen. Select the application desired, or go to the main menu for the full list of applications.
The FX is rated for up to three hours of talk time and data usage, and up to 250 hours of standby. This is less than the rating for many other touch screen and keyboard phones. For example, the Droid is rated for 6.4 hours of talk time and 11.3 hours of standby, while the Droid 2 is rated for 9.6 hours of talk time and 13.1 hours of standby.
The FX has solid screen technology -- less than what is currently available on top of the line phones, but still very respectable. Colors on the large 3-inch touch screen are bright, and the TFT, or Thin Film Transistor, LCD screen produces sharper, more brilliant images. Still, the resolution is short of cutting edge and doesn't match up to the iPhone 4.
The touch screen is responsive but not speedy. Some owners have reported the screen freezes, but I didn't see this. The FX's 262,000 colors mean the display is less vibrant than rival 16.7 million color devices, but the Sharp handset has a lot of company in its range. Similarly, many touch-and-keyboard phones have screen resolutions of 240-by-320 pixels, so the FX's 400-by-240 pixel resolution is slightly higher. On the upper end of the spectrum, the Droid and Droid 2 have screens with 480-by-854 pixels.
Another positive feature on the FX is its loud and well-balanced audio, produced by a speaker on the back of the handset. This is great for streaming music from AT&T Radio or tracks on a microSD card. A music player can be accessed through the AT&T Music widget on the main menu of applications. The player allows you to sort music files by genres, artists and albums, and to adjust settings such as repeat, equalizer and shuffle. You can also shop for music, listen to AT&T Radio and access music videos by selecting the AT&T Music widget.
MusicID is loaded on the FX from AT&T, so you can hold the phone up to a music source to identify the song that's playing. To discover or remember the name of a song or the artist producing the music, simply dial 43 and hold the handset up to a speaker for approximately 15 seconds. After someone ends the call, AT&T will send a text message back with the name of the song, for $1 a song.
There is also a built-in FM radio and AT&T Radio app, giving you access to more than 400 music and talk channels, including customized stations. Ringtones are available for download from AT&T, so you can play a favorite song or phase for callers to hear. The FX supports MP3, AAC, eAAC+, AMR and MIDI formats.
FX owners can access Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Mail and AOL Mail, as well as POP3 and IMAP4 accounts. From the home screen, just select Main Menu and scroll down to Mobile Email. The FX includes AIM, Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live too, and you can send live or recorded video during a phone call.
The FX comes loaded with many entertainment options, including AT&T Social Net to connect to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace so you can update your status. As mentioned earlier, there is a music player, MusicID and you can purchase more tracks from AT&T. The handset comes with trial versions of several games installed, including Tetris, Uno and Pac-Man Championship Edition. You can also download games, ringtones, and applications from the AT&T AppCenter. For $10 a month, you can get access to AT&T Mobile TV and watch full-length episodes of their favorite shows on 17 channels, including Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile, MTV, ABC Mobile, CBS Mobile, NBC2Go, the Discovery Channel and others.
With the FX, you can surf the Internet with a HTML browser. It's as simple as going to the main menu and selecting Mobile Web. You can choose to browse in full HTML, or select a "local" tab to find nearby services and events, or "popular" to go to their favorite news, social networking and other websites.
With 80-megabytes of storage, the FX has less memory than other devices on the market. Fortunately, it has a memory slot for up to 32-gigabyte microSD cards. The slot is hidden underneath the back panel and not very accessible, but that's the norm for phones. At least it's easy to slide the pack panel off, by gently applying pressure on the lower end.
Connect the FX with other devices, either with the included USB cord or Bluetooth 2.1. The FX works with hands-free Bluetooth devices and headsets, and also works to remotely control other devices such as televisions and stereos. Dial-up networking lets you use the FX as a wireless modem for a computer, and it can also wirelessly stream audio, or send files, to a Bluetooth device.
The FX bundles many features in one phone, but it doesn't shine in any area except the keyboard. The camera quality was disappointing now that better handsets have higher-resolution lenses that almost compete with point-and-shoot cameras.
But, on the positive side, the FX is sturdily built and the audio quality is good. A good-but-not-great camera may have been fine on a less expensive phone, but for $100 with a two-year agreement and add-ons, and the FX is not a great deal. So unless you really want a slide-out keyboard, go with one of the other phones like the iPhone or Droid 2. ♦
Categories: Fun | Messaging
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