What's hot: Tons of multimedia features and services, a nice social networking app.
What's not: Serviceable but uninspired phone UI, speakerphone has a noticeable buzz.
Reviewed August 8, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Now that Microsoft has officially canned the Kin devices, Sharp is looking for new partners to OEM phones. And for Sharp, QWERTY phones are their forte. The Sharp FX looks similar to the Sidekick devices (also made by Sharp) from T-Mobile (sans the trackball), and it’s a good fit in AT&T's messaging line up. QuickFire fans who loved the form but found the hardware lacking will find the Sharp FX a very capable replacement and then some. And most of all, the Sharp FX is a stable phone.
The Sharp FX has a 2 megapixel camera, a resistive touch screen, built-in Bluetooth and a GPS that works with AT&T Navigator. It also has broadcast mobile Flo TV, AT&T’s streaming mobile video, a music player with Napster music store support, full messaging and an HTML web browser. The Sharp FX is a quad band GSM phone with 3G support on AT&T’s UMTS/HSDPA bands.
If you have used or seen the Sidekick phones you’ll see the resemblance in the Sharp FX. The Sharp FX has done away with the trackball and swivel flip found on the Sidekick phones; instead it has a slide-up touch screen and a menu button sitting between the call send and end buttons. It’s also smaller than the Sidekick phones, measuring 4.5 x 2.2 x .60 inches. The 4-row QWERTY keyboard on the Sharp FX has large keys and backlight, and they click when you press them. They don’t have a lot of travel however, but they are easy to use. The 3” display is 400 x 240 resolution and is a resistive touch screen, so no pinch-zooming or multi-touch support. The display doesn’t support accelerometer, but it changes screen orientation when you open or close the slider. The screen looks quite bright and is viewable outdoors.
Side buttons include volume buttons, a dedicated camera button and screen lock button. The Sharp FX also has a 3.5mm stereo headset jack. Both SIM card and microSD card slots live under the battery door, but only the SIM card slot requires battery removal to gain access.
The software UI is also completely different from the Sidekick UI on the Sharp FX. You get a simple icon based menu screen and list submenus that look very basic.
Phone, Messaging and Web
The Sharp FX has average reception and usually gets 2-3 bars out of 5 in our middling reception area. It has not dropped a call on AT&T. Voice quality is also average; it’s not crisp but it holds a conversation smoothly. The phone has a standard 3.5mm headset jack and Bluetooth v2.1 for hands-free calling options, but no built-in voice dialing. The Sharp FX has 80MB internal storage and an address book that can hold 500 entries. You can also store 8 speed dialing numbers and 10 groups for your contacts. The phone supports common call features including three-way calling, caller ID and more. The Sharp FX also supports AT&T’s Video Share calling with other Video Share users.
The Sharp FX has full messaging support including SMS, MMS, web-based email and mobile IM. Web-based email includes AT&T email, AOL, Yahoo!, Gmail and Windows Live; and mobile IM includes AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger. The Sharp FX also has Facebook, Myspace and Twitter under AT&T Social Net interface (powered by iskoot), which integrates updates from all social networks, and RSS feeds into one place.
For Web browsing, the Sharp FX comes with the Polaris 6.1.5 web browser that can display full HTML pages. Pages load at a good speed via AT&T’s 3G and most layouts and images are intact on full HTML sites. Since the Sharp FX has a resistive touch screen, you can’t use pinch-zooming, but the Web browser offers full page view and a zoomed in view that presents most pages in a very readable font size.
Sidekick fans never really got a lot of multimedia love, but AT&T showers the Sharp FX with all the multimedia services that it has to offer. These include mobile digital TV by MediaFLO, AT&T’s mobile video, a music player with AT&T music store integration, AT&T video, radio, music ID and more. The built-in music player works with MP3, AAC, eAAC+, AMR and MIDI files. We tested unprotected iTunes songs on the Sharp FX, and they played fine. The loudspeaker on the Sharp FX has a noticeable buzz at any volume and audio through the speaker sounds thin. For a better music playback experience, bypass the speaker and use a 3.5mm stereo headset. Audio through a stereo headset sounds full with good bass. You can play your own music from a microSD card, or buy music from AT&T’s music store powered by Napster. Music tracks usually sell for a pricey $1.99/song, and the buffering speed and download speed are good via AT&T’s 3G.
Mobile digital TV has good performance and requires an additional monthly fee. Audio is in sync with video, and videos look reasonably sharp in full screen playback mode. Mobile TV offers 17 prime time and sports channels including ABC Mobile, CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, Discovery, ESPN Mobile, Fox Mobile, MTV, Nickelodeon and more. The channels run full-length programming, just like on TV, and the service costs $9.99/month. The service uses an antenna to receive digital TV broadcasts and doesn’t use the data connection.
AT&T’s own on-demand streaming mobile video (formerly known as CV) is also onboard. The on-demand videos streaming is a bit slower compared to mobile TV playback; audio often lags behind video. But they are certainly watchable, and if you have unlimited data plan, mobile video is free. It also offers a lot more channels and programs than mobile digital TV. CV uses the phone’s data connection and requires a data plan.
The Sharp FX has good GPS performance when working with AT&T Navigator powered by TeleNav. The phone gets fixes fast and maps load at a decent speed. Turn-by-turn directions are accurate and voice guidance is on target. The phone feels speedy when routing and re-routing trips on fly, and searches are quite fast. The 3” screen looks good when displaying maps and driving directions. The only thing that subtracts from an otherwise a very enjoyable GPS experience is the buzzy speaker.
The 2 megapixel camera on the Sharp FX can take still images and record video with audio. Pictures have typical 2-megapixel camera imaging quality with a decent amount of detail but also noticeable noise. The colors in these photos are a bit dark. Videos taken with the camera look decent and audio is in sync with video. The camera software offers the usual settings including white balance, effects, fun frames, self timer and more. The software is a bit flaky though: it often snaps a photo but doesn’t save it to the phone or to the microSD card. Hopefully a future update will fix this problem.
The Sharp FX comes with a 3.7V rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that’s 1,240mAh in capacity. The battery life is good in standby, reaching about a week. The battery can handle 3-4 days of moderate phone calls, texting, email and some light web surfing. But if you use navigation for a long trip, watch videos or constantly check social network feeds, the phone will require charging every other day.
The Sharp FX is the perfect replacement for the QuickFire in both form factor and features. Though it’s not a smartphone, you do get a lot of features including a full compliment of AT&T’s MediaNet services and digital mobile TV, GPS with AT&T Navigator support, a nice social networking app and a full HTML web browser. Other things it has going for it include a large keyboard, good 3G speed and a 3.5mm stereo audio jack. The resistive touch screen is a good entry point for touch screen users, but won’t impress the capacitive screen fans. Battery life could be better.
Pro: Ton of multimedia features and services, a nice social networking app.
Con: Battery life could be better, speakerphone has a noticeable buzz.
Price: $99 with a 2-year contract after discounts. $249.99 without a contract.