The Good: Stylish design; beautiful WQVGA display; solid QWERTY keyboard; 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The Bad: 2 megapixel camera with no flash; sliding mechanism on the keyboard is a bit wobbly; a few strange UI quirks here and there.
The Verdict: The Sharp FX is a great high-end messaging phone, but don't expect it to replace your smartphone. Expect the same limitations and shortcomings that come with all messaging phones.
The Sharp FX is the first Sharp phone to be sold on AT&T. As expected, everyone is comparing it to the Sidekick line of phones that we saw the last of back in 2009. However, whatever the physical similarities are, the FX is a different phone with a different UI and different features. As of the writing of this review, it carries a hefty price tag of nearly one hundred dollars. Is it worth it?
Design and Features
As stated in the outset, the Sharp FX has a very solid and stylish design. It looks somewhat industrial with it's solid black finish and sharp edges, but Sharp has managed to add a sleek feeling to it as well by rounding out the corners on the top and bottom of the device.
The back of the phone is simplistic in feel, as it contains only the camera lens and speaker grill. The front panel of the device houses the 3-inch screen with a WQVGA display that has a resolution of 240 x 400 pixels. Some have said that the colors on the screen look slightly washed out, but I didn't notice that at all. In fact, the screen looks brilliant in my eyes. Granted, it's no Super AMOLED display, but it is definitely a step up from the basic TFT LCD screens that have become standard these days. There is a large bezel area around the screen which may bother some. This is really a personal thing, but it's worth noting. Underneath the display are the Send/Talk, Back/Menu, and End/Power keys. These are hard physical keys that work perfectly.
The left spine of the device contains the volume rocker buttons, the microUSB port, and the 3.5 mm headphone jack. The right spine contains only the camera shutter button and the screen lock/unlock button. These are all positioned very well and I had no problems with any of them. (Hey, I'm just happy to have a 3.5 mm headphone jack.) Sliding the top panel to the right reveals the physical QWERTY keyboard.
Usability and Performance
As stated earlier, this is not another Sidekick reincarnation, so don't expect to see a UI similar to what those phones shipped with. The main home screen contains only a clock and four shortcut buttons for Phone, Contacts, Social Net, and Main Menu. There is a way to get to other features like Social Net, Mobile Web, My Stuff and IM by swiping either down. left, up, or right on the homescreen. The Main Menu is arranged in a basic grid format with three different screens. One thing that got a little annoying is that when you go to the menu, it by default goes to the second menu screen instead of the first one. I'm not sure why AT&T or Sharp decided to do this, but it did become slightly tiresome to have to constantly slide over to the first screen every time.
The capacitive touchscreen worked quite well, but it is definitely not up to par with capacitive touchscreens that are used on most smartphones. Reaction to touch wasn't always perfect and scrolling was sometimes difficult. However, like I said earlier, despite it's high-end features, it does still suffer from the same short-comings of other messaging phones, so it's expected that the touchscreen won't be perfect.
Onto the main event, the keyboard. The keyboard on the Sharp FX is arranged in a grid and the keys are domed. They are more firm and plasticky than other keyboards out there, but after using it and testing it out, this didn't seem to be a problem. The keys are not too slippery so typing was very easy. Another thing that I grew to like about the keyboard design is the short "wall" that is formed on either side of the keyboard by the three bottom Phone keys and the handset speaker. The keyboard also has dedicated period and comma keys which make typing very fast. Overall, the keyboard design is great and easy to use.
The Sharp FX features threaded text messaging with each message being displayed as a speech bubble. It was aesthetically pleasing enough and the interface was simple. The Sharp FX ships with Opera Mini, which means that web browsing will be slightly improved over other messaging phones on the market. Strangely though, the web browser only works in landscape mode. However, speeds were fast enough, though I wouldn't recommend it for any heavy duty surfing. The phone comes with a YellowPages app and a Facebook app which should cut down the need for the web browser dramatically. Both of these apps functioned surprisingly well and the Facebook app almost made me feel like I was using a smartphone.
The 2 megapixel camera took "okay" photos, but I would expect something much better on a device that costs as much as the Sharp FX does. The camera is equipped with no autofocus or flash. The camera specs are almost a slap in the face for a device with this potential and price tag. However, it's there and pictures are decent. Close-up shots come out better than shots from a distance of more than six inches. The camera also captures video though it is only in VGA resolution. Though it doesn't have autofocus, it is equipped with a 4x digital zoom. Overall, I would expect better, but it is sufficient.
The Sharp FX ships with a 1240 mAh battery and it needs all it can get. The first battery charge only lasted a little over one day on standby, but the second charge gave me about two days, some of those two day with heavy use. This is pretty impressive. AT&T's estimates give you only three hours of talk time but 10 days of standby time. I doubt you'll get 10 days, but 2-3 days still isn't bad.
A few other features worth noting are Live TV with media Flo, a microSD card slot that can be used to expand memory up to 64 GB, AT&T GPS, Mobile e-mail, IMing, Facebook, Social Net, and a decent calendar. These features all work very well, but it's worth mentioning that you can get most of them on any AT&T messaging phone. Yes, even the free ones. Call quality on the Sharp was excellent. When talking to a person who was outside on a windy day and in a high traffic area, I couldn't hear anything in the background. I was amazed.
I am very impressed with the Sharp FX. My only complaint is its mediocre camera and slightly wobbly sliding mechanism. The wobble seems to be a problem with other units and not just mine, so this may be something to consider. Otherwise, despite it's less-than-stellar camera specs, the Sharp FX is a great messaging phone. I give it this disclaimer though: Just because it has a capacitive touchscreen, high price tag, and Sidekick feel to it, don't expect it to be perfect. If you do, you'll be disappointed. If you accept it as a messaging phone, then you will be very pleased. Pick up the Sharp FX at any local AT&T store.