I'm not sure if the featurephone is dead or not, but phone manufacturers seem to think they are because they're flipping them all into smartphones. I can understand making the Sidekick a smartphone, especially considering its popularity and the power that was put into the new phone - 4G, 1GHZ processor, etc. What I can't understand is when manufacturers turn perfectly good featurephones into barely-smartphones. The Sharp FX was one of the best messaging phones to date. The FX Plus is on the fringe of what you would call a smartphone. True, "everyone" is supposedly migrating to smartphones, but they wouldn't all have to if manufacturers and carriers didn't get rid of all of their decent featurephones. What's not fair to the customer is that, not knowing any better, they may buy a phone like the Sharp FX Plus thinking that the original was so good, the follow-up must be even better now that it's a smartphone. Granted, a smartphone is more useful than a featurephone, but not by much when that smartphone is packed with what the FX Plus is.
The FX Plus was not a complete disappointment; those above statements may have been too negative. There are some areas where the phone surprised me. Would I recommend it to anyone? Well, you'll just have to read the review to find out.
Design & Features
The original Sharp FX had a unique design, but one of my complaints was it was too thick and bulky. Sharp has done an excellent job of keeping that same great design, but slimming down the hardware. Along with that, Sharp has rounded-out the edges on the FX Plus, which makes it feel even thinner than it really is. The change from being .58-inches thick to now .56-inches thick may not seem like that much, but it certainly feels a lot better in the hand. The design is very similar to the Sidekick, but trust me, these are two completely different devices.
I'm disappointed in the quality of the FX Plus' touchscreen panel. It's made out of plastic, which is to be expected with a device of this caliber, but it hardly compares to the quality of other low-end smartphones also offered by AT&T. The plastic is rough and somewhat sticky. I originally thought that the texture was due to some residue being left over from the screen protector that ships on all phones; however, after testing the phone and using it for a week, I know that this is simply the way the panel feels because of being made out of plastic. Therefore, it is not always responsive to touch, scrolling and swiping is not always smooth, and pinching and zooming can be a pain. Everyone has to be willing to make sacrifices when buying a low-end product, it just depends on what sacrifices you're willing to make.
Of course, the FX Plus does not have a spectacular display, but its resolution of 320x480 is standard for this kind of device. Overall, it looks great, but I had problems with responsiveness, as I detailed in the paragraph above. Being 3.2-inches, this may be too small for some, but keep in mind that when typing, you're going to be using the physical keyboard so you won't have to cram your thumbs onto the small panel.
The four typical Android buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search are situated below the display on the bottom lip of the keyboard panel that curves up to form a molding for the top panel. These are physical keys and not touch-sensitive. There is a camera button on the right side of the phone along with the Power/Screen Lock button. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top of the phone and the microUSB port is on the left side of the phone above the volume rocker buttons. In order to access the microSD card slot, you much first remove the battery cover. It is not necessary to remove the battery to access the slot. The FX Plus ships with a 2GB card and supports up to 32GB to supplement the phone's 138MB of user available memory. The phone does not have an LED notification light.
The FX Plus is made entirely out of black-colored plastic with a metallic accent band around the spine. It has some weight to it, but only enough to keep it from feeling cheap and hollow. The sliding mechanism on the unit I have is a little wobbly so it's hard to get a firm grip on the phone. However, there is generally no need to grasp it with an iron grip so this shouldn't be a problem.
Usability & Performance
You never know what you're going to get with a low-end smartphone in terms of performance. I've tested phones in this tier with excellent performance and little to no lag, but I've also tested phones with similar specs and hardware that were burdensome to use. The numbers may not seem impressive, but I approached the FX Plus and its 600 MHz Qualcomm processor with an open mind and high hopes that it would offer performance more like the first group I mentioned. I can't fairly say that I'm disappointed because, again, there's always a chance that a low-end phone will perform, well, as a low-end phone, and there's nothing wrong with that. When you buy the Sharp FX Plus, expect to have that kind of experience. It suffers from lag and the sometimes unresponsive screen doesn't help. Pinching and zooming is slow and it takes a few seconds for the processor to catch up. When web browsing, I would strongly suggest that you turn off Flash, otherwise you're experience will be slow and painful. That being said, it could be worse. General, everyday tasks were sufficiently handled by the processor with mild lag.
What probably helps the processor keep up is the fact that Sharp's custom UI that has been added on top of Android is not heavy and doesn't include too many customizations. Most of what Sharp has changed is basically what you see on your homepage - a few new widgets, a custom dock, and a darkened status bar. Other than that, you're working with stock Android 2.2.2.
Let's go into more detail on these customizations that Sharp has added. The dock at the bottom of the homescreen contains shortcuts for Phone, Messaging, Web, and the App Drawer. These shortcuts cannot be changed or customized. By way of widgets, Sharp has added a simple digital clock, a similarly-designed dual clock, a nearly full-page calendar widget, and a large digital clock that shows the current weather as well as the forecast for the next two days. This clock supports multiple locations and you can easily switch locations right on the homescreen. Along with these new widgets, Sharp has customized the look of the Android Messaging widget and analog clock widget. Sharp's UI is fun and colorful. Once you dig deeper than the homescreen, even as shallow as the notification menu, you're presented with a basic build of Android.
The FX Plus' keyboard is absolutely fantastic. I tend to be extremely picky when it comes to physical keyboards, but the QWERTY that is packed onto the FX Plus is spot-on in several ways. First of all, if you've seen or used the keyboard on the original Sharp FX, forget about it entirely. This new keyboard is nothing like the original. The keys are flat, a drastic change from the original keyboard's large, bubble-style keys. Though they're flat, the keys aren't completely flush with the surface; they are raised slightly above it. To make up for flat keys with no rounded design, this new keyboard has island-style keys, making it very easy to differentiate between each key. On top of that, the keys are very rubbery and grippy. I don't mean rubbery as in mushy and so soft that you don't feel like you're pressing anything. No, the keys are firm enough, but the added grip means that traction is excellent and deliberate typing is much easier. What adds to the typing experience is that the space bar is not crammed in a row of letters and there are dedicated keys for the period and the comma. In my opinion, Sharp nailed it with this keyboard. I'm not going to say that it's the best one I've ever used, but it's certainly up there on my list. The one down-side is that it is rather small - probably only 2.5-inches across. For my small hands this was fine, but I can imagine that it might be a problem for those with larger thumbs. It would be wise to check out the phone in a store so you can test this out for yourself. Other than that, the keyboard is excellent.
I was a bit skeptical when I read the spec sheet for the FX Plus and saw that it ships with a 3-megapixel camera. I thought, 'Here we go again. Another featurephone camera slapped onto a smartphone.' Granted, this camera has an autofocus, but I still wasn't expecting much by way of picture quality. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the camera actually took decent pictures. 'Decent pictures', that is, for a 3-megapixel camera. Though details weren't excellent, color saturation was good and, best of all, pictures were not grainy.There is no flash, so pictures taken in low-light settings will suffer in quality, but overall, I was very impressed by the camera. The FX Plus' camera also captures VGA video but video and audio quality left much to be desired.
The original Sharp FX, a simple featurephone, shipped with a 1240 mAh battery so I was surprised to find that the Sharp FX Plus, a full-fledged Android smartphone, ships with the same sized battery. As expected, battery life was mediocre, but not much worse than what you'll get with any other Android smartphone. I've never tested an Android device that consistently lasted longer than one day of normal use. Obviously, battery life will depend on your usage habits, but in my testing it lasted a little over 30 hours on standby and nearly a day with light to normal use. If you use your device heavily, then you may want to carry a charger with you.
The FX Plus supports AT&T's EDGE network using the 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz frequency bands and the carrier's HSPA network on the 850, 1900, and 2100 MHz frequency bands. The phone, of course, supports WiFi, but 3G speeds were decent while testing it in the Dallas, TX area. I've experienced some inconsistency with AT&T's data network in the past and the FX Plus suffered from those same problems. SpeedTest.net registered speeds of 1.5-1.7 Mbps for downloads, but there were also lows of 400-700 kbps. Still, the lows weren't too low, the highs were great, and the overall web browsing experience was decent.
Call quality using the Sharp FX Plus was good, but with a few choppy calls here and there. Again, these are similar problems that I've had with AT&T's network in the past and aren't necessarily the phone's fault. When it comes to 3G speeds and call quality, performance will largely depend on coverage in your area.
The Sharp FX Plus may look like the Sidekick, but it's not even close. That being said, as long as you have reasonable expectations and know what you're buying (a low-end smartphone), then you won't be too disappointed. Sharp has improved several aspects from the original FX, namely, the keyboard and the camera. On the other hand, it's hard to get past the display - its texture and unresponsiveness. I would recommend choosing another phone from AT&T, perhaps the HTC Status or the LG Phoenix, both of which performed much better than the FX Plus.
What's Good: Excellent physical keyboard; surprisingly good camera quality; slimmed-down, sleek design; Sharp's UI adds just enough to keep it interesting.
What's Bad: Low screen quality results in a rough texture and unresponsiveness; slow processor performance; terrible video capture quality.
The Verdict: It may seem like there are more Pros than Cons, but the Cons are huge problems and the Pros hardly make up for them. Check into something else offered by AT&T.