Remember when phones actually looked different from one another? Sharp does.

Sharp Aquos Crystal
Read our full Sharp Aquos Crystal review.

Phone design is stagnant. We’re surrounding by more dull, faceless copycats than a meeting of the V for Vendetta fan club. Take a look at Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy devices, and it’s almost impossible to tell a Galaxy Core from the Galaxy Grand Neo. Then, just as you settle on which one is which, one turns out to be the Galaxy Fresh. It’s not only Samsung that’s stuck in a rut; LG, HTC, and Nokia all produce identical smartphones not even a mother could tell apart.

We’re surrounding by more dull, faceless copycats than a meeting of the V for Vendetta fan club.

Yes, we’ve seen a few deviations recently, such as the LG Flex and the Galaxy Round, but they haven’t really caught on, due to high pricing or restricted availability. What we want is a company to shake things up, bring something new, and make it available to as many people as possible. Amazingly, we don’t have to dream of such a thing happening anymore.

This month, Sharp, Softbank, and Sprint announced the Sharp Aquos Crystal. It’s an entirely unique design, which uses an almost bezel-less screen, making it look unlike anything else on sale. Put it alongside any other smartphone right now, and it’s instantly recognizable. Even if it was the first time you’d seen the Aquos Crystal, it’s different enough to make you ask what the hell it is. When was the last time that happened?

It wasn’t always like this

The Sharp Aquos Crystal harks back to designs seen in the late 2000s, when touchscreens weren’t really used, and absolutely no-one had uttered the word “phablet.” Fitting an alphanumeric keypad and a modest screen onto a weird body shell was the challenge. This allowed designers to experiment with different shapes, sizes, and form factors. Not everything ended up a style classic, but those that did stood out.

Some examples? How about Nokia’s exquisite 8800 series phones, like the Carbon Arte, or Samsung’s slender U600 slider phone, and Sony Ericsson’s funky T650 or T700. These designs weren’t just experiments, they were regular phones on sale next to the dreary ones. I don’t have my rose-tinted glasses on either, and am happy to admit there were plenty of utterly hideous phones around at the same time too, but even the ugly phones still looked different from each other.

Related: Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha is proof that it’s terrified of iPhone 6

Apart from taking attention away from the specs, it made conversations about who’s phone looked best more interesting. These days, comparing phones with your mates is like hanging out in a locker room, where the only thing that matters is the amount of inches you’re packing.

Cheap, but sexy

Sharp could have given the Aquos Crystal a ridiculously high price, justified by the can’t-get-it-anywhere-else bezel-free screen. Instead, it’s a bargain. The phone will cost $150 on Sprint, Boost, or Virgin Mobile prepaid networks. Not bad for that edge-to-edge 5-inch, 720p screen, and a 1.2GHz quad-core chip, plus an 8-megapixel camera.

Related: Now that the HTC One M8 runs Android and Windows, will anyone choose Windows?

A quick browse through Virgin Mobile’s stock list shows what else you’ll get for $150: The Samsung Galaxy Victory, the HTC Evo V, and the Kyocera Hydro Vibe. All fine phones, but all very dull indeed. Buying one of these dullards over the Aquos Crystal would be a bizarre choice, unless water resistance is essential to you. It’d be like saying “I’ll have that delicious plate of sushi, but I’d rather it was wrapped in cardboard and served under cover of darkness, please.” Why miss out on the usually wonderful visuals such a meal provides?

The industry should pay attention to the Aquos Crystal (just don’t copy it)

We should thank Japanese network Softbank for having the guts to release the Sharp Aquos Crystal in America. After all, it comes from a manufacturer not known internationally for its smartphones, and is headed to wireless carriers that rarely push boundaries. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have received much attention. However, everyone should be looking at the Aquos Crystal, and that includes other manufacturers.

If you’ve wished for a phone that doesn’t look like all the rest, then here it is.

Those of you with disposable income should probably all buy one too, even if it’s rubbish. We need to show the smartphone companies we want phones that look unique, stylish, and don’t cost an absolute fortune. Sadly, there’s a risk this could “inspire” others to simply copy the Aquos Crystal, most of whom are usually on the look out for the next passing bandwagon, and suddenly we won’t have anything but edge-to-edge screens.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, and instead Sharp’s introduction to U.S. stores will convince other Japanese manufacturers to license some of their hardware to prepaid networks. It has been working well for ZTE, and in Japan, there are plenty more examples of fun, funky, and bizarre smartphones to brighten up our world of screens. Just take a look at NEC’s N-05E dual-screen smartphone, and the wealth of special editions from Sony’s Hatsune Miku Xperia phone to Sharp’s super cool, Evangelion-inspired NERV SH-06D device for evidence.

If you’ve wished for a phone that doesn’t look like all the rest, then here it is. Don’t let it disappear without a trace just because it hasn’t got an Apple or Samsung logo on it.


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