Japan’s Sharp Aquos R7 is the cure for bad smartphone design

The Sharp Aquos R7.
Enlarge / The Sharp Aquos R7.

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The latest entry in our ongoing coverage of “cool phones you can’t buy in the US” is the Sharp Aquos R7.

This phone hits Japan in July, and it’s proof that you can make a differentiated smartphone in this day and age. Sharp is no stranger to unique designs, and with the R7, it is correcting many of the baffling design decisions coming from other smartphone manufacturers.

First, Sharp is continuing its trend of shipping absolutely massive camera sensors in its smartphones. The back of the phone is dominated by a single 47.2 MP camera with a 1-inch sensor and a large lens. Most smartphone manufacturers ship three to four questionably useful smaller rear cameras on the back of their devices, but Sharp is giving people one giant camera, which has the potential to produce better-quality pictures.

Next to the huge camera sensor is a tiny 2MP sensor, but a Google translation of the product page calls it a “distance measurement sensor,” so it doesn’t sound like you can take pictures with it.

The display is something to write home about, too. The phone has a Sharp-made 6.6-inch, 2730×1260 IGZO OLED with a best-in-class 240 Hz refresh rate. Best of all, the display is flat, unlike other Android flagships, which insists on using a curved display that distorts the sides of the screen. No manufacturer has ever explained what benefits a curved display brings.

Look at that camera!  Look at that gorgeous flat display and those reasonably sized bezels.
Enlarge / Look at that camera! Look at that gorgeous flat display and those reasonably sized bezels.

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The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 will have to step up to the challenge of rendering Android at 240 fps (good luck with that). Other specs include 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 5000 mAh battery. There’s a microSD slot, IP68 dust and water resistance, a 12 MP front camera, and a USB-C port. Sharp even found room for a top headphone jack.

Another great-sounding feature you can apparently only get on hard-to-find smartphones is Qualcomm’s “3D Sonic Max” fingerprint sensor. This in-screen fingerprint sensor makes a name for itself by being really big. Sharp does not specify its size, but previous presentations have indicated that the sensor is big enough to fit two fingers. A major problem with in-screen fingerprint sensors is that the glass display, which has no tactile indicator for where to put your finger, makes it easy to miss the sensor and fail your fingerprint read. Just making the whole thing bigger is an obvious (though expensive) way to make in-screen fingerprint sensors work more reliably. Qualcomm announced this sensor in 2019, and the number of phones that have adopted it since then is inexplicably in the single digits.

Altogether, the R7 looks like a very interesting slab phone that fixes most of the things we typically complain about in reviews. One big camera, a large fingerprint sensor, a flat display, and a headphone jack? Please, other smartphone manufacturers, take notes.

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