This month Sharp targets the US with a bezel-free stunner, Sony goes selfie crazy, an ultra low-end smartphone launches in India and two new operating systems hit Asia

[alert type=alert-blue]Sharp Aquos Crystal[/alert]

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The Aquos Crystal could go a long way in establishing Sharp’s credentials as a smartphone maker in the West. Although the electronics manufacturer is predominantly known for its televisions and computer accessories, it has in the past released handsets in various regions to limited success.

The Aquous Crystal could change all that simply because it stands out. Doing away with top and side bezels makes the Aquos unique in the design department. It’s just a shame that Sharp didn’t set the bar high for specs too.

The new handset comes with a 5-inch, 1280 x 720 resolution, edge-to-edge display. Simply making a display wider isn’t enough when the resolution isn’t even full HD. Then again, the mid-range market is severely lacking in design innovation, which has unfortunately been restricted to premium devices.

Additional specs include a paltry 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB storage, a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and a 2000 mAh battery.

Sharp has also taken a page out of HTC’s book, by touting the audio features of the Aquos. The handset comes with Kardon audio capabilities and Harman Clari-Fi technology, which it claims yield deeper, richer and clearer sound quality in regard to compressed music such as MP3s and streaming services.

An 8MP rear-camera and 1.2MP front-facing snapper round out the device’s all-too common specs.

US carrier Sprint will release the handset State-side and the Aquos is also coming to Japan, with the latter to get a larger 5.5 inch variant – the Crystal X – in 2015. It’s unlikely that this version, which also comes with beefed up specs, will make it to the US and, therefore, the rest of the globe.

Sharp hasn’t yet confirmed whether the device will make it to these shores. Ultimately, that will depend upon its success in its launch markets.

[alert type=alert-blue]Sony Xperia C3[/alert]

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Whereas Europe was graced with the mid-range Xperia T3 this month, Sony has thus far saved its far more interesting selfie-phone – the Xperia C3 – for Asia. The device is currently available in China and was rolled out in India earlier this week.

First thing’s first, it’s got a big screen. 5.5 inches to be exact — that’s 0.2 inches larger than the Xperia Z2. It seems that big, slim phones are becoming something of a design staple for Sony, and it’s hard to argue with the thought process. You’re certainly not going to mistake this for a handset made by anyone else, what with its large shiny face and slim, silver lining around the sides of the case.

Whilst the aesthetic is familiar, what’s definitely new is the front-facing camera. It’s the big draw, and with Sony’s Xperia range renowned for its excellent  rear-facing lenses, this is probably a move that should have been expected.

The selfie-cam on the Xperia C3 has 5 megapixels to its name. That’s undoubtedly a lot, but you’d be right in saying that it’s not a particularly high amount. After all, the HTC One M8 has the same specs, as does the Huawei Ascend G6. The Huawei Ascend P7 even has an insane 8 front-facing megapixels.

This hasn’t stopped Sony from proclaiming that the Xperia C3 takes the best selfies in the world though, so we’re certainly looking forward to seeing if it can do the business.

The Xperia C3′s front-facing camera is the only one on a smartphone with a flash though, so that’s something it has going in its favour. It also has a range of AR effects and portrait-retouching abilities, too.

Elsewhere, the device is a lot more ordinary. A 1.2 GHz quad-core processor is the norm for mid-range devices nowadays, and a 2,500 mAh battery plus Android KitKat pre-loaded are nice to have, if nothing to turn heads. That aforementioned 5.5-inch display is 720p HD in resolution, too.

Additionally, it seems Sony is rather fond of selfie-centric products all of a sudden as new leaks show that it is gearing up to release a perfume bottle-shaped selfie camera.

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The device will be exclusive to Asia – where these kind of eccentric selfie products are apparently a thing – and will come in a range of pastel colours. It will also house the lens in what looks like a glass case at the top of the device, much like a perfume bottle. Sony has yet to confirm the rumours.

[alert type=alert-blue]Jolla[/alert]

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Releasing new hardware is one thing, but have you ever wondered why you don’t have more choice in regard to your handset’s OS?

We all know that iOS is exclusive to Apple and that Android and, to a lesser extent, Windows Phone encompass a range of devices. The launch of a self-titled phone from Finnish manufacturer, Jolla, is the company’s bid at gaining wider recognition for its Sailfish OS.

Although the Jolla handset is available in selected markets in Europe, it has never branched out as far as Asia and the device’s success in the region could be make or break for its manufacturer.

Before analysing its chances of success, let’s first look at what makes the Sailfish OS stand out from its competitors. As you can see in the accompanying images, Sailfish has a clean, flat look with curved and rounded icons. Elsewhere, the home and app screens benefit from a minimal design, with green and blue hues to match its aquatic namesake.

Commentators have also pointed out that the Sailfish UI is fast, flexible and intelligent – boasting interactive tutorials, hints and tips and regular updates.

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In terms of its handset, the Jolla has been upgraded for its Asia launch with new interactive energy saving functions that show the time and notifications without the user having to access the home screen. This, claims its manufacturer, saves battery power as it allows a quick check of the phone without having to rely on all its circuits.

Its main specs are generally mid-range. The likes of a 1.4 GHZ dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor and 4.5 inch display with 540 x 960 resolution don’t match its hefty €349 ( £277) price tag.

Started by several former Nokia employees, Jolla is intent on challenging the top three OS platforms. It’s partnership with Three in Hong Kong should give it an added boost. In terms of long-term success, however, chances are Sailfish may end up being more of a niche OS rather than a major rival.

[alert type=alert-blue]Intex Cloud FX[/alert]

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If Jolla is aiming big with Sailfish, then the Intex Cloud FX and its Firefox OS platform is comparatively starting from the bottom. The new handset has launched in India with an entry-level price tag of Rs.1999 ( £20).

Judging by the price, Firefox’s strategy with its OS is to partner with basic devices to capture India’s thriving entry-level market with the hopes of making it onto high-end phones in the long-term.

For those unfamiliar with the Firefox OS, it is developed by Mozilla – the same company behind the web browser. It has been around since mid 2013, when it made its debut on a ZTE device. Mozilla’s plans are to launch the OS on tablets and smart TVs in the future.

Unfortunately for a fledgling OS such as Firefox it has already come under a lot of fire, with detractors claiming it looks like Android but does not run as well.

Similarities aside, the major difference between the two platforms is that Firefox runs HTML5 web-based apps, which is basically like installing a mobile-optimised website on your phone to be used like an app. This relegates the need for an app store. It works by allowing users to find apps using the built-in search engine – accessible from the home screen – by using keywords. For example, if you type in a band name it will display a range of music apps, which you can then try before you even download them.

Oddly, Firefox decided to include an app store anyway. Entitled Marketplace, it is basically a store that offers all the best apps for the phone in one convenient location.

The specs on the Cloud FX are as low as you can go. The handset comes with a   3.5 inch display, a 1GHz Spreadtrum processor and 128 MB of RAM. For that price, you get what analysts claim is a far-from “sluggish” phone that does what it sets out to do and nothing more.

The jury is still out on Firefox’s chances for success and whether it is a truly flexible OS that can adapt to a range of devices. However, if it can perform well at the lower-end of the price bracket then an upgrade could be an exciting prospect.

[alert type=alert-blue]ZTE Blade Vec 4G[/alert]

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The launch of a trio of mid-range phones in Asia by Chinese manufacturer ZTE hints at its intentions for a global push in the sector. It’s not a bad move from ZTE, which is fully capable of making solid handsets across the spectrum (including the ZTE Nubia X6 and Nubia Z7). Add to that the fact that any sort of innovation in the mid-range sector will be greeted positively, as it’s a market lacking any boundary-pushing devices. But what exactly is ZTE offering?

By far the most notable handset out of the three released in Singapore this month is the ZTE Blade Vec 4G. The Blade is the only new ZTE device to contain 4G LTE capability. The ultra-thin, 5-inch handset has a depth of only 7.8mm, making it slim and sleek yet large enough to please fans of big displays. ZTE has also taken a page out of Huawei’s design book, as the handset emulates the rigidly straight sides and curved top and bottom panels of the Ascend P7.

Elsewhere, the specs are very much as mid-range as you can get for the asking price of SG$299 ( £144). The Blade Vec is powered by a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor, as well as 1GB RAM. It comes with an 8MP rear camera and a 1MP front-facing snapper.

The other ZTE handsets include the non-LTE KIS 3 – an entry-level device – and the similar Blade L2.

Saqib Shah

Tech/gaming journalist for What Mobile magazine and website. Interests include film, digital media and foreign affairs.
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