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Sharp Aquos R7 Hands-On: Sharp needs to take more credit for being the first

When we talk about smartphone OEMs at the forefront of innovation, we don’t particularly repeat the name “Sharp” often, despite all of its contributions to the phone scene as it stands today. While the beginning is kind of murky, Sharp was supposedly one of the first to introduce an integrated camera on the phone, allowing people in Japan to take photos and send them to loved ones while on the go. Simply put, it was revolutionary. Sharp has consistently delivered innovation and has had many “world’s first” moments over the past three decades. Yet, we rarely talk about the company. With the release of the Sharp Aquos R7, we thought it would be the perfect time to celebrate the phone, and the company, by giving it some more time in the spotlight.

The history of Sharp and its innovations

There is a lot of debate about which company produced the first phone with an integrated camera, but a name that always comes up in conversation is Sharp. The company debuted the J-SH04 on the Japanese wireless carrier J-Phone (Softbank Mobile) towards the tail end of 2000, and it featured a 0.11MP sensor with a 256-color display. The company continued to push technology forward over the years, debuting the Sharp TM150 on T-Mobile and becoming the first 1MP phone on the U.S. market.

Sharp 905SH with antenna out

Sharp Aquos 905SH | Sharp Japan

Later, Sharp introduced a phone that could rotate its display by 90 degrees, making it the world’s first phone to allow users to watch TV horizontally while multitasking by making calls and authoring emails. Although multitasking is common now, you can imagine how much of a big deal it was back in 2006.

Sharp Aquos Crystal

Sharp Aquos Crystal | Sharp Japan

Moving on to Android handsets, Sharp delivered several innovations on the shoulder of its IGZO display technology. The Sharp Aquos Crystal gave consumers a glimpse of the future of smartphones with its frame-less design. Although it never really reached great heights, the device was stunning. Sharp doubled down on the design, releasing the Crystal 2 and the further refined follow-up, the Sharp Aquos Xx.

Is it okay to take false credit? Does it matter?

Sharp took another leap and leveraged its display technology again, debuting its first Android smartphone with a 120Hz display. The device arrived in Japan in 2015, predating the Razer Phone that touted its technology as the “world’s first” when it was released in 2017. Of course, this phone also relied on Sharp’s technology, but there wasn’t much light shed on the company or its technology. However, we highlighted this fact in our extensive Razer Phone Display Analysis.

In 2017, Sharp became the world’s first to introduce a teardrop cutout on its display, beating Essential to the punch. Sharp’s entry would go unnoticed, mainly because it wasn’t on a global stage, and Essential’s PR machine did a great job of taking the limelight.

Sharp Aquos R2 Compact with its dual cut out display

Sharp Aquos R2 Compact | Sharp Japan

Sharp made waves again with the debut of its Aquos R2 Compact, a smartphone that introduced the world to a dual cutout display. The company chose this route because it wanted to maximize the screen size on its device. Sure, it’s an acquired taste, but at least Sharp was pushing the limits of what can be achieved regarding design and functionality.

Sharp routinely lets others take credit for being the first innovator

The Sharp Aquos R6 came and went, but it had the community excited for a moment with its 1-inch camera sensor. It technically wasn’t the first to do it, but it was the first to do it in the body of a smartphone. The camera was created and calibrated in collaboration with Leica. It offered top-tier specifications like a 240Hz display and was unlike anything else until Leica debuted it’s Leitz Phone 1. While it made several cosmetic changes to its phone, the underpinnings were the same as the Sharp Aquos R6.

The Sharp Aquos R7 was announced in May but only recently made its retail debut in Japan. Despite offering a top-of-the-line processor, the main draw for this phone is its 240Hz display and 47MP camera, which is co-developed by Leica. The Sharp Aquos R7 has a 1-inch Sony IMX989 sensor, and while the company was technically first to market, Xiaomi has taken it upon itself to tout that it’s recently announced Xiaomi 12S Ultra was, in fact, the first. There is a technicality here, in that Sharp has likely cropped the sensor to use a smaller lens format while Xiaomi hasn’t, leaving both of them be the “first” in different ways. But still, Sharp needs some credit here.

Hands-on with the Sharp Aquos R7

While we don’t have a thorough hands-on of the Sharp Aquos R7, we did get some time with it at the local store in Japan (and a longer review is coming soon!). Since the device is a bit on the pricier side, it did take a couple of tries to be able to check out a live unit, as some stores just had dummy units. From a first impressions perspective, the phone is large but feels comfortable in hand. The exterior wasn’t cold to the touch or slippery, and the staff informed me that it was made from “擦りガラス” or frosted glass (while I know the phone claims to have Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back). The aluminum sides of the phone are squared off but have a soft edge that makes the phone a pleasure to hold.

Sharp Aquos R7 Black and Silver

The display on the phone looked great for being in an indoor, well-lit environment. While it was hard to see every little detail, the colors looked punchy, thanks to Sharp’s IGZO OLED display. There was even a demo on the phone that allowed a user to punch up the brightness to its full potential of 2,000 nits and enable its 240Hz refresh rate. Beyond that, the setting menu was locked out. Speaking with the staff on hand, they showed me the box, which was quite slim. Judging from my reaction, they let me know that the retail box only contained a couple of manuals, a USB-C to USB-A adapter, and sadly, no charging adapter or cable.

pricing for the Sharp R7

The price point on this phone is relatively high, coming in at ¥189,360, which, when converted, equals around $1400. Right now, the Japanese currency is pretty weak, and even then, the price is eye-watering. Because of this, most people in Japan will likely never purchase it. For those genuinely interested, the wireless carrier in Japan offers a 48-month plan to pay it off. That’s a monthly payment of ¥3,945 ($28) over four years for a smartphone.

Luckily, most of us won’t have to debate whether to buy this phone. We won’t ever see or touch this device, as Sharp will never bring it to a global audience. While it has offered and continues to offer stunning and impressive devices, Sharp doesn’t ever intend to drive the industry in its home territory or other parts of the world. It will let others like Sony, Xiaomi, or whoever else take credit for being the first innovator. It is a role that Sharp has played for years, and I think by now, you can probably see the pattern.

    Sharp Aquos R7

    The Sharp Aquos R7 is one of only a handful of smartphones on the market with a 1-inch camera sensor.

Sharp has accomplished a lot of “world’s firsts” by moving the needle forward and it continues to do so. It won’t ever be a leader in the smartphone world (speaking in terms of monetary business success), but I think it’s okay to take this time to recognize Sharp, even if it will only be for a small moment. Thank you, Sharp, and continue innovating.

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