Sharp still makes smartphones and its latest design is beautiful but a little off

The mobile phone market is a very aggressive one, so it’s no surprise that even big companies bow out eventually. Nokia raised the white flag after numerous failed attempts with both Windows Phone and Android. BlackBerry also closed shop after failing to find a profitable market for its QWERTY phones, while LG opted to focus on its other businesses other than mobile. Some brands, on the other hand, simply downsize their operations, like HTC mostly in China, and Sony only through online shops. Sharp, is part of this latter group, though its presence has been so small you’d hardly notice it still existed. In fact, it just announced its latest handset, and while the Sharp AQUOS R9 looks rather elegant in its simplicity, a single design element, unfortunately, mars its otherwise clean appearance.

Designer: Sharp

When it comes to minimalism, the two cultures that are considered to be the epitome of this style and lifestyle are Scandinavian and Japanese. In that regard, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Sharp’s new smartphone embodies minimalism almost to the extreme. It barely has any branding on the back of the phone aside from the small “AQUOS” and “LEICA” texts in the camera circle. With flat surfaces and edges, plain colors, and the lack of almost any embellishments, the Sharp AQUOS R9 is like a breath of fresh air in the smartphone market.

Unfortunately, it’s because of that very simplicity that your eyes are immediately drawn to the one conspicuous element on the phone’s back: its cameras. The design, while simple, looks a bit skewed, lopsided, and uncertain as if it can’t decide if it wants to be a square or a circle, the two predominant camera designs in the market today. Even more unbalanced, despite being an even number, are the camera lenses, positioned diagonally and off-center and with slightly different sizes. We’ll just have to take Leica’s unspoken word that this is the optimal placement for these cameras.

In terms of hardware, the Sharp AQUOS R9 looks quite competitive, at least on paper. It’s powered by a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 7+ Gen 3 processor with 12GB of RAM, with a large 5,000mAh battery to keep it running. The 6.5-inch Full HD screen boasts TV maker Sharp’s Pro IGZO OLED technology and is capable of 240Hz refresh rates. Those two odd cameras on its back both have 50MP sensors, and the front-facing camera for selfies and video calls has a similar 50MP hardware. As mentioned, Sharp is proudly flaunting LEICA’s brand, indicating how its imaging system has been approved by one of the biggest names in the optics industry.

There’s no word yet on how much the Sharp AQUOS R9 will cost or if it will even be available outside of Japan. It’s definitely an odd design choice, one whose elegant minimalism is juxtaposed with an asymmetrical camera bump. It’s not ugly, for sure, but it’s an appearance that looks a little confusing and disconcerting, creating a bit of a visual discomfort whenever you try to appreciate its clean looks.