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7 unique smartphones you’ve likely never heard of
Back in 2012 we wrote a piece on phones you’ve probably never heard of. At the time, brands mention included Xiaomi, BLU, THL, among others. Something big has happened in the Android world since then: many of these names are actually reasonably well known these days, thanks to growth in global sales and websites like ours that help bring lesser known devices to light.
That said, there’s still a host of devices that are largely unheard of for those in the Western markets. While not all of them are winners on the spec front, many stand out either due to aggressive pricing, unique designs, build materials or even just having massive batteries. With that in mind, we take a look at seven devices that you may have never heard of, or at the very least they aren’t the first devices or brands that come to your mind when you think of Android.
Sharp Aquos Crystal X
Historically speaking, Sharp hasn’t been a brand that we associate with the mobile world, at least not outside of making displays. Of course, this isn’t the same case in Japan, where the company uses its display prowess to develop unique devices in the Aquos family.
Recently, thanks to Sprint, we got our first taste of the Aquos line with the Sharp Aquos Crystal, a mid-range device with ultra-thin bezels. While the phone didn’t pack the most impressive specs (720p display, Snapdragon 400 CPU, etc), in Japan there’s a higher-end model, dubbed the Crystal X, that packs the same ultra-thin bezel design but touts flagship level specs.
- 5.5-inch S-CG-Silicon LCD display with 1080 x 1920 resolution
- 2.3GHz Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU
- 2GB of RAM
- 16GB, microSD (SD, SDHC, SDXC) expansion
- 12.8MP rear cam, 1.2MP front cam
- 2610 mAh Li-Ion battery
- 73 x 139 x 11 mm, 157g
- Android 4.4.4 KitKat
As you can see, while not carrying the latest processing package available, the Sharp Aquos Crystal X has pretty decent specs. Of course, the Sharp Aquos Crystal X’s biggest call to fame is its ultra-thin bezels. That said, thin bezels aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, as some folks may not care for the design. Additionally, thin bezels could also make the phone more susceptible to cracks and damage if dropped.
Getting your hands on the phone will set you back around 23000 Japanese Yen, or roughly $194.14, on Amazon Japan. Keep in mind that’s a Softbank model, and likely requires a contract.
While the Crystal X stands out for solid specs and ultra-thin bezels, the Fairphone’s call to fame isn’t in the spec sheet. Instead, the Fairphone aims to be the first “ethically sourced” smartphone on the market. In other words, Fairphone does its best to make sure the materials used for its phones are from conflict-free resources and that the workers involved are paid reasonable working wages and are treated as fairly as possible. We’ve actually reported about the Fairphone in the past, though our last article was nearly two years ago!
Fast-forwarding to today, the phone produced limited runs in 2013 and 2014. For 2015 they aim to reportedly create a newer model with refreshed specs, and so until that happens it will be nearly impossible to get ahold of one directly through Fairphone. Thankfully a number of partnering retailers in the UK still offer up the original phone model for those interested.
- 4.3-inch IPS LCD display with 960 x 540 display
- 1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek MTK6589
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB, microSD up to 64GB
- 8MP rear shooter, 1.3MP front cam
- 2000 mAh battery
- 126 x 63.5 x 10 mm, 170g
- Fairphone OS (based on Android 4.2.2 KitKat)
- Compatible networks GSM 850 900 1800 1900
Spec-wise, this is far from the ‘best’, but we felt its goals were admirable enough that it should still be highlighted as one of the “best ideas” that most of us have never heard of. Here’s to hoping that in 2015 they are able to continue their goal of creating an ethically sourced device, while also bringing us a bit more impressive specs.
Wondering how “fair priced” the Fairphone is? At least through one UK site we found it for 250.00 British Pound Sterling, or about $384.44. That alone would be a hefty price for a MediaTek phone, but it is even worse when you consider that this price is for a 24 month contract! We suppose getting parts for an ethically sourced phone simply doesn’t come cheap.
Lumigon T2 HD
Sharp stands out for bezels, Fairphone for its goal of creating a device that’s made from conflict-free materials. So what makes the Lumington T2 HD stand out? Besides the fact that probably few of you have ever heard of the phone or the brand, the Danish handset maker boasts that its phones are not only extremely premium, but highly durable.
The T2 HD is made from stainless steel and features Gorilla Glass 3 to protect the screen. Whether you find its design appealing is probably a matter of taste, though it certainly stands out due to the stainless frame and the inclusion of a unique charging dock.
- 4.3-inch display with 720p resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro with Andreno 320
- 2GB of RAM
- 32GB or 128GB storage
- 13MP rear shooter with flash and backside illumination sensor, 2.4 MP front cam
- 6.4 Wh built-in Li-ion battery
- Android 4.4.2
- Compatible networks: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz, 3G/UMTS 900 / 2100 MHz, 4G/LTE 800 / 1800 / 2600 MHz, LTE 100Mbps download / 3G / HSDPA+
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- Water- and dust-resistant design (IP55)
- Dimensions and weight: 127 x 64 x 8.7 mm, 148g
- Infrared receiver and transmitter
- FM receiver
While it’s still more than capable of providing a decent Android experience, the Snapdragon S4 Pro inside is more than a little dated. Processor and 720p 4.3-inch display aside, most of the specs are still pretty solid. There’s also several stand-out features like an encrypted software “Vault” for file storage, a universal remote app that works with the integrated IR blaster, an IP55 water/dust resistant design, and a display that works even with gloves.
The T2 HD is available through its official website for 3559 Danish Krone, or what translates out to about $545.23. Finding it stateside is a much more pricier affair, however, with one Amazon listing selling the phone for $819.
Desay Magical Mirror X5
- 5-inch display with 720p resolution
- MediaTek quad-core CPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB storage
- 13MP rear shooter, 5 MP front cam
- 2050mAh battery
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- Support for 4G LTE
While Desay isn’t a well known brand, at least in the western world, the use of Sapphire glass protection makes the device above pretty novel, even if it’s far from a power house. Even more impressive, is the fact that Desay managed to give the phone a fairly aggressive price tag equivalent to just $160.
Pantech Vega Iron 2
When we think of Korean smartphone companies, LG and Samsung are the names that come to mind. One of less popular players these days is Pantech, despite the fact they actually build pretty solid devices. In fact, recently AA’s Matthew Benson wrote an article describing his time with the Pantech Vega Iron 2 and going so far as to say that the product is “the Galaxy S5 he wished Samsung had built”.
The Pantech Iron Vega 2 has Samsung-like aesthetics, including a plastic back with a chamfered, striped metal frame. You’d be forgiven if you thought Pantech had simply copied the Galaxy Alpha and Note 4 design language for the Vega 2, but in reality the phone arrived a few months after the Galaxy S5, but before the arrival of the Alpha and Note 4. The Pantech Vega Iron 2 doesn’t only look like a solid device, it has the specs to match. The phone has a Snapdragon 801 CPU, an Adreno 330 GPU, 3GB RAM and 32GB storage. The rest of the specs are equally decent, and the entire package is ran on Android 4.4 KitKat with Pantech’s custom UI on top.
- 5.3-inch display with a 1080p resolution
- Snapdragon 801 CPU with Adreno 330
- 3GB RAM
- 13MP rear cam with OIS, 2.1MP front cam
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 3220 mAh battery
As you can see, the Vega Iron 2 may not be “unique” as many of its features are quite similar to what we’ve seen with recent Samsung devices, but it did make the move to metal before Samsung and offers up pretty solid specs that make it worthy of being pointed out in this list. The price tag for the phone is also pretty reasonable, with the device being offered up on Amazon for $564.49.
Battery size is the name of the game for the THL 5000, which packs a 5000 mAh battery into a reasonably compact body. With its big battery and official talk times of 47 Hours for 2G and 30 Hours for 3G, it’s pretty obvious what makes the THL 5000 stand out as unique.
Aside from the battery, we have a pretty stereotypical Chinese phone with fairly uninspiring aesthetics and a MediaTek MTK6592T octa-core processor underneath, paired with 2GB of RAM. While most of the specs are “high-end” as far as MediaTek goes, the phone certainly isn’t anywhere at the same level as modern flagships rocking chips from companies like Qualcomm, Samsung and even arguably Intel.
- 5 inch IPS display with a 1080p resolution
- 2.0GHz MediaTek MTK6592T octa-core
- 16GB storage, microSD expansion up to 32GB
- 13MP rear cam, 5MP front cam
- 5000 mAh battery
- Connectivity : GPS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- Networks: GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz for 2G / WCDMA 850, 2100MHz for 3G
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 145 x 73 x 8.9 mm, 170g
Unlike the vast majority of the phones on this list, getting the THL 5000 in western markets like the US isn’t particularly difficult with places like Amazon offering it up for $259.99 and similar (or even more aggressive) pricing can be found through various Chinese import sites. For more details on the THL 5000, be sure to check out our review of the device.
The Saygus V2 stands out for a few reasons, first its looks are a bit bizarre and as a result the phone can’t be accused of being a “carbon-copy” of devices from bigger name OEMs. Second, the phone brand is relatively unheard of, hitting CES 2015 out of nowhere and generating a fair amount of hype. Finally, the phone offers just about everything expect for the kitchen sink.
The biggest call to fame for the V2 is the fact it offers up two microSD slots, both capable of excepting 128GB cards. Combining this with the 64GB internal storage, that means you can potentially store up to 320GB of data. Beyond this, you’ll find the Snapdragon 801 CPU with 3GB RAM — not the most bleeding edge package in 2015, but more than enough to provide a solid Android experience.
- 5-inch display with 1080p resolution
- Snapdragon 801 CPU
- 3GB of RAM
- 64GB storage, two microSD slots for expansion
- 20.7MP rear shooter, 13MP front cam
- 3100mAh battery
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- Support for 4G LTE
- Infrared and other standard connectivity (NFC, Bluetooth, etc)
- Water and dust resistance
- 137 x 67 x 9.7 mm,141 g
As you can see, the phone is every bit as capable as most flagships from mid-to-late 2014. While the devices of 2015 will easily trump it, there’s plenty of extras thrown in here such as dual microSD, waterproofing and more. At $599, the phone isn’t ultra-cheap, but still pretty reasonably priced for a phone with the above specs. It’s also worth noting that the software experience is essentially stock KitKat, with an upgrade to Lollipop in the works.
Okay, so many of you may have heard of this phone, but globally speaking, its still pretty new to the game and very much worthy of being the last entry in this list.
And that concludes our list. While we considered mentioning devices like the OnePlus One, the reality is that brand recognition is pretty high these days for OPO and similar devices, at least among the nerd crowd. Any other powerful, unique and standout devices we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.