Sharp Aquos R6 Hands-On: This huge 1-inch camera sensor can’t compensate for lackluster software processing
Japanese smartphones haven’t been relevant on a global stage in many years — partly because most non-Sony devices are not sold in chunks of the world, but also because the phones just didn’t offer competitive hardware compared to Apple, Samsung, or Chinese brands like Huawei and Xiaomi.
This year seems to be the year Japanese smartphone brands attempt to mount a comeback, with Sony releasing the impressively specced Xperia 1 III, and now Sharp is here with the Aquos R6, which offers two hardware breakthroughs that are industry firsts: a whopping 1-inch camera sensor and an IGZO OLED panel that can ramp up its refresh rate up to 240Hz.
The phone is only sold in Japan right now, but we managed to get our hands on one thanks to importer Trinity Electronics in Hong Kong.
Sharp Aquos R6: Specifications. Tap/click to show.
Sharp Aquos R6: Specifications
|Specification||Sharp Aquos R6|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Qualcomm 3D Sonic Max under-display fingerprint sensor|
Sharp Aquos R6: Hardware and Design
At a glance, the Sharp Aquos R6 is a typical Android flagship slab, with curved glass on the front and back sandwiching an aluminum chassis, and a near bezel-less face with just a small hole-punch housing a 12MP selfie camera and a sizable camera module on the back.
Inside the phone is the usual Snapdragon 888, with 12GB of RAM and a 5,000 mAh battery. There’s a headphone jack at the bottom and on the right side of the chassis is an extra hardware button to launch Google Assistant (or other apps, if you so choose) along with the volume rocker and power button.
It’s a very well-built, premium handset that looks and feels similar in the hand as the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra in my opinion.
The similar vibes between the two phones is apt, because the Aquos R6’s 1-inch sensor is the largest camera sensor in the mobile industry, knocking off the previous champ Mi 11 Ultra, whose ISOCELL GN2 sensor measures 1/1.12-inch. But we’ll get to this in the camera section. Let’s talk about that 240Hz screen first.
The 6.67-inch, 2,730 x 1,260 OLED panel is, according to Sharp, the world’s first OLED panel to use IGZO (Indium, gallium, zinc, oxide) technology, which means the screen is layered with ultra thin-film transistors that offer remarkably low power leakage.
I’m no display expert, but the screen looks great to my eyes, with excellent viewing angles and rich details. Animations look buttery smooth as expected, although I can’t say I see superior fluidity over a 120Hz panel from Samsung or Xiaomi.
Sharp’s software calls the high refresh rate “high-speed display,” and there is no way to control it on a device-wide level. Instead, Sharp offers an app-by-app solution, meaning you can toggle high refresh rate on or off for each specific app. Also, note the toggle is either on (variable up to 240Hz) or off (60Hz). You can’t set it to any other specific value, like 90Hz or 120Hz for instance.
Sharp Aquos R6: Camera
The Aquos R6’s camera is designed to grab headlines, because not only does it have that 1-inch sensor, it also uses a Leica-branded lens that was co-developed via “close collaboration” by the two brands.
Personally, I find the recent trend of smartphone brands teaming up with legacy camera brands to be mostly marketing gimmicks (in my Huawei Mate 40 Pro review, I didn’t even mention the word “Leica” once) and my opinion doesn’t change much here.
From my testing, the Aquos R6’s camera hardware is indeed impressive because of that huge sensor. Just like the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, whose camera sensor is also very large, photos and videos captured by the Aquos R6 have a natural depth-of-field effect that separates the subject from the background (otherwise known as “bokeh”), giving shots a more professional look that apes the look of photos captured by a “real” camera.
This is particularly noticeable when comparing shots captured by the Aquos R6 against the iPhone 12 Pro, whose image sensor size is significantly smaller (Apple did not reveal its exact size). In the samples below, the Aquos R6 image has more separation between object and background.
Having natural bokeh in a photo is ideal, but smartphone brands, and in particular Google, have become very skilled at producing fake digital bokeh. So where the large 1-inch sensor really benefits is video footage, which also features that same background blur effect. Below are video clips showing footage captured by the Sharp Aquos R6 and the iPhone 12 Pro.
So we can see the Aquos R6’s significantly larger image sensor really adds a level of professional aesthetic that the iPhone’s flatter photos/videos can’t get. But there are other Android phones with large sensors, in particular, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (1/1.13-inch) and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (1/1.33-inch), and when pitted against these two Android flagship beasts, the Sharp Aquos R6’s advantage mostly disappears.
You’ll notice that Samsung’s and Xiaomi’s images produced are just as pleasing with a natural bokeh and they’re more vibrant with punchier colors too.
This is the case with most of the photos captured by the Sharp Aquos R6, they look a bit on the bland side if the lighting condition isn’t great. If you’re taking a photo on a sunny day, then sure, the Aquos R6 can produce a great shot like below that
But in more challenging shots, the Aquos R6’s images consistently produce duller colors and inferior dynamic range compared to Apple and Xiaomi’s photos.
This is likely due to lackluster image processing from Sharp, and it’s not surprising. We are in the age of computational photography in mobile, where smartphone camera software is as important as camera hardware. It’s why the Google Pixel 5 still ranks as one of the best camera smartphones around despite outdated camera hardware.
And as a much smaller smartphone maker, Sharp likely lacks the R&D budget or expertise compared to Apple or Google (or even Samsung and Xiaomi) when it comes to building computational photography software algorithms. Sharp’s 1-inch camera sensor is impressive and cutting-edge, but the software processing keeps holding it back.
Here are some more night photo samples captured by the Sharp Aquos R6. Notice that Sharp blows out some lights in the shots quite badly, Apple, on the other hand, used HDR processing to produce a more balanced (if superficial) shot.
Sharp also made the curious decision to just equip with Aquos R6 with just one camera (along with a ToF sensor). This means zoom shots are digital (and the phone maxes out at just 6x zoom).
Software and Miscellaneous bits
On the software front, the Aquos R6 runs a version of Android 11. The settings page, notification shade, and app icons all look similar to stock Android, but there are some changes. First, there’s a lot of pre-installed bloatware, including apps from Amazon, Disney, and Docomo, the Japanese carrier through which the phone was sold.
Sharp also reverted back to the old-school method of launching the app tray — you have to tap on an on-screen icon — instead of the swipe up method. Instead, swiping up from the bottom of the screen launches a Japanese news feed.
Dig into settings and the page looks mostly familiar, except for an addition named Sharp Help Center which compiles all the additional software features into a cartoonish menu system. Here you can adjust the aforementioned refresh rate by app, set up a different app to launch when pressing the hardware button, tweak the game menu that pops up during mobile games, and access this feature called “SuguApp” which allows you to launch an app by shaking the phone. This works well, even if it is a bit weird.
The Sharp Aquos R6 is also the first phone to use Qualcomm’s 3D Max ultrasonic in-display fingerprint reader solution. In addition to being a bit faster than before, the scanning area is also said to be 1.7x larger. To that end, Sharp added a new feature that allows the phone to scan two fingers at once, with the idea being additional security. It works well, but I personally have no interest in unlocking my phone with two fingers.
Elsewhere, I haven’t used the phone long enough to give a conclusive opinion on battery life, but the 5,000 mAh cell seems to be good enough considering Sharp’s screen has a dynamic refresh rate and resolution isn’t as high as the Galaxy S21 Ultra or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.
Right now the Sharp Aquos R6 is only sold in Japan via the carrier Docomo, so official pricing is not known. In Hong Kong, the phone’s being sold at around HK$10,000, which converts to $1,228. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say those in the west thinking of importing this phone will surely pay at least four digits in US dollars.
While the Sharp Aquos R6 is generating excitement among the enthusiast community — people willing to pay for cutting-edge tech — the average consumer would be better off spending that same money on a Galaxy S21 Ultra or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, since both phones offer large image sensors too, with much better camera software.
But Japan is mostly an iPhone country. So for those living in Japan, the Sharp Aquos R6 represents a great alternative, counter-culture option. And its large image sensor makes it different enough from the iPhone to have appeal.