When we reviewed the Sharp Aquos Phone 104SH, we were struck by its Western feature set, sleek hardware, and attractively minimal Android 4.0 skin. The Aquos Phone Serie ISW16SH, announced at today's KDDI / au summer lineup launch event, could not be further away from those ideals — it's a hefty device with an array of Japan-specific features and Sharp's "Feel_UX," one of the most radical Ice Cream Sandwich skins we've ever seen.
Feel_UX basically does away with the traditional home screen in favor of a permanent app drawer. There aren't any capacitive buttons, and no onscreen home button either until you actually jump into an app — pressing Home will then simply return you to the apps tray. Swiping left will bring you to a single scrolling page of widgets, with seemingly no way to combine the two, and there's yet another page filled with various shortcuts. It's conceptually simple, we'll give it that, but anyone into Android for the customization aspect would do well to stay away from this skin. The scrolling widget screen is somewhat reminiscent of the iida UI seen on au's Infobar phones, but it's nowhere near as attractive and hiding the widgets behind a permanent grid of apps seriously reduces the glanceability.
Otherwise, the Serie's hardware is competitive with the 104SH, with a 4.6-inch 720p LCD, 12-megapixel camera, and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Sharp also managed to find room for the Japan-specific features that the 104SH left out, such as NFC and a 1seg TV tuner. These come at a cost, though, as the phone is 11.2mm thick. It'll almost certainly never make it out of Japan, but at least Sharp is going for diversity in its product portfolio.