Al­ca­tel 3 – cheap, charm­ing & in for a challenge

Buying a bud­get phone is an exercise in tem­per­ing your ex­pec­ta­tions.

SmartHouse - - MOBILE | REVIEW - Writ­ten by Jack Gra­menz

While mod­ern smart­phones are ca­pa­ble of do­ing things we wouldn’t have thought pos­si­ble even a decade ago, some of them are sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than oth­ers at do­ing them.

The Al­ca­tel 3 is not one of th­ese, and you’d have to have the kind of optimism that borders on ig­no­rance to think so, but that’s not the rea­son peo­ple buy them.

The rea­son peo­ple buy Al­ca­tel phones (and peo­ple do buy them, Al­ca­tel is the third biggest seller of smart­phones in Aus­tralia) is be­cause they’re cheap, even when com­pared to other “bud­get” hand­sets.

The 3 is the most ex­pen­sive of Al­ca­tel’s phones at A$279, but for that price you get a 5.9-inch fullscreen (wa­ter­drop) dis­play, dual-cam­era and an octa-core CPU.

None of th­ese fea­tures of­fer top of the line per­for­mance for the re­spec­tive cat­e­gories, but they’re still very nice to have in a bud­get phone that many users will only ex­pect to of­fer the bare ne­ces­si­ties.

The prob­lem is how well the Al­ca­tel 3 de­liv­ers on the bare ne­ces­si­ties.

DESIGN

The Al­ca­tel 3 looks bet­ter than a lot of phones that cost twice as much.

While you won’t get any fancy glass or ce­ramic backs, the alu­minum

The black-to-blue gra­di­ent has the added ben­e­fit of let­ting the dual-lens cam­era dis­ap­pear into the back­ground.

cas­ing that cov­ers the back of the phone comes in a re­ally quite el­e­gant “mid­night” gra­di­ent avail­able in black-to-blue and blue-to-pur­ple.

The black-to-blue gra­di­ent has the added ben­e­fit of let­ting the dual-lens cam­era dis­ap­pear into the back­ground, or at least not stand out as much as it does on the blue-to-pur­ple design.

A newly re­sized Al­ca­tel logo has also been re­lo­cated to the bot­tom half of the phone and has the new ad­di­tion of the TCL Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ltd name­plate.

TCL man­u­fac­tures the phones and li­censes the Al­ca­tel (and Black­berry) brand names, but a TCL branded phone is on its way to the Aus­tralian mar­ket soon in a bid to es­tab­lish the brand name (with a look to the fu­ture sug­gest­ing a way around those pesky li­cens­ing fees).

I’m of the view Al­ca­tel phones will con­tinue seeing this logo be­com­ing smaller and smaller un­til it even­tu­ally dis­ap­pears com­pletely, but this re­duc­tion is a good start for the mo­ment.

The de­ci­sion to stack the col­lec­tion of cir­cles that make up the dual cam­era, flash and fin­ger print sen­sor one on top of the other in the mid­dle of the phone, rather than re­cent trends to clus­ter cam­era ar­rays into cir­cle or square “bumps” is another win­ning choice from the Al­ca­tel design depart­ment.

Once you get into us­ing the phone rather than just look­ing at it though, things get a lit­tle less easy to look at.

The full-screen dis­play is an HD+ 720 x 1560 res­o­lu­tion, mean­ing a screen just un­der the 300ppi res­o­lu­tion that matches print, but the only real prob­lem with the screen is a sub­tle, but still no­tice­able lack of uni­form back­light­ing.

It’s only re­ally ap­par­ent when reading large pas­sages of text, par­tic­u­larly on a white back­ground.

Prop­erly sup­port­ing Android 9’s Dark Mode would pro­vide some­thing of a fix, but that hasn’t been done, ditto for ges­ture nav­i­ga­tion.

Both can be en­abled but nei­ther work how or where they should.

Marks also come down for a lack of USB-C in this, the year 2019.

Al­ca­tel made another strange de­ci­sion by in­clud­ing a bunch of their own fac­tory apps for vi­tal fea­tures like Phone and Con­tacts, not in lieu of, but along with the far su­pe­rior Google sup­plied apps that are built in to the Android OS.

Why com­pa­nies in­sist on con­tin­u­ing to do this is be­yond the com­pre­hen­sion of a mere tech­nol­ogy re­viewer such as my­self, and go­ing to the ef­fort of do­ing it on a bud­get phone just seems like a poor use of re­sources.

PER­FOR­MANCE

Par­tic­u­larly galling is that th­ese apps don’t re­ally work, the first time I made a call on the Al­ca­tel 3 it asked which app I would pre­fer to use.

Ac­ci­den­tally, I se­lected the Al­ca­tel app, which kept flash­ing a mes­sage say­ing it had crashed (even af­ter I switched over to the Google phone app), un­til it was force stopped and dis­abled through the Android set­tings.

On top of this, call qual­ity is some­what re­stricted by a poor hand­set re­ceiver.

Calls are nearly in­audi­ble even in quiet en­vi­ron­ments, as far as tak­ing one on a busy city street with traf­fic and other sur­round­ing noise? Good luck.

Like a lot of mod­ern smart­phone users I make and take the ma­jor­ity of my calls us­ing a Blue­tooth head­set (they’re not just for wankers in rom-coms any­more!) so this wasn’t much of a prob­lem for me per­son­ally, but Al­ca­tel’s older cus­tomers (who make up enough of Al­ca­tel’s cus­tomer base to war­rant their own phone), may strug­gle.

Pre­sum­ably the Al­ca­tel Se­nior has bet­ter call func­tion­al­i­ties, but on

the 3 it can be a challenge, which is not a great look for… you know, a phone.

Dodgy call func­tions aside, the Al­ca­tel 3 han­dles most other tasks about as well if not bet­ter than can be ex­pected from a de­vice in this cat­e­gory.

The phone isn’t light­ning fast and you’ll find the odd hang and de­lay on oc­ca­sion, but gen­er­ally things run smoothly enough be­tween apps.

The dual cam­era won’t wow you but it’s de­cent enough with the now ubiq­ui­tous AI im­prove­ments on mod­ern smart­phones.

VALUE

The Al­ca­tel brand is a value brand, so the main draw for the Al­ca­tel 3 is its price and value propo­si­tion.

It’s a com­pelling one, and the 3 would be a de­cent phone even ap­proach­ing $400, but at $279 it’s scream­ingly good value.

Al­ca­tel has a very big prob­lem in this re­gard but, and it’s called Sam­sung.

The Korean tech gi­ant’s new A-se­ries, of which it’s ex­pected to sell sev­eral boat­loads, starts at the $279 price point the Al­ca­tel range ends at.

The en­try-level A20 and the Al­ca­tel 3 are quite sim­i­larly specced, though the Sam­sung has USB-C and a big­ger and nicer Su­per AMOLED screen (per­son­ally I pre­fer the more man­age­able size of the Al­ca­tel 3).

The Sam­sung also has brand recog­ni­tion and rep­u­ta­tion to bank on.

Sam­sung it­self has said the A-se­ries is de­signed for peo­ple who want but can’t af­ford one of the com­pany’s top of the range smart­phones.

So the bat­tle for the $279 bud­get be­comes a show­down be­tween one com­pany’s bot­tom of the range phone and another com­pany’s flag­ship.

Both are very sim­i­lar, good qual­ity, value fo­cused phones, but given the choice I think the av­er­age con­sumer would pick the phone from the brand that doesn’t ONLY sell bud­get phones.

The Al­ca­tel brand is a value brand, so the main draw for the Al­ca­tel 3 is its price and value propo­si­tion.

CON­CLU­SION

The Al­ca­tel 3 is a lot of phone for the money, great look­ing (bet­ter than its peers) and great value, I’ve quickly de­vel­oped a size­able soft spot for it.

I think any­one who buys and uses the Al­ca­tel 3, knows what they want it to do, and don’t ex­pect it to do too much more, will be equally pleased with the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­creased com­pe­ti­tion in the bud­get space where it’s be­come ac­cus­tomed to reign­ing supreme means for Al­ca­tel, get­ting peo­ple to buy its new phone may prove its own bat­tle.

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