Buying a budget phone is an exercise in tempering your expectations.
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 full-screen (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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.