Alcatel 3 review: Full Australian review
Alcatel sometimes feel like young-gun-turned-aging-maverick of the budget smartphone space.
Where newcomers to the sub-$300 smartphone space usually have at least one eye on displacing titans like Samsung and Apple, Alcatel’s focus isn’t divided at all. They might not be the brand for quality but they’re still a brand you have probably heard of. Alcatel's phones might be cheap but you can’t discount them out of hand.
They’ve always been the budget brand. They’re not trying to escape from that framing and, honestly, there’s something compelling to that singular sense of purpose. If I was looking to buy a wallet-friendly smartphone, I’d probably prefer to get one from a brand that sees the low-end of the market as an additive game rather than a one of subtraction.
The Alcatel 3 isn’t going to steal away the attention of those salivating for the next Samsung Galaxy Note but it does live up to the Alcatel brand in ways both good and bad. It’s yet another little smartphone that could.
Display size: 5.94-inches
Display type: IPS LCD
Processor: Snapdragon 439
Operating System: Android 8.1
Fingerprint Sensor: Yes, rear-mounted
Micro SD slot: Yes
Ports: 3.5mm headphone jack, Micro USB
Connectivity: 4G, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, NFC
Rear Camera: 13-megapixel + 5-megapixel
Front-Facing Camera: 8-megapixel
Dimensions: 151.1 x 69.7 x 8 mm
Design - Look, Feel and Camera
Viewed from a distance, the Alcatel 3 hits all the familiar notes. On paper, it’s got plenty - maybe even most - of what you’d consider to be the conventions and comforts of the modern smartphone experience.
The HD+ display on the front has a teardrop notch and the fingerprint sensor on the back isn’t that different to what you’d find in a flagship phone only a few years ago. The form-factor is built around a mix of glass, plastic and more glass. There’s a headphone jack on the top and the (slightly-dated) Micro USB port used for charging comes flanked by a set of grill speakers located at the bottom end of the handset.
Writ large, there’s enough shared DNA here to make you give pause to the notion that budget smartphones continue to close the gaps on their mid-tier cousins. However, ultimately, the devil is in the details Up close, it’s the smaller touches that give the game away here.
The back of the Alcatel 3 is remarkably smudge prone and the seams between the plastic and glass elements of the case always make themselves felt in a way that’s a little uncomfortable. The resolution on the Alcatel 3’s screen doesn’t make it particularly great for things like video playback or gaming. I had a fine time browsing the web and answering emails or messages with this thing but it never felt as slick as even something only a few hundred dollars more expensive, like Google’s Pixel 3a.
As for the camera. Well, honestly, it’s not great. With fare like the Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 Pro as my daily-drivers, I was always expecting some culture shock going into using the Alcatel 3’s camera. But even in stationary situations and on well-lit subjects, I had a lot of trouble getting the Alcatel 3’s dual-lens camera to work for me.
In low-light, this thing is basically unusable. Given the $300 price-tag, that’s not exactly a surprise or something that’s going to be a deal-breaker but all the same, it is a weakness that you’ll want to take note of. If you’re thinking of going this cheap when it comes to your next smartphone, you’re probably not going to be able to take that many Instagram-ready photos with this thing.
It’s cool that Alcatel have crammed a dual-lens camera into a sub-$300 smartphone but the results aren’t the kind of thing you’ll want to brag about.
When it comes to transplanting the looks that you get from more premium devices into the budget space, Alcatel have nailed it. Unfortunately, that impression doesn’t last long. If we’re talking about like feel-factor, ergonomics and the camera hardware, there’s still a pretty big gap between what you get here and what you’ll get out of other devices - even those only a little more expensive.
Performance - Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
When we’re talking about smartphone performance, most modern handset fall into one of three categories.
There’s stuff like the Google Pixel 3a, which is mostly good enough. There’s flagships like the Galaxy S10, which is more than good enough. Last and least, there’s everything else. The smartphones that fall short of being as you need them to be 100% of the time.
This isn’t an automatic disqualification. Processors aren’t everything. If they were, everyone would still be using iPhones. It’s unrealistic to expect a $299 smartphone like the Alcatel 3 to compete when it comes to performance but that doesn’t mean you should know going in that the experience here isn’t going to be as snappy or responsive as more capable devices.
Paying less means compromises. Whether or not those caveats are going to be the kind that you’re willing to live is harder to gauge.
My time with the Alcatel 3 wasn’t without hiccups. The device would stutter when it came to multitasking and, once, the phone app ended up caught in an eternal looping crash that forced me to restart the device before I could make phone calls again.
Still, in spite of these issues, I actually grew more fond of Alcatel’s Android skin the more time I spent with it. It’s not quite as mature or developed as some of the other options but there’s something refreshing old-school about it. If there’s anything I want to see future Alcatel devices improve on, it’s this.
If Alcatel keep trying to play the same game as Samsung or Oppo do with less powerful hardware, that’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle. However, if we flip this notion on its head and hypothesize about how a different approach could look, it’s not that far out to think about how Alcatel could try and carve out a niche for themselves. If they’re not going to go the pure Android route like Nokia, they should do something interesting with it. Hell, TCL’s Palm mini-phone is already heading that direction.
As for benchmarks, the Alcatel 3 emerged a dominant player within the lower end of the price-bracket spectrum that it occupies. It frequently beat out Nokia’s 3 plus fare like the Moto E5. That being said, it did consistently fall short against Oppo’s AX5s.
And to its credit, I was pleasantly surprised with how the Alcatel 3 fared when it came to battery life. We’d make it through a full day of regular usage without breaking a sweat. Sometimes two full days. Sometimes even half of the third as well. Your mileage is going to vary but when it came to day-to-day usage, the Alcatel 3
The Bottom Line
The Alcatel 3 is comforting in its familiarity. If you’ve heard the brand Alcatel before, it’s probably the kind of device you’re thinking of. There’s roughness and brusqueness. It’s unabashed in its compromises and caveats, yet there’s still something here. If you’re after the essentials, it’ll deliver the goods. Anything else? It's a bit of a coin flip.
Still, where other budget brands are subtractive and concerned with how much they can strip out of a flagship or mid-tier proposition, TCL’s Alcatel 3 feels like a foundation and something that’s building towards something. I don’t know if I would say it’s a slam-dunk alternative to the other options but it is definitely one worth considering.
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