TCL’s Alcatel is gearing up for a pretty big year. The company just took the wraps off a number of new phones at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. We got some hands-on time with the Alcatel 5 Series, Alcatel 3 Series, and Alcatel 1 Series. Every one of Alcatel’s new Android phones has a display with the 18:9 aspect ratio — and that’s not the only surprise the manufacturer had in store as it tries to challenge expectations about budget devices.
The Alcatel 5 Series is the big “affordable flagship” phone for the year, and the company says it “represents Alcatel’s affordable premium tier of phones.” The manufacturer is aiming to deliver the same features users want from a flagship phone, but at a much lower price. We checked out the phone for ourselves at MWC 2018, and were pleased to find Alcatel taking a step in the right direction by adopting more modern design trends.
The device features a somewhat blocky design, but it’s thin and lightweight, with a large fingerprint sensor and camera sensor on the back. The corners on the device are a little sharper than many other modern phones, but the real standout feature is the lack of bezels on the bottom and sides, which is a very nice touch.
On paper, the display fails to impress at 5.7 inches with a 1,440 x 720 pixel resolution, but in hand it looks bright and clear and sports the modern 18:9 aspect ratio. There’s also a face unlock feature dubbed Face Key, which scans faces and unlocks the phone in under a second.
The dual front-facing camera combines a 13-megapixel lens with a 5-megapixel wide angle lens. When it detects more than two faces, it automatically switches to wide angle for better group selfies. The main camera is rated at 12-megapixels.
There’s also a 3,000mAh battery, recharged via a USB-C port, a MediaTek 6750 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of onboard storage with MicroSD card support for more.
Disappointingly, it runs Android 7 Nougat, not the latest Android 8 Oreo, and Alcatel has applied its own user interface and additional apps on top.
The Alcatel 5 Series is available across Europe now at 230 euros (around $280) and we expect to see it stateside very soon.
The 3 Series looks to be the company’s new midrange line, but some of these phones do still offer some premium features, like dual cameras, a beautiful design, and displays with an 18:9 aspect ratio.
With a 5.5-inch display, the basic model of the Alcatel 3 Series is quite petite, and has a 1,440 x 720 pixel resolution. The main camera is rated at 13-megapixels, and there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. You’ll find a MediaTek 6739 under the hood with just 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The fingerprint sensor on the back, which has a nice glossy finish, and the 3,000mAh battery are high points, but even at 150 euros (around $180) we’re not that tempted. The 3 Series also all have MicroUSB ports rather than USB-C.
Interestingly, Alcatel is also releasing the 3X and 3V as part of this series. The 3X has a larger 5.7-inch display and a dual-lens setup on the back, with a wide-angle lens, but the 3V is the pick of the bunch in our opinion. It sports a 6-inch, 2,160 x 1,080 pixel resolution display, and a dual-lens main camera with a 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel camera for bokeh effects. Most of the rest of the specs match the basic 3, but the 3V does also beef the RAM up to 3GB and come with 32GB of storage. The 3X is 180 euros (about $220) and the 3V is 190 euros ($230).
When it comes to the design, we like the beautifully rounded corners. It looks pretty similar to the Google Pixel 2 XL. On the back, you’ll find the vertically aligned dual-sensor camera, with the fingerprint sensor beneath. It’s interesting that this phone features a dual-lens camera while the Series 5 doesn’t — though as Google proved with the Pixel 2, features like portrait mode don’t necessarily always require two camera lenses.
Last but not least is the Alcatel 1 Series, which is the most affordable device of the bunch. The 1X also has an 18:9 display, but it’s just 5.3 inches. It runs Android 8 Oreo – Go Edition, which is designed to run on low end hardware and comes with a choice of light versions of apps like Facebook. That’s just as well because this phone only has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.
As far as design goes, the 1 Series does away with the rounded corners on the display, a fingerprint sensor on the back, and the dual-lens camera. It has an 8-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel selfie cam. There’s also a 2,460mAh battery. It comes with a soft touch finish in gold, or a textured backing that Alcatel calls suede in dark gray or blue. That all important price is 99 euros (around $120).
These initial features seem promising, and they could help make Alcatel’s lineup much more modern. Past Alcatel phones, like the Idol 5, have a lot to offer — but in our reviews, we noted that they simply did not compete with better devices in their price range.
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