Thursday, 10 February 2011


Alcatel have surprised me in the past. Whilst this blog has focussed mainly on the high end smartphones. It's interesting from time to time to delve into the cheaper end of the spectrum. Like the used car forecourts, sometimes this end of the market can be more rewarding than the top end. Expectations are lower, therefore delights and surprises are more regular occurrences. Here I'll be giving the briefest of overviews of three current Alcatel offerings. The OT710, OT799 and the Android powered OT980.

The 710 is a svelte touch screen device, small and thinner than a palm pre. The screen is noticeably blocky by comparison to top end models and the colours look dour and pale. Although the menu's are well laid out, the resistive screen needs a good push to activate the icons, even swiping the screen to unlock is an annoyance. The camera doesn't appear to auto rotate image's (this really annoys me, especially when people upload pics to facebook etc, and you have to tip your head on one side to see them). But, the unit feels ok, it isn't ugly. It has a facebook (micro edition) app, Opera, but perhaps not surprisingly, no wifi. Selecting settings caused me no end of upwardly scrolling screen problems in the main menu. But, when you consider the fact that this unit can be had for 30 pounds. And it'd so anti-cool it is perhaps cool, without us geeks knowing it. It makes a much more sensible proposition.

The next handset, the 799, is clearly a blackberry wannabe. It's a borderline clone to the untrained eye (or even a trained eye from a distance). The back is rubberised and on the right hand side it has a scroll wheel, much like a clock radio volume control from the 70's. The screen is noticeably brighter and clearer than the 710, although its not a touchscreen handset. Unlocking the keypad is a nokia style two button combo and navigation the usual up/down/left/right select affair. This is preferable, to me, than a cheap resistive touchscreen. Again its missing Wifi, something that any modern day 'smart' phone really ought to have. Apps are Java based, Opera, Facebook, Twitter and gaming etc, they're all present and correct, Along with a very basic camera and video camera. The scroll wheel works well for highlighting icons and as you might expect, it clicks in to select items. There are hot keys to Camera and SMS on the front. But otherwise, its pretty ordinary. The last thing I discover about this handset, once again is its price. It too, can be had for £30 on Pay as you go. With that in mind, it's absolutely belting.

The problem with both of these handsets though is that to get the most out of them, you'd need a data plan, and when you talk about a data plan, you're talking about committing yourself to a monthly payment. Without wifi, data is essential, which makes them poor entry level contract phones. Which I guess brings me neatly onto the OT980.

The OT980, out of the felt lined box, already feels like a much better quality handset. It's heavier, partially rubberised on the front, and not unattractive in its design. Although the jury is out on the oversized home button. Turning the screen on, reveals a similarly blocky display to the 710. Resistive again, it's already showing it's shortcomings, but it seems faster, perhaps because it has a faster processor? I enter our gmail settings and fall in love with the keyboard. The keys are nicely raised, they're very high friction, and your nail naturally falls into the right key, meaning fast typing is a doddle. ('7' is tough though as its so close to the 'alt' key). I connect to wifi and login to gmail. The main menu's are accessed by sliding the bottom of the screen up, but if I'm being honest it's a little difficult. But, access to the Android market is there, meaning you can customise it and enjoy the same app's that the top end handsets do. But lets be frank. This is a budget handset and it's on entry level contracts. The screen is a little unresponsive, the display isn't anything to be wowed by. Yes, technically it is an Android handset, and it does a reasonable job of it too. For less than £30 outlay, this phone could be yours for £15 a month, with minutes, texts and internet. Compared to any 'ordinary' handset, for people on a budget, it's a no brainer as far as I'm concerned.

This proves that eventually this top end technology does filter down to the entry level market. Whether you like it or not, before long, you will own a smartphone. One day all cheap phones will be made this way, only they'll have incredible screens and much better responsiveness. Five years ago, this would have been one of the best smart phones on the market. Now, it's a mid range pay as you go, or an entry level contract phone. Whether it stands up to closer scrutiny next to the wildfire or Europa is your decision.

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