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Alcatel 3V Review: Impressive Features At A Low Cost

AH Alcatel 3V
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Alcatel’s 3V is an unlocked GSM budget phone with a “2K” 6-inch display. 

Alcatel has been a budget brand in the Android game for quite some time, with its TCL-made devices representing a value-focused alternative to the competition. The Alcatel 3V, first launched back in February, is no exception to that but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Picking up the latest flagship isn’t always a viable option. Some consumers just want a device with a respectable battery life, modern features, and serviceable specs without breaking the bank. In fact, the vast majority of smartphone users fall into that category. Setting aside a few caveats and the tradeoffs required to meet those needs, devices like the Alcatel 3V fill in. Ordinarily, the result is a comparatively lackluster or basic experience but, impressively, that’s not the case here.

Specs

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At a retail cost of just $149.99, the Alcatel 3V sits near the upper end of the budget handset portion of the Android spectrum. For that price, buyers are treated to a device measuring in at 162mm x 76mm x 8.1mm and weighing just 155 grams. The display is a 6-inch 1080×2160 resolution ISP panel set at a ratio of 18:9 and a pixel density of 402 ppi. That also takes up the vast majority of the front of the handset, which has a screen-to-body ratio of over 75-percent. Above that display is a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. Rolling to the shiny plastic rear of the device, users can find a fingerprint scanner, ringed in metal, just below a dual-camera setup which is also accompanied by a LED flash. The sensors in that are rated at 12-megapixels and 2-megapixels, with apertures set at f/2.2 and f/2.4, respectively. Phase detection autofocus and HDR mode are included and the cameras are set in a vertical orientation. Meanwhile, buyers will find a single bottom-firing speaker and microphone embedded in the metal frame along the bottom, with a micro USB port in-between for charging. The top edge houses a 3.5mm headphone jack.

On the inside, there’s a 3,000mAh-capacity battery driving a quad-core MediaTek MT8735A SoC clocked at 1.45 GHz. Backing that chipset, the Alcatel 3V ships with 2GB of onboard RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of storage. The latter is expandable via micro SD card by up to 128GB, thanks to the 3V’s dual nano-SIM slot. One of the two SIM slots can be used for expandable storage or both can be used for SIMs for international travel. The chip also features Bluetooth 4.2 support, as well as NFC in some regions where model number 5099Y is sold. Our test device was model number 5099A and didn’t support NFC.

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In The Box

In terms of what buyers get in the box, Alcatel hasn’t skimped there either. Of course, the handset includes a charging adapter and associated cable. That’s in addition to the standard SIM tool and a precautions booklet which goes over basic device safety and reminds users that the smartphone is meant to be charged at 5V/1A. What’s more, consumers will find a well-written user manual that highlights the core functionality of an Android smartphone. Setting those aside, Alcatel includes a clear plastic hard-shell case which predominantly protects the corners and back of the phone – although the raised lip at the front will likely help protect the screen a bit too. There’s also a film screen protector and a pair of mic-enabled wired earbuds. Those aren’t going to be the best or most comfortable and that’s especially true since they are the type that doesn’t include rubber nubs. The sound quality of those is also questionable at best but they are included if they’re needed.

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Hardware and Design

With regard to design and as mentioned above, this handset is made of several materials and is actually very modern. The build materials here actually feel great in-hand, although the handset is a bit lighter than many might be used to which seems to take away some of that premium in-hand sensation. Our test unit is the Spectrum Black variation but it’s also available in the U.S. in Spectrum Blue and in Spectrum Gold elsewhere. The metal frame is colored to match whichever color is chosen. However, it’s worth pointing out that we did notice that both the display and back panels were veritable dust and particulate collectors. Wiping the device down would remove those for a few moments before they immediately seemed to appear again. Perhaps worse, during our test, wiping down the rear panel resulted in micro-abrasions. Keeping the included case on the device should help prevent damage but the rear panel certainly won’t stand up to a lot of abuse.

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On the other hand, the rest of the device is well put together. Gaps are kept to a bare minimum and any ports or buttons feel smooth with no jagged edges to speak of. The use of dual speaker grills on the bottom – one for the microphone and another for the speaker itself – is a nice touch, adding symmetry to the overall design. Plugging cables into any of its ports results in a satisfying click. That snug fit appears to indicate that the ports are going to last quite some time. The buttons have a similar feel, as well, although it will likely take some time for many users to adjust to their placement. The volume rocker is located on the left-hand side while a textured power button resides on the right.

Display

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Alcatel claims the display on the 3V is “2K.” It’s important to note that it isn’t a true 2K display but it is very close and is certainly above 1080p. With consideration for the price of this handset, it’s actually quite impressive. Best of all, its clarity and brightness are high enough that it works well even in bright sunlight. Responsiveness is on par with what users might expect from something much more expensive. The only real drawback to the 2.5D display is that it doesn’t appear to utilize Gorilla Glass or any other ruggedization. So there’s no way to know for sure how well it will withstand drops.

Performance and Battery Life

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In terms of performance, the benchmarks weren’t particularly encouraging but those don’t always bear out in real-world use. That was precisely the case here. Although we didn’t run the Alcatel 3V through any really recent high-intensity games, we were able to play through several older games in the category. Specifically, we ran through portions of Dead Trigger 2, Hungry Shark, and a solar system simulator which relied heavily on physics calculations for orbital patterns and gravity. None of these slowed this phone down in the slightest, although it did get quite warm to the touch. Meanwhile, the OS was smooth and lag-free throughout our use and we didn’t force-close or stop any of the apps running in-between. At very least, that’s an impressive feat with consideration for the hardware.

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We also noted that those apps kill the battery at a substantial rate. Specifically, while we managed around 5 and a half hours of screen-on time in the battery benchmark, that number dropped quickly with intensive app use. A smart standby algorithm is included with the package as part of the battery software, on the other hand, which resulted in impressive battery life in that regard. Namely, we saw more than two days of use when only using the device to send texts and to make a few calls. All of that was tested without the separate battery saver turned on or extreme power savings turned on. So the length of battery life could probably be improved quite a bit simply by toggling a few settings. Alcatel’s budget-minded handset is obviously not intended to compete with top-of-the-line devices. But it does hold its own amongst much more pricey mid-range handsets. Charging only takes around two and a half hours to complete from near completely drained.

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Connectivity and Audio

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On the audio front, the 3V works about as well as expected. That is to say that it is loud and clear but won’t impress in terms of hitting every tone or pitch. Meanwhile, the included earbuds are serviceable for phone calls but, as mentioned above, quality of the sound is questionable. In fact, anybody buying this handset is going to want to factor in the cost of earbuds if they don’t already have a pair and plan to listen to music. Thankfully, the problem doesn’t extend to better headphones or Bluetooth devices. So that isn’t at all a deal breaker. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Alcatel’s 3V supports every GSM carrier. That means there won’t be any support for Sprint’s network but it is sold unlocked, so it should work with nearly every MVNO. Call quality was clear and the connection strong when tested on both T-Mobile’s bands and AT&T’s networks’ 3G and 4G LTE. Finally, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, mobile hotspot, GPS, and FM Radio are included as part of the connectivity package.

2G: Bands 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz

3G: Bands 850MHz, 900MHz, 1900MHz, 2100MHz

4G LTE: Bands 700MHz, 800MHz, 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2600MHz

4G TDD-LTE: Bands 38, 40

Software

Software is, as already mentioned, based in Android 8.0 Oreo but flavored with Alcatel’s Joy Launcher overlay. The experience is very close to stock Android with a few extras tossed into the mix but may not look entirely familiar due to Alcatel’s own icon-set being used. Those are a rounded square design and minimal in detail. Google apps are a part of the package, including Allo, Calendar, Chrome, Drive, Duo, Gmail, the Google app, Keep, Maps, Photos, Play Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Play Store. YouTube is also included. However, all of the apps that are included secondary to those and system-level apps can easily be installed so if users don’t want to use Facebook, Netflix, NextRadio, OfficeSuite, or SwiftKey, they can simply uninstall them and re-install them later if they change their minds. Each app that’s included at the system level also carries Alcatel’s Joy Launcher flare but nearly all are close enough to AOSP that they won’t require any learning curve. The notable exceptions to that are Alcatel’s Calculator and Compass apps. The compass is pretty self-explanatory and works as expected for those who have used similar apps from the Play Store. The calculator has basic calculations capabilities, just like stock Android, but also has currency and measurement conversions and a scientific calculator mode. It’s not difficult to use but it does require a few minutes to figure out where everything is.

The OS itself is extremely well-optimized and all settings adjustments are logically organized as might be expected from Android Oreo. There are even a few extras included, such as options for gesture controls. A one-handed mode is available, as is turning the device over to mute or snooze an alarm. Double tapping the screen can be configured to turn it off or light it up. Meanwhile, the bar containing the home, back, and the recent apps button is alterable, too. That means users can place it in whichever order is most convenient for them or turn on auto-hide to have it whisked away after not being used for a period. Auto-hide also adds a toggle so that it can be locked in place if it will be needed more frequently and the bar those icons sit on can be customized with various colors. All things considered, that all equates to a comfortable and familiar experience.

Camera

The camera software, on the other hand, is easy enough to navigate and feels at least as well optimized. With that said, this is still a budget handset and nobody should expect award-winning photography to result from the built-in sensors. The quality of photos, in this case, is almost entirely dependent on lighting but we noticed some artifacts in reflective shots, as well. In fact, nearly every aspect of the cameras could stand to be improved. The HDR mode is functional but requires a seriously steady hand. Poor lighting or indoor shots that don’t take advantage of natural light turn out moderately grainy. Shots with lots of shadowing tend to lead to darker areas washing out. But the cameras are usable and are actually much better than might be expected on any handset selling for under $300. For even better photos, a Pro mode is part of the package and that seems to work very well for the price.

Delving deeper into that software, Alcatel has included quite a bit of extra software on top of the usual auto-shoot mode, “Pano” for panoramic shots, and portrait mode. Each brings extras to the table that simply aren’t included in most smartphones. Light trace, for example, allows users to create scenes similar to some iconic images where the light in a photo is traced out in the final capture. For example, taking an image of movement on a night-time highway would result in the headlines blending together to create lines. Night mode, meanwhile, brightens things up considerably by adding additional exposure time. Time-lapse takes multiple photos to create a GIF. However, it’s important to note that all of our images shot in those modes were shot by hand – which they wouldn’t ordinarily be. That means they were far too blurry to show off here. We also didn’t have ready access to a highway or other good light source for Light trace mode but what little we did tinker with it seemed to work accurately enough. Social mode, last but not least, allows for the quick creation of collages from right inside the camera, which is obviously meant to be shared. Of course, other general settings for photo size and similar are also present, as is a range of quick filters.

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The Good

Display resolution is very good

Premium screen-to-body and display ratios

Modern design

Both primary and selfie cameras are flash-enabled

Great standby time and acceptable battery life

3.5mm headphone port

Face unlock is included

The OS is well-optimized and responsive

Cameras are well done, loaded with features, and work well in most situations, if slightly flawed

The Bad

Earbuds are included but entirely unimpressive

Rear panel is easily prone to damage

No USB Type-C for charging

NFC is limited to a specific model

No ruggedization or Gorilla glass

Limited Storage

Wrap Up

As with nearly every handset on the market which resides below the premium end of the spectrum, there are trade-offs to consider before buying Alcatel’s 3V. Bearing that in mind, those aren’t nearly as bad here as with some devices and some of those are much more expensive. In fact, the Alcatel 3V could be described as a well-rounded and all-around “impressive” handset even if it had cost much more than it does. So, for those in the market for a new device on the affordable side of things, the 3V is one that deserves consideration at very least. Unless USB Type-C, NFC, ruggedization, and massive storage options are must-haves, it may be more accurate to say that we can easily recommend this handset. It’s simply a spectacular value, with all things taken into account.