Over the years, China-based TCL has picked up a number of high-profile brand naming rights, including Palm in 2014 and, most recently BlackBerry at the end of 2016. As far as the former has been concerned, rumors have been circulating that Palm-branded devices could make a comeback in 2018. However, there has been another long-standing brand that has been in the TCL stable for well over a decade in the form of Alcatel.

Back in February, Timi Cantisano did get a bit of hands-on time with the Alcatel 5 and 3V and I've had the opportunity to review the latter of the two handsets. Given its $150 price tag, the 3V is obviously not a flagship device but nonetheless aims to pack in a lot of value while remaining affordable for most people at the same time.

Specifications

CPU

MediaTek MT8735A 64-bit quad-core CPU:
- 4 x 1.45GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores

GPU ARM Mali-T720 MP2
Display 6.0" 18:9 FullView, 2160x1080, 402.49 ppi, LCD
Connectivity

Audio: 3.5mm socket
Bluetooth: 4.2
Cellular: Single SIM or Dual SIM, dual standby | 2G/3G/4G
Location: GPS, AGPS
NFC
USB: microUSB + USB OTG
Wi-Fi: 802.11bgn, 2.4GHz

Body 162.0 x 76.0 x 8.05mm, 155g
Camera

Rear: 12MP + 2MP (16MP interpolation), f/2.2 aperture, LED Flash
Front: 5MP (8MP interpolation), f/2.4 aperture, LED flash

Video Rear: 1080p @ 30fps
Front: 720p @ 30fps
Camera features Burst Shot, EIS, Face Beauty, Face Recognition, HDR, Light Trace, Live Filters, night mode, One Handed Mode, Panorama, Social Mode
Storage 16GB + 128GB microSDXC expansion
RAM 2GB
Battery 3,000 mAh

Display and body

Display

The Alcatel 3V includes a rather generous 6-inch 1080p display in an 18:9 format that seems to be the aspect ratio adopted by an increasing number of smartphones these days. Even though colors don't pop as much on the IPS LCD display compared to OLED displays finding their way into more mobile devices, it still does a decent enough job as far as reviewing photos and videos are concerned which will be the key areas of concern.

Where the screen does excel, though, is in its crispness thanks to its pixel density of over 402ppi. Usually, screen resolution tends to be one of the first things to be sacrificed in order to meet a particular price point but the inclusion of the Full HD+ display is certainly appreciated. However, one may then wonder what sort of impact a high-resolution screen may have upon other things such as battery life and processing power. I'll cover these points a bit later on.

Lastly, there's no Gorilla Glass to be found on this device, so if you tend to stash your phone in a pocket or bag with objects that may cause scratching, such as keys, then you may also want to look at getting a screen protector.

Body

Off the bat, I was surprised by how light the Alcatel 3V initially felt in the hand to the extent that I wondered whether or not a battery had to be installed in the handset. For the sake of context, I use an iPhone X as my daily driver and, while it is only 19 grams heavier, it is a denser handset given its smaller dimensions in comparison to the 3V. So, with these elongated 18:9 devices, you might initially expect them to weigh more than they actually do.

One of the first things I did notice about the handset body out of the box was how easily it attracts fingerprints. If you're one to use smartphones without a cover or case, just be prepared to deal with quite a bit of smudging with a microfibre cloth to keep it looking spick and span while minimizing the risk of the phone slipping out of your hands. However, given the phone's plastic construction, I'd recommend putting it in at least a rubberized case so it doesn't end up being cracked, scratched, or scuffed.

Otherwise, around the device, you find your standard fare of buttons and ports. Unsurprisingly, USB Type-C does not make an appearance on the 3V with a more traditional micro USB port found on the bottom edge of the device. Plus, those who aren't fans of Bluetooth or USB-based earphones will be glad to know that the smartphone also features a 3.5mm audio socket.

Cameras

The Alcatel 3V features 12-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras on the rear with f/2.2 aperture, while a 5-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture can be found on the front. Plus, what may be of interest for the compulsive selfie shooters out there is the presence of LED flash on the front as well as the back of the device.

However, the camera app is, to put it simply, slow and that leads to issues when trying to capture images with HDR enabled or in portrait mode to get that bokeh effect. This leads to blurring, ghosting, and poor application of bokeh in resulting images even if you tell the camera where to focus. Specifically, when it comes to snapping images in portrait mode, it takes at least four seconds to complete capture and processing before you can take the next shot.

Other features

Biometric unlocking

While PIN and pattern unlocking has been around for a while, we've seen biometric alternatives start to play a more prominent role over the last few years. Fingerprint scanning has perhaps been the most popular while facial recognition continues to bootstrap itself. Surprisingly, the Alcatel 3V includes both methods of unlocking. You can also have both biometric options enabled on the device so you can work out what works best in a given situation.

The fingerprint scanner is very quick, allowing you to wake and unlock the device in a single tap of the finger on the back of the unit. The facial recognition, while not as swift as the fingerprint method, is still fairly prompt. I also attempted, rather unscientifically, to unlock the phone using a photo of myself displayed on another phone but the Alcatel 3V remained locked, which might be enough to stop people from casually attempting to get into your phone.

Charging, battery life, and micro-USB

Earlier in the review, I did cover the fact that there's no USB Type-C port to be found on the Alcatel 3V. This may not necessarily be a deal-breaker for people who aren't looking to drop a huge amount of money on a smartphone but there's also no form of fast-charging or wireless charging supported either. The question is whether or not the combination of these absences are a big deal.

The 3,000mAh battery is probably enough for most to get through the day, and that was certainly the case in my testing where I would let it charge up overnight and then power through the day without juicing it up until it was time to go to sleep. This was with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, a connected Fitbit, and one SIM card in operation and a typical day of usage including the use of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Slack, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Outlook, along with some occasional usage of Audible, Netflix, and Spotify. However, tipping into a second day of usage is going to be a tall order for anyone except the most avid battery misers.

Of course, smartphone owners tend to plug in their devices whenever possible at desks or in cars to ensure that there's more than enough charge in them. In my testing, a full recharge of the battery took roughly 3.5 hours which was seemed to be the in the ballpark given that the bundled charger is rated for 1A and recharging for lithium-ion batteries is non-linear. Plus, recharging from a fully depleted battery tends to be the exception rather than the norm so, in my books, the lack of fast charging isn't necessarily a big detractor in this instance.

Performance

Powering the Alcatel 3V is the MediaTek MT8735A SoC which packs four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.45GHz. While it won't set any speed records by itself, the 64-bit SoC is paired with a somewhat anemic 2GB RAM and 16GB storage (although there is a 32GB model offered in some regions). Opening just a handful of apps these days is enough to gobble up any remaining memory and the small amount of onboard storage will prohibit you from installing too many in the first instance. Granted, you can drop in a microSD card to boost the available storage but, in 2018, 32GB really should be the bare minimum offered.

However, I really noticed the limitations of the device when browsing content-rich webpages in Chrome. Straight out of the box, without any additional apps installed, mobile-optimized websites containing numerous images exhibited noticeable lag between executing a scrolling gesture and the browser responding. While sacrifices have to be made in the name of keeping costs down, this experience quickly became annoying.

Dropped frames and loss of audio/video sync were also prevalent when trying to watch 1080p60 content in the YouTube app, requiring quality to be knocked back down to 720p60 to achieve a smooth viewing experience. But, if you were thinking about high definition playback of Netflix on the Alcatel 3V then you can forget about that straight away as the handset only supports Level 3 of Google's Widevine DRM plug-in, limiting playback to standard definition.

Normally, in this part of a smartphone review, we include benchmark results from both Geekbench and AnTuTu so you can get an idea of the comparative grunt each device possesses. Above, you can see the Geekbench results where it posts a single-core benchmark of almost 25% below that of the LG Google Nexus 5 released back at the end of 2013. However, the Alcatel 3V manages to redeem itself against the Nexus 5 in the multi-core results but only by a rather paltry 4%. So from a general processing perspective, your money is going to net you what used to be top shelf performance from half a decade ago but the mobile landscape has changed a lot since then.

From a 3D perspective, and, perhaps in a testament to the above and the limited hardware specifications, I couldn't even get AnTuTu to complete a full benchmark run - it would simply hang at around 75% when loading up the Coastline test. This was after numerous reboots of the 3V and removing all other apps that did not come preinstalled.

In lieu of actual benchmark results, I played numerous rounds of PUBG Mobile on the device to see how it fared. While I wasn't expecting to have my socks knocked off as far as performance was concerned, it was indeed playable on the lowest possible graphics settings but with some choppiness in areas with high building or tree density. Of course, if you are going to play 3D games on the Alcatel 3V then be prepared to have it chew through the battery in the process.

Conclusion

The prime selling points of the Alcatel 3V are the 6-inch 18:9 FullView screen and its price. Throw into the mix the fingerprint sensor and facial recognition for fast login, plus the allure of a dual-lens camera and LED flash on the front and back and you may think you're on to a winner. Sadly, this isn't quite the case and it's very much down to what's under the hood that lets down the overall experience.

Out of the box, the diminutive 2GB RAM and 16GB onboard storage (of which less than 10GB is available to the user out of the box) are clear impairments. Yes, you can throw in a microSD card to get around the latter issue, but forcing users to make this compensation in order to keep the upfront costs down seems to be a case of false economy in my books. Plus, if you go to town installing apps or shooting photos and videos, that doesn't leave a lot of space left over for future OS updates.

In terms of feasible alternatives around the price range of the Alcatel 3V, you might consider the Moto G6. Granted, you do have to stretch another $100 to double the storage, gain another 1GB RAM, and a more powerful Snapdragon 450 chipset which, in my books, would be well worth the extra cost. Otherwise, the Honor 7X is also a good buy for $50 less than the Moto G6, with a slightly larger battery, 32GB storage, 3GB RAM, and octa-core CPU. Given that people tend to use phones for roughly two years, that extra money spent may well be worth it over that period.

While the external cosmetics of the phone are quite nice, the Alcatel 3V could have been a contender in this segment of the market had it not skimped on processing power, storage, and RAM but the corners cut in these areas ultimately let it down.

The review unit was kindly supplied by Closer Communications and retails for US$149.99 on Amazon.

 

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