In the last year or so, the way we view “affordable” handsets has been changing. No longer are these devices riddled with compromises in comparison to flagship phones. Today, a budget phone can still offer incredible performance, a slew of modern features, and even a great camera. Just take a look at the recent Realme 3 Pro as a prime example.
The Alcatel 3 is expected to sell for roughly $180, or ~140 pounds, which puts it firmly in the “extremely affordable” camp. Unfortunately, the actual performance harkens back to affordable handsets of old.
To find out what we mean, keep reading Android Authority‘s Alcatel 3 review.
About this review: We tested the Alcatel 3 for about 1.5 weeks prior to writing this review, and used it as a daily driver for several of those days. The device was provided by Alter agency, on behalf of Alcatel. It had the February 2019 security patch installed.
Alcatel 3 review: The big picture
Alcatel is no stranger to making budget and mid-range handsets. Last year’s Alcatel 3 was a somewhat compelling phone, save for the paltry 16GB of storage. This year’s model was announced alongside two others. The range, which includes the Alcatel 1s, 3, and 3L, caters to pretty much every budget.
The 2019 Alcatel 3 is still very much an entry-level device, but it is positioned at the upper end of the portfolio and seeks to punch above its weight, with premium features such as face unlock and a full-view screen. Despite its plastic construction, the phone has a striking design that belies its price. This makes it an appealing piece of hardware.
To this reviewer’s mind, however, it struggles to keep up with some of the competition.
What’s in the box?
- Alcatel 3
- Quick start guide
- Charger (plug and wire)
- 3.5mm wired headphones
A standard offering here, which is of course absolutely fine at this price. The inclusion of headphones is certainly welcome. And they’re actually the old-fashioned earphones, rather than earbuds you have to force into your head. As someone with exceptionally small ears, this is very welcome.
- Plastic build
- 82.2 percent screen-to-body ratio
As I said earlier, this thing actually looks pretty darn nice for the price. The back panel is striking, with an attractive, reflective color gradient, and pleasingly curved edges. While it looks similar to more premium handsets, it is in fact plastic. In my short time with the phone it has already picked up a number of small scratches, so it may not look quite as nice in a year’s time.
On the front, there’s an unexciting notched display, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Despite the notch and thin edge bezels, the device only achieves an 82.2 percent screen-to-body ratio due to a rather pronounced chin.
That blight aside, the Alcatel 3 looks and feels better than the plastic build would suggest. It has a particularly slim profile, thanks to some extremely curved corners, and the sub-six-inch screen. This makes it a good choice for those who don’t like lugging around bulky handsets, which is something a lot of people I know want — especially at this lower price point.
The Micro-USB port, found on the bottom of the device, is disappointing. This is becoming anachronistic even on cheaper devices, and it damages the future-proofing of the device. Perhaps Alcatel saved a few bucks here to keep the device affordable, but future compatibility is going to become an issue — if not now, then certainly in a couple of years. Think hard about whether this is a compromise you’re happy with. If you don’t plan to use the port for much other than charging (slowly), it may not be an issue for you.
The NFC radio is welcome, as it’s missing from similarly priced phones like the Redmi Note 7 and more expensive 7 Pro. That’s a big selling point at this price, and is a must-have for a lot of people.
The fingerprint sensor is also nicely positioned around the back in the center and this makes it a very quick way to unlock the phone. Face unlock is similarly quick, though it isn’t the most secure option. There’s also space for a microSD card next to the SIM to offer up to 128GB of extra space.
- 5.94-inch IPS LCD
- HD+ 1,560 x 720
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
While 5.94 inches will likely be plenty for many (and wouldn’t have been unusual not long ago), it feels a little cramped, with the lower resolution and the rounded corners. This is particularly noticeable if you’re coming from a device with more real estate.
This thing looks like Thanos.
To be fair, 720p is a common resolution for a device at this price, and the screen looks detailed and sharp enough for my liking. Consuming media is a pleasant experience, though the notch will be divisive. That said, the auto brightness seems a little aggressive and makes the screen look rather dim a lot of the time; it’s better turned off.
The microUSB included down the bottom of the device is disappointing.
- Snapdragon 439
- Adreno 505
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage
When it comes to performance, this device certainly chugs a little. The Snapdragon 439 chipset is really not optimized for gaming with its Adreno 505 GPU, and that means lower fps in higher-end games. That said, you’ll be fine with 2D titles and less-demanding games. Atomik: RunGunJumpGun played well. You can play PUBG on the lowest settings with occasional frame drops, as long as you can sit through the extremely long loading times. While you might not expect a phone at this price to be a gaming beast, some of the competition at this price does it better.
On Antutu, the Alcaltel 3 scored 80430, which put its CPU performance ahead of 16 percent of users and the GPU ahead of seven percent of users. I tried turning the volume down during one of the tests and it took a good few seconds to register.
The mid-range processor also means navigating the UI can be slow going at times. When booting the phone up from fully powered down, it takes a good 30 seconds for the icons to appear on the home screen. As you likely won’t be powering your device down often, this isn’t that big of a deal, but it provides some clue as to wider performance overall.
Apps take a while to load in many cases. Scrolling through media rich feeds via the browser or a social media app is not as smooth an experience as other devices. More egregious is the perceptible delay waiting for the keyboard to pop up when you hit a text box. Multi-window multitasking works, but is again very slow.
More egregious is the perceptible delay waiting for the keyboard
The combination of limited performance, low resolution, slim aspect ratio, and curved edges makes a lot of other day-to-day tasks tiresome. Signing into PUBG was a comedy of errors: after entering my password into Facebook, I’d have to hit the back button to hide the keyboard because it was blocking too much of the screen. So I’d do that, and nothing would happen. Assuming it hadn’t registered my command, I’d hit back again, only to then be taken back to the previous screen once the first touch finally registered. This happened three times. (Which, granted, is as much a testament to my lack of patience as anything else.)
You can do mostly everything, but going beyond basic tasks is frustrating and far from optimal. The real problem is you can get much better for a similar price. The Realme 3 Pro and Redmi Note 7 are significantly quicker to perform everyday tasks with much larger screens, and that makes the whole experience far superior.
- Rear: 13MP f/2.0 primary, 5MP depth sensor
- Front: 8MP
The camera is distinctly average. Around the back, you’re getting a 13MP f/2.0 lens backed up by a 5MP depth sensor. Auto focus struggles with extreme close-ups, so shallow depth of field effects aren’t easy to achieve.
That said, general camera performance from the rear shooter is okay, and photos look fine thanks to decent contrast and some punchy (though inconsistent) colors.
Upon close inspection, you might notice the lack of detail. This is most apparent if you blow up the image and examine items in the background. Auto-exposure struggles a lot in sunny conditions, causing some images to end up rather washed out. I experienced a couple of instances where the saturation was jacked up too high in post-processing, which hurt the final image.
Auto exposure struggles a lot in sunny conditions.
The host of cool effects, which include light tracing and manual mode, are very welcome. Unfortunately, the portrait mode really doesn’t hold up and seriously struggles with edge detection. It almost looks like it’s going for a completely different effect in some cases — like a hazy dreamlike aesthetic. It’s not ugly, but it’s not right! Low-light performance struggles, as is commonplace for a device this affordable.
The front-facing camera sports a respectable 8MP sensor at f/2.0. Selfies don’t come out great at all, unfortunately. Exposure issues are pronounced and over-sharpening adds to the trouble. Photos from the front camera are serviceable, though, as long as you aren’t too fussy about filling your Instagram feed with beautiful selfies.
As for video, the rear camera is capable of capturing 1080p footage at 30fps, while the front manages 720p at 30fps. Personally, that’s a big deal breaker, as vlogging is one of the main things I use my Android device for. You may feel differently.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of both cameras, though, is just how long it takes to open the app when you hit the icon. Worse, how long it takes to take a photo when you hit the shutter button. You can’t rely on this phone to quickly take a snap of something interesting and it makes the experience less enjoyable as a whole.
As a whole, camera performance is middling. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve also seen better.
- Android 8.1.0 Oreo
I really wanted this device to get a win in at least one category. Unfortunately, this area is another significant misstep. The Alcatel 3 is running Android 8.1.0. With Android Q just around the corner, we can expect this to be two generations old in a matter of months. Alcatel hasn’t said if the 3 will receive an update to Pie or Q.
It’s not a completely stock version of Oreo, either. The customizations to the notification tray are immediately obvious. Lots of the Quick Settings have scrolling text, which is more than a little distracting. You have to swipe to the left or right to get to your notifications once the shade is pulled down. Swipe right and the animation still plays to the left.
Other than that, the changes are kept fairly minimal. It just makes you wonder why we didn’t get a stock version of Android in the first place.
The Alcatel 3 is running Android 8.1.0, which puts it way behind the times.
It’s a massive shame because a lite-and-up-to-date version of Android — like Android One — would do wonders on a device like this. That’s even more of a missed opportunity given this is exactly what you’d be getting on a Nokia phone like the 5.1 Plus or 6.1 (I’ll get to why that is a pertinent comparison in a moment).
The battery weighs in at 3,500mAh, which is fairly average. Combined with the older Android version, this really isn’t anything to write home about. You’ll likely want to top up some juice by the end of a long day of average-to-heavy usage. It’s similar to what you’d get from mid-range handsets of previous generations, which is kind of the running theme.
The Micro-USB ensures this isn’t the fastest to device to charge either. The Realme 3 Pro made the same mistake, but at least that came with fast charging. This is just a blast from the past that we could have done without. Of course, this saves pennies — which is hopefully passed to the consumer — but devices like the Nokia X5 manage to offer USB-C for less.
- Single bottom-firing speaker
- 3.5mm headphone jack
Sound doesn’t fair a whole lot better than the other departments. There’s a single bottom-firing speaker, and it’s not up to much. We’re used to tinny sound on affordable handsets, but normally that’s only apparent during media playback. The notifications sounded a little muffled too (though I’ll admit to nitpicking at this point).
This won’t be a device you can use to fill a room with sound. Thankfully, there’s a headphone jack, and I liked that it’s on the top of the device — more of that please! As mentioned, there are some decent headphones thrown in for good measure. Call quality is just fine, and I had no issues with signal either.
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 439
|MicroSD||Up to 128GB|
|Cameras||13MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm
5MP depth sensor
8MP, f/2.0 selfie camera
|SIM||Hybrid Dual SIM|
|Software||Android 8.1.0 with custom skin|
|Dimensions and weight||151.1×69.7x8mm
|Colors||Blue-purple gradient, Black-blue gradient|
Value for the money
Not every phone balances the value equation, and the Alcatel 3 tips the scales in the wrong direction. Your money would go much further with a Realme 3 Pro, or Redmi Note 7 — though they cost a little more. At approximately the same price, the Realme 3 is better. Even the Realme 2 Pro, if you can find one, would be a better investment. The same goes for the Nokia 5.1 Plus which I brought up a few times, as well as the Nokia 6.1, the Motorola One, the Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite, and others.
The Alcatel 3 isn’t yet available but is expected to sell for roughly $180 or 140 pounds.
Alcaltel 3 review: The verdict
There’s nothing seriously wrong with this phone. It looks nice in spite of the plastic, and the inclusion of NFC and bevy of camera modes are welcome. The small size will suit some, and those just looking for a basic-but-handsome handset likely won’t be too disappointed — I get that not everyone is willing to hunt online for less readily available hardware.
Sadly, this device falls short of the competition in a number of key areas. The smaller, low-res screen feels cramped, performance is sub par, it uses Micro-USB, and it’s running an older version of Android. All these things have been done better on similarly priced handsets. This adds up to an experience that is frustrating as soon as you try to do more than the most basic tasks.
If you care at all about performance and you’re willing to shop around, I’d say to keep looking. While I don’t dislike the Alcatel 3, it’s a hard pass for me and not a device I can wholeheartedly recommend.