Alcatel makes handsets that sit at the lower end of the market. Sometimes the company disappoints and sometimes surprises. When it is good, Alcatel can offer a really solid value for money handset. So how does the One Touch 916 Smart, which is currently £59.99 on Virgin Mobile pay as you go, stand up?
Well, you’ll have clocked immediately from looking at the images of the phone that the One Touch 916 is one of those handsets that tries to marry Android with a physical QWERTY keyboard. In general I’m not a fan of that approach. Android was designed for a bigger screen, and squishing it up can cause problems.
Here the screen is squeezed into a space that measures 2.6in diagonally but which is only 1.5in high. Moreover it only has 320 x 240 pixels. This has inevitable consequences for how much information you can see on the screen at once and as the screen doesn’t rotate you can’t even switch into a portrait mode to give yourself a little more play.
I found that this was irritating almost all of the time. There simply isn’t enough space to do Android justice, and the vertical scrolling most apps require is really tedious. Web browsing was probably the most annoying thing of all for me. You can only zoom text down so far before it becomes impossible to read, and inevitably there was a lot of horizontal scrolling involved when reading sites. If you are into the web, then steer clear.
The same goes for reading pretty much anything. SMS threads aren’t as full as on a taller screen, i.e. you can’t track a conversation without scrolling. Games are squished, and so on. It’s no more than you would expect from a small, low-resolution screen, but it bears repeating that in this display, Android just feels compromised.
That isn’t to say Alcatel has not tried. The wider than tall screen format means there’s not really space for a lower app tray, so on each of the five home screens Alcatel pushes this into a column down the right side. Here you have shortcuts to the apps drawer, the dialler and messaging. The latter gives a little indicator of the number of unread messages. It is about as neat as you can get in the small space available.
If the screen leaves me underwhelmed, the keyboard does the opposite. Alcatel has done very well in this respect. The keys are large and individually domed. They each depress with a slight clicking sound and they feel firm and solid. And if you are on the home screen and hit a key, the handset immediately thinks you want to make a call and starts the dialler.
You can use the FN key for second functions that include the usual range of symbols such as ‘!’, ‘?’, ‘&’ and so on, and there’s a second function that gives you the useful ‘.com’ too. Hit the smiley FN key and up pops a range of smilies to choose between.
To the right of the space bar there’s a key that Alcatel calls the SNS key and its on-key icon is three tiny heads and shoulders. By default it launches the pre-installed WhatsApp, but you can configure it to launch any app you like – not just a social networking app. To the left of the space bar is a key that turns on the camera’s LED light so you can use it as a torch.
Above the keyboard are huge physical End and Call buttons and between them an optical touchpad. Above these are touch-sensitive buttons for Menu, Home, Search and Back. I think all this area is a bit of a waste of space. Call and End buttons are fine just on-screen and don’t need physical alternatives. Touching the screen was my preferred way of getting around most of the time, but the optical touchpad did have its uses. The most important one for me was scrolling through web search results.
However, the touchpad should have been positioned alongside the touch buttons. This arrangement could have allowed for another centimetre of height on the screen (though probably also resulted in a price hike).
The general build is pretty good. This is a rather fat phone, but it is solidly made and the backplate is not one of those thin and flimsy types. The backplate is slightly curved and rubbery which helps with grip. I like the styling on the back. Along with top-mounted power and right side volume buttons there’s a camera button on the left side. You have to hold it down rather a long time, but eventually the camera app does kick in.
The internal specifications mark this out as a budget handset very clearly. A 3.2-megapixel camera sits on the back and there is no front-facing camera. Sound volume goes pretty loud, but there’s inevitable distortion at the higher volume levels.
Android 2.3 is way behind the times, as is the 650MHz processor. Alcatel doesn’t say how much RAM there is, but it can’t be much. The phone is slow to launch apps, there were pauses if I ran more hungry applications, and generally performance feels pedestrian.
User memory is short at just 150MB and there is a microSD card slot under the backplate, which can be removed without disturbing the battery. There are several apps in the drawer that you actually need to install from the provided 2GB microSD card if you want to use them. I have a beef about this as I feel apps should either be pre-installed or not in the app drawer at all.
I can see why Alcatel has taken this route with so little on-board memory, but it does irritate, and may gall you if you immediately swap out the 2GB microSD card for a larger one of your own, lose it, and then get asked for it in order to use apps which appear to be installed.
With a relatively slow processor and small screen, the 1,500mAh battery kept me going for a day between charges. Then again, I was not inclined to push the One Touch 916 with heavy gaming or other processor-bashing activities, so I didn’t stretch it much.
The Alcatel One Touch 916 is a budget handset and quite clearly so. The screen is its worst feature by some margin and I wish Alcatel had been able to cram more pixels in. The good keyboard is seriously let down by the screen in a way that the slowish processor isn’t. Users could learn to live with a few lags, but they may grumble about the screen continuously.
Manufacturer and model
Alcatel One Touch 916 Smart
600MHz single core
2.6in, 320 x 240 pixels
117 x 64.8 x 11.6 mm