Budget handset manufacturer, Alcatel, may have done itself a big favour with the Alcatel One Touch 995. This is a low cost Android smartphone with a big screen and some nice features. For £173 including VAT, which is the price I found the One Touch 995 for SIM-free at Amazon when writing this review, it clearly can't compete with top end Android handsets. But I think Alcatel has made as good a job as any at playing the compromises game, and I rather like what I see.
The big screen and neat hardware design are the key plus points of this phone, but the Android version is the key drawback. In between come a range of features that represent a pretty good suite considering the price.
So, let's take a look at those highs and lows before digging any deeper.
The design of this phone looks like it belongs to a more expensive handset. OK, the screen is slightly recessed into its surround, and arguably the top and bottom bezels are a little on the large side. But neither are disastrous design features and the build feels solid. The backplate has a rubberised finish that helps with grip. While the phone looks a bit thick, it in fact measures 9.8mm, which is hardly oversized and perfectly comfortable to hold.
Alcatel has kept its buttons and connectors to the bare minimum. There is no physical shortcut button for the camera, and the long right edge, where this would normally sit is completely clear. The micro-USB port is located at the bottom of the left edge, displaced from my preferred position on the bottom edge by a micro-HDMI connector. There's a volume rocker at the top of the left edge, while the very top of the chassis has the main on/off switch and 3.5 mm headset connector.
On the front beneath the screen are four touch-sensitive buttons for Android's Home, Menu, Back and Search features. The presence of these four shortcuts is the clearest evidence of the Android version being used here. It is Android 2.3.6.
While some will baulk at the use of this antiquated version of Android others will be able to accept it given that this smartphone has a large and really quite good screen. At 4.3in and 800 x 480 pixels it is great for web browsing, and one of those screens where you may well find yourself, as I did, being annoyed with all those sites that default to the mobile version. The screen is perfectly capable of delivering the full version of websites and in most cases you can read text without zooming.
Of course when you do need to zoom, the double tap is on hand, and the screen is very responsive to finger sweeps so that pinch-to-zoom is efficient and effective too.
Alcatel has made good use of Android, skinning it rather heavily but quite intelligently. The lock screen has a nice charging graphic when your charger is plugged in, and tells you how many messages you have. It would have been nice to have music playback controls here too, but you can't have everything I suppose.
Unlock it and there are eight home screens. Small dots above the application shortcuts row at the bottom of the screen tell you which one you are on, and there's a Home icon at the far right to indicate that this is the main home screen. You flick between the screens in the usual way.
But it's so much more complex than this. Alcatel has pre-loaded SPB Shell 3D, a third-party Android skin which you will either like or loathe. Hit the carousel icon in the middle of the shortcuts bar at the bottom of the screen and SPB shell 3D bursts into action, offering a 3D rotating carousel of home screens. Sweep it to get it to rotate and tap a screen to open it up in 2D mode.
When you first turn the handset on you can increase the number of home screens from eight up to 12 by dragging empty screens into the carousel from a shortcuts bar above it. Similarly, you can remove screens from the carousel. I'm a bit of a sucker for this skin, and I rather like its general look and feel, but if you don't want it, a quick visit to the Settings area lets you revert to the standard Android launcher.
Using SPB Shell 3D doesn't seem to slow the Alcatel One Touch 995 down any. Its single-core Qualcomm 1.4GHz processor copes well even though it is only supported by 512MB of RAM. The 5-megapixel camera is decent enough and manages 720p video recording, and there's even a front camera though it's only capable of VGA stills.
Internal memory is a bit disappointing but Alcatael works the numbers here. There is 2GB of ROM of which just a shade over 800MB is free. But Alcatel provides a 4GB microSD card to boost this.
Alcatel has pre-installed a lot of apps onto the One Touch 995 and the consequence is perhaps a little overwhelming for the newcomer. Or, perhaps you rather like the idea of having some stuff on your handset to try out. Opinions vary.
Pre-installed apps include AccuWeather and its widget; Barcode scanner; Bebbled, which is a Bejeweled clone; Calculator; Layar; LED Torch; MyTracks for those of you wanting to record GPS trails; Notes for making those all-important jottings; MobiSystems Office Suite (for reading but not creating Office compatible files); OI Shopping List; Palringo; Shazam; and Tower Bloxx, another little game.
That's not the full list. There is also an FM radio and a DLNA client as well as a few more. You also get the TouchPal keyboard, which I don't really like that much. It is easy to revert to the Android standard one though.
Alcatel earns my wrath not so much for pre-installing this lot, any of which you can remove if you don't actually want them, but for including an icon for an app that isn't actually installed. Choose Asphalt 5 and you are told you need to download a wodge more data.
Battery life is perfectly acceptable. The large screen and processor don't seem to be a huge drain, with the 1,500mAh cell keeping me going for a day between charges without too much panic.
Considering the Alcatel OneTouch 995 is considerably below £200 it is quite an attractive handset, with its large screen the clear highlight. A capable processor and good battery life are icing on the cake, and while the Android version is old you can't have everything at this price, and many people will be able to live with it.
Manufacturer and model
Alcatel One Touch 995
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 900/2100
Qualcomm 1.4 GHz single-core
4.3in, 800 x 480 pixels
127 x 68 x 9.9 mm