Alcatel can produce some good budget priced phones, and if times are tough in your household and you are looking for Android goodness on a budget, the company can deliver. Take the One Touch 995 which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The nice big screen and smart skinning made up for some other sins.
But buyer beware, because Alcatel can also deliver well below par and its One Touch 720 does just that. Virgin Media is selling this phone for £34 on pay as you go, and in the photos it looks for all the world like it runs Android. That would make it an absolute bargain, and it just might grab your attention.
However, look again. The operating system might look like Android but it is proprietary. It does have many conventions that make it look and feel like a modern touch-screened operating system though. There are multiple home screens – three of them. These can accommodate widgets and app shortcuts. The app menu screen has large icons arranged in a grid that you scroll through. Long tap an app to put it onto a home screen and tap and hold app shortcuts and widgets to remove them. The ease of use conventions of Android and iOS are all here, wrapped up in a proprietary OS.
On board, you get things like mobile email, an FM radio, camera, image viewer, music player, calendar, calculator, unit converter, stopwatch, eBook reader, notes taker, voice recorder, tasks manager, alarm, Twitter client, Facebook client, web browser and weather app.
There’s Wi-Fi too, so that at first glance the Alcatel One Touch 720 looks like it has a lot going for it.
But it doesn’t take long to start finding problems.
Tap the games link and you are taken not to pre-installed games but to an online app store where you can pay a few quid for a selection of games from Gameloft. Tap the Java link and the Opera browser opens, again pushing you into the Gameloft store.
There’s no general app store link on the handset. The small quick start guide mentions a store accessed via a shortcut called Apps, but says it is network operator dependent. It wasn’t on my review phone. And if you want to populate that eBook reader, well, you are on your own. The quick start guide offers no pointers apart from saying that it will only cope with .txt files.
Much worse is the screen's touch sensitivity, which is very poor. This is due to the fact that the screen is resistive rather than capacitive. I even had trouble sliding down to get out of the lock screen and you’ll need to do that a lot as the auto-off options for the screen offer just three choices - 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and one minute. In general use, there were many instances when I hit the screen to sweep, only to find the app I tapped had opened instead.
Furthermore, I found the screen most irritating when typing text. When using the keypad you have two choices – QWERTY and 'normal'. That second choice is actually an old T9 style keypad of the type familiar to users of candybar handsets. Now to be fair here, this screen is designed for much smaller fingers than mine. But still, whichever option I chose proved to be a nightmare to use with missed keys galore. I barely managed to type in a single website address or SMS without errors. In fact, I didn’t. OK, I did. But only when I resorted to using a pen tip as a stylus.
There’s a 2-megapixel camera, with flash, on the back of the chassis and it exhibits terrible shutter lag. Don’t even think of taking a photo of anything that’s moving. It’s a good thing you can delete photos from within the camera app itself! Apps themselves can take a while to launch thanks to the low-powered processor.
Desperate for a positive thing to say about this phone, I came across the music player. It accurately found tracks from my microSD card, tucked away under the battery and augmenting the 2MB of built-in storage. The player has an equaliser that has minimal effect and a favourite tracks listing, and the audio quality that's output from its built-in speaker is good. However, rack the volume right up and there’s distortion, but considering everything else that’s going on here, the music player is a star feature. Alcatel’s headset isn’t too bad either. Well, it’s not dire.
The overall design of this phone is pretty standard stuff. A white plastic chassis, rounded edges, volume rocker on the left alongside a micro-USB connector; a power switch on top along with a headset slot; and buttons beneath the screen. These buttons include a shortcut to the Wi-Fi, which is just as well as there’s no 3G on board. The 1,000mAh battery is rated as good for nine hours of talk. It is more than likely that owners of this phone will use it as a music player, in which case I reckon it'll need charging every day.
Even given its ultra-low price, the Alcatel One Touch 720 feels like a poor value choice. I’m not against low-cost, low-feature handsets. Far from it. I like a budget handset that sets its stall out well and does its job efficiently. But the small, low-resolution resistive screen and proprietary operating system here don’t endear, and it amazes me that anyone would launch a handset in the UK without 3G these days. Then again, it amazes me that anyone would buy such a handset.
Manufacturer and model
Alcatel One Touch 720
MTK 6253 104MHz
2MB user accessible
2.8in, 320 x 240 pixels
104 x 58 x 12mm