About a year ago, I got tired of the high smartphone bill I was paying for my HTC EVO
and, after trying out an ultra-budget TracFone solution, I decided to switch over to MetroPCS and a $20 Huawei phone. Over the past year, that’s probably made up for at least some of the money I threw at Sprint but I missed my mobile Internet connection and all the Android utilities I’d become so used to. I also got tired of pocket-dialing people on the cheapo Huawei keypad and the phone was starting to act flaky.
So, this past week, I started looking at some of the budget offerings from MetroPCS and saw the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce. Since it’s been out for a few months, it was as low as $29 depending on the line options and that was good enough for me.
The OneTouch actually surpasses the EVO that I had in some ways, although three years later that’s not completely surprising. it’s running Android 4.2 (Jellybean) and has a hi-def 4.5 inch screen with plenty of room to work. This is a 4G phone which is already an improvement over the 3G service I was limited to with Sprint. The service from the combination of the MetroPCS and T-Mobile networks has been pretty good so far, even outside a major metropolitan area.
Maybe not surprisingly, the on-call sound quality on the OneTouch Fierce phone is a huge leap above the quality I was getting on the $20 Huawei and even from the EVO. I guess I’d forgotten what it was like to have decent sound on a phone call but this phone almost puts the other person right there in the room with me. There’s also a wide selection of ringtones with the option to use your favorite song from the music library although without the option to crop the song that the EVO had and without the ability, so far as I can see, to add custom ringtones to specific contacts. Contacts can be stored on the phone or on Google for synchronization.
The external speaker isn’t quite as good as the EVO which surprised me with its sound quality but it’s still pretty good. The Alcatel does have a pretty good equalizer which might make up for that when using earbuds.
In the first couple of days, I found that most audio notifications are turned on by default and have to be turned off one program at a time. This could get annoying. I just found the setting where I could turn off the audible notification every time the phone detects a new WI-FI network.
The OneTouch Fierce also has some really good voice recognition, maybe better than the EVO’s. I had been missing that, especially when texting friends. The input methods are very configurable with three keyboards, Google, Android and Swype, to choose from.
Settings and Storage
One thing I like about the interface is the new Settings panel which is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen and tapping the panel’s icon in the top-right corner. This panel puts the most frequently-used settings in one place. More detailed settings are available from the settings screen which is accessed from the touch pad at the bottom of the phone.
The storage is also decent on this phone with just over 2 GB onboard and up to 32 GB available through a MicroSD card. There is an option in the settings to use either as the default write disk.
One feature that might put some people off of this model is the non-removable battery. I didn’t put much thought into this one when the salesperson mentioned it at the store and it did make me pause a little after taking it home. After using it pretty intensively for the past few days taking pictures, playing music, using a GPS app, surfing over 4G and WI-FI, I can say that the battery is especially good for an Android phone. Also, in the three years I’ve had my EVO (which I still use even without the service plan) I haven’t had to replace the battery and might have had to remove it once so I’m willing to take the chance on this budget-minded option and see how it performs over the long-term.
Camera and Video
The OneTouch Fierce does have front and back cameras with a 5 MP camera on the back and a VGA camera on the front that takes some decent selfies under good lighting conditions. There are some good settings and options for both the camera and video recorder including a variety of scene settings, color modes and facial detection features. Having said that, those settings and the post-shot enhancements partially compensate for the fact that this is still a smartphone camera and you’re not going to get professional quality photos out of it. Still, the camera app does have some really nice features such as a flexible panoramic mode that will quickly process vertical or horizontal panoramic shots and a multi-angle view mode designed to create 3D photos. There’s also a high-definition mode on the camera which looks to me like the equivalent of a slow shutter high-exposure setting on a regular camera.
With some attention to the settings, you can still take some really good pictures with the phone and it’s far more than I’d expect for a budget smartphone.
The video camera is 720p which is more than enough for the casual family videos and YouTube uploads from your phone. I’ll include a couple samples in the next post.
By now, you can tell that I like this smartphone but just so you don’t think this is a paid endorsement, let me be upfront about some of the quirks in the phone.
As I mentioned earlier, the non-removable battery is a turn-off for some but for the price, I think it’s worth overlooking.
The video camera does have a quirk that causes the video to go very dark without the right settings and I will address this in the next post. The 5 MP camera also lacks some definition in certain situations but with some familiarity, you can get photos like the ones I took above.
Some of the application controls are less than intuitive and there might be a learning curve for some people. For instance, I was wondering where the Select All option was in the e-mail app. Then I noticed that when I selected an e-mail manually, a tab appeared at the top of the screen saying “1 selected” and then I tried clicking on that and it dropped down to reveal a Select All command. This doesn’t rank high on usability. I also dropped my first incoming call because when I swiped the indicator in the same direction used to unlock the screen, it went into a quick text message mode intended to tell the caller why I couldn’t answer right then. Some of the camera mode icons are also cryptic.
Then there’s the issue that this phone, along with all the other new Android devices, does not support Adobe Flash. I found this out this morning when I tried to listen to one of my favorite Internet radio stations. While unfortunate, it’s the result of decisions on the part of Adobe.
Overall, this is a great budget Android phone with the word ‘budget’ in no way indicative of the quality. I was never really comfortable having a $200 device in my pocket all the time and I remember how my hands would shake when using my EVO to take pictures from a bridge. I’m no longer willing to shell out big bucks for what is, honestly, luxury technology even if it is useful but I do want to have that power available when I need it. With the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce, I feel like I’m back in business as a smartphone user and that I’ve gotten a great deal in the process.