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Alcatel 5 Review: 90% Form, 10% Function

I’m no stranger to Alcatel Phones, in fact, I reviewed one a few days ago (check out my 3V review here) and the flagship Alcatel phones are usually pretty fun to review.  They’re pretty, a good mix of specs for the price, and generally give a nice experience, but with the Alcatel 5, Alcatel mixed up the design so much, I’m still a bit confused, weeks after receiving it.

Alcatel 5
+ FOR
  • Great Screen
  • Quirky Design
  • Good Battery
- AGAINST
  • Soso Camera
  • unremarkable performance
  • Only 2.4Ghz WiFi

Buy on Amazon

Disclaimer: Alcatel Mobile provided these devices to me for Review, No money has exchanged hands between either party, and Alcatel have no input on the outcome of the Review. The 5 was used on the Three UK network in the Southeast of the UK for about 10 days, the phone received no software updates during the testing period.

Alcatel 5 Review

Speeds and Feeds (Specifications)

  • 5.7” 1440×720 IPS Display (18:9 Aspect Ratio)
  • Octo-core MediaTek MT6750 SoC
    • 4x Cortex A53 @1.0Ghz
    • 4x Cortex A53 @1.5Ghz
    • Mali-T860MP2 GPU @520Mhz
  • 2/3GB of RAM (Country dependent)
  • 16/32gb internal eMMC Storage
  • 3000mAh Non-removable Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Android 7.0
  • 12mp Rear Camera 1.25µP
  • Dual 13mp+5mp front cameras, one narrow and the other Wide Angle

For a more comprehensive spec list for the Alcatel 5, Head on over to the GSMArena page here

Hardware

Alcatel really went out there this year with the design of the 5. Whilst the 1 and 3 series are very similar in overall shape and design to the last 3 generations of Idol branded phones (since being dropped in favour of just numbers) the Alcatel 5 is a complete departure from anything that came before it, and I’m still a little perplexed by it.

Alcatel 3V Review

Let’s talk about the front, as it’s what you’ll see first, and what you spend most of the time looking at on a phone. Whereas most companies are shaving down the side bezels and often the top one too to get a tri-bezelless phone, Alcatel went a different way, instead of shaving the top, they shaved the chin. The chin and side bezels are the same tiny sliver of black bezel, whereas the top gets the rest of the bezel, and because the rest is so small, it makes the forehead look huge, when in reality it is quite similar to other phones that aren’t chasing ever smaller bezels.

Alcatel 5 Review

The 5.7” IPS display is really nice, it’s another TCL display, as with the 3V, and I am very happy with the quality of the display here, and Im even happy with the resolution, at 1440×720, it’s HD+, but whatever anti-aliasing TCL are doing here, is good enough for my eyes. This lower resolution makes it easier on the GPU as well, something I will never consider a bad thing. Above the display is where everything is, Both cameras, the 13mp main and the 5mp wide angle, the earpiece which looks ridiculously wide and narrow, the ambient light and proximity sensor are there too, but so is something else, something that also turned up on the 3V, and that is a selfie flash, I’m liking that more companies are including this, but also putting the effort to hide them incase you do not want to use them.

Alcatel 5 Review

Taking a look at the top and bottom, we see Alcatel have chosen a dark chrome plastic to cap the phone, a design flourish I actually quite enjoy. No one is going to mistake this for metal once they touch it, but I don’t think that was the point, as with the odd distribution of bezels on the front, I think this is a design choice made to make you stop and just look at it for a second, and in that sense, this does well. The bottom has a USB-C port (USB 2.0 speeds) flanked by 2 sets of 6 holes, one housing the main speaker and the other hiding the microphone, once again, a nice design choice here, but the absence of any screws means that this likely isn’t the easiest phone to get into if something breaks. On the top we have the 3.5mm audio jack, yup, that is still here, and the noise cancelling microphone, and that is all.

Alcatel 5 Review

Left side has the SIM tray, and unlike the 3V, this has the more standard NanoSIM and MicroSD or Dual NanoSIM tray, not allowing the option for Dual NanoSIMs and the MicroSD, not a biggie for me, but if you want Dual-SIMs and microSD expansion, you’ve got to look somewhere else. The right-hand side has the Power button and the volume rocker directly above it, these buttons are a little lower profile than I’d like, but they do have a nice actuation force and feel clicky enough for use, and due to the smaller screen, the fact that they’re higher up on the chassis is less of an issue seeing as the device is smaller.

Alcatel 5 Review

Lastly, we have the rear of the phone, and with all the other design flourishes on the 5, this is a little… boring. It’s not bad per se, but when the only real “design” flair you have is the ring around the camera, it’s a bit dull. The brushed plastic picks up fingerprints galore, the Singular rear camera has an oversized lens cover, and beanth that is the dual-tone LED flash, weirdly in a usually single LED flash sized cutout, in contrast to the 3V which had a single LED in a more conventional dual- LED shape housing. Below that once again is the fingerprint scanner and below that is the Alcatel logo, which is an inlay in the plastic and I don’t think will stay put all that long, as the bottom of the second “A” in my unit is already coming unstuck.

Alcatel 5 Review

The External design of the Alcatel 5 isn’t bad, but I am a bit conflicted, in ways it wants to be cool and out there, like with the display, but on other things, such as the boring rear panel and weird mishmash of aesthetic and tactile dissonance, the Alcatel 5 leaves me perplexed.

What doesn’t leave me perplexed though, is the cover glass of the Screen. Alcatel to not call out what glass they’re using, which initially leant me to guess they were using Asahi Dragontrail glass, but honestly, I’m not even sure it is that. The front of my Alcatel 5 has 2 very prominent scratches that I can not only see but also feel. This is made worse by the fact that one of them is deep enough wherein there is visible light refraction when the screen is on, making it even more visible. The 5 has never been dropped, never been in a pocket with anything and when it is on my desk it is usually on a stand, so when, where and how these scratches occurred is beyond me, but they are very, very noticeable and annoying.

Software

 

Alcatel 5 Review
A fresh install of all the preloaded apps.

For some reason (likely to do with the chipset) the Alcatel 5, which was announced in February 2018, 6 months after Android 8.0 was released to the Public (OEMs have access to it earlier) and merely weeks before the release of Android 8.1. This device ships with Android 7.0. This is ridiculous.

 

Everything works, it’s still a relatively recent version of Android after all, but that isn’t the point. This is, for all intents and purposes, Alcatel’s Flagship phone, running older software than the lower end 3V, itself not running the most recent version of Android (let alone security patches, my Alcatel 5 is on the February 5th security Patch). It irks me when a company doesn’t keep it is phones updated, and it irks me more when a company launches stuff with old software, but what makes it worse, is that the 3V, the cheaper phone, with a worse chipset, is running newer software than their flagship, this is ridiculous and bordering on unacceptable.

 

Made worse is that, just like the 3V, due to Alcatel’s history of updates, I can’t ever see the Alcatel 5 getting Oreo, let alone whatever Android P turns out to be. At Least the 3V, which ships with Oreo, has Treble, as that is mandatory, so it gives them an easier time developing for it, but eurgh, this just makes me so mad.

Performance

First things first, it’s better than the Alcatel 3V, but sadly, not much better. The MT6750 is an 8-Core chip, but it is 8 Cortex A53s running in 2 clusters (with HMP) one set is at 1.0Ghz, this is the efficiency cluster, and the “performance” (really stretching the definition there, MediaTek) cluster runs at 1.5Ghz.

I have spoken about this ad nauseum in the past, but this is going to keep happening for a few more years I assume. These setups are not good, but they are cheap. They are the older version of a core design, so it’s cheaper. They are stock core designs, not custom or semi-custom, so that makes them cheaper. They’re made on an ancient 28nm process node, once again, a lot cheaper. Everything about this SoC is made to maximise margins, not experience.

There are some good points, don’t get me wrong. The MT6750 supports VoLTE, ViLTE and VoWiFi, meaning that when put in lower-end devices in countries that have LTE networks and not much else, you can still have IP communications that are still quality, and ask anyone that has used VoLTE or VoWiFi (also called WiFi Calling) the difference is insanely noticeable.

Moving around the OS is generally fast enough, no doubt helped by the lower screen resolution, and for most apps, first boot loading times aren’t too bad either, but certain things still suffer. Scrolling long web pages can still stutter and in some cases, cause the page to reload. Pulling down the notification shade is also not the smoothest experience (though, to be fair, it is better than on the 3V). Everything works, but nothing ever feels snappy or peppy.

If, after all that you still want to see some benchmarks, here you go, these are for you.

 

 

Camera

This is, considering some of the other parts, actually a relatively easy part to write. The Cameras on the Alcatel 5 are decent, nothing more, nothing less. They aren’t the fastest, nor are they the slowest. They don’t have the best dynamic range, but I’ve also used far worse. These are just okay, and for most people, that’s just… fine.

The 12mp rear camera (which they say is interpolated to 16mp, don’t just leave it at 12mp) can produce decent shots when given enough time and light, My usual test is to take photos of flowers, usually they show a lot of dynamic range, but also show the depth of photos quite well, and the Alcatel 5 actually did pretty well here, but sadly, what was needed to get those shots was me, planting myself as solidly as possible, forcing HDR to on, and hoping I didn’t shake, if I did, I got the shots you see of my cat, which where taken one-handed with just point and shoot, markedly worse photos.

The Selfie cameras are more interesting here, for starters, there is two of them, but it’s not the “depth information” that you see on most low-end phones with dual selfie snappers, instead this second 5mp camera is wide angle, 120 degrees to be precise (the main one is around 70 degrees IIRC) and it really does make a noticeable difference if you take selfies with a load of people in them, in fact, if the phone sees more than 3 faces, it automatically switches to the wider camera, something I thought was impressively neat, as I had been manually switching before then. Sadly, the drop in resolution puts a bit of a dampener on the wide angle shots. Much like the older LG phones with dual cameras, the wider angled lens is of noticeably inferior quality to the main one, making the wide angled selfies grainier and with less colour information than the regular selfies.

Weirdly, You also can’t shoot video with the wide-angle selfie snapper, which sucks, as It feels like it’d be perfect to shoot videos of the driver and a passenger in a in-car video situation where you need the widest lens possible.

Lastly, I’ll throw in some video samples here, the Alcatel 5 can only do 1080p video, as limited by the weak SoC and ISP it was saddled with, but honestly, seeing how 1080p comes out, I wouldn’t want anything higher.

 

Battery

This is actually somewhat positive. The 3000mAh battery inside the Alcatel 5 actually does pretty well, and despite not having any official fast charging (and apparently being capped at 5v2a) it charges relatively fast as well, and thankfully, through USB-C

I know I bang on about devices moving to USB-C, but there is a reason, it’s just better. Most people use the charger in the box, so they’ll have at least one cable, USB-C cables are dropping in price all the time, and unless you solely buy your phone cables in poundland (side note, don’t.) the price difference between them is dwindling every day. The cables are easier to plug in, the connector is more robust, meaning less likely to break, both the cable and the port in your phone. It’s bidirectional, meaning topside up or upside down, it doesn’t matter, it’ll fit either way.

Would I have preferred Alcatel to put fast charging in here? Of course. Whether it be USB Power delivery or MediaTek’s own fast charging Standard (which, as on version 4.0, is also compatible with USB-PD) but I don’t feel that for the most part, the 5 is much worse off without it.

Conclusion

So, overall I really want to like the Alcatel 5, and in some areas, I do really like it, but in other areas, I can see they’ve tried, but it doesn’t feel like they’ve tried hard enough, and in the space the Alcatel 5 is in (the £180 mark on Amazon) it’s cutthroat, there are so many Good devices in that price point, from companies like Honor and Huawei, or imports with things like the Xiaomi devices, Alcatel has to try a little bit harder, and give a little more for the money.

Alcatel 5 Review

Where the OneTouch Idol 3 started, and where the Idol 5 ended, that was an interesting design evolution, I’m looking forward to seeing where Alcatel take this new design language next year.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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