The Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 is the cheapest 4G phone yet. It costs around £80, which is a solid £20 cheaper than the EE Kestrel. And that phone impressed us by packing so much in for £100.
However, where phones like the EE Kestrel and Motorola Moto E really ace that budget blueprint, the One Touch Pop S3 makes one too many cuts to some of the most important areas of a phone.
Design doesn’t suffer too much from the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3’s low price, though. It’s a simple-looking phone, but the removable tough plastic rear cover is thick enough to avoid feeling too cheap and you get three of the things in the box.
You can make the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 white, black or yellow if you like, and getting this level of customisation in a phone this cheap is kind of remarkable. Those shells may cost about a penny to produce, but that doesn’t stop other phone makers from trying to charge you £10 for them.
The feel of the One Touch Pop S3 is a bit like a low-rent take on the iPhone 5C. The plastic feels a bit cheaper and front-on the S3 looks like a conventional low-cost Android, but it still looks a fair bit better than many of the affordable Huawei budget phones we’ve reviewed over the past year. It’s at least 20 per cent cute.
SEE ALSO: Best Cheap Mobile Phones 2014 Round-up
There are a few signs that this isn’t actually a terrifically well-made phone, though. Its power button is built into the back case part — and broke pretty swiftly in our review model, going all floppy — and the lack of a backlight on the soft keys is a sign of cost-cutting.
We’re glad to see that the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 has a front notification LED light and an ambient light sensor despite the price. The recent Nokia Lumia 630 left out the light sensor, meaning it doesn’t have an auto brightness setting for its screen. The S3 does have one, and we think it’s pretty much essential these days — you don’t want to be manually changing brightness every time you leave the house, do you?
SEE ALSO: Best Android Phones Round-up
The display is probably the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3’s worst element, though. Size is not the issue – a 4-inch screen is a good size for a budget phone like this, although we do find the slightly larger Motorola Moto E a bit easier to type away on.
Quality is the issue. Resolution is quite low at 480 x 800 pixels, and the display appears quite soft and indistinct, which is probably worse than looking slightly pixellated.
The Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 uses a TN-type screen rather than the higher-quality IPS panels we like to see in even budget phones these days, and this is why we’re seeing these basic issues. Viewing angles too are a good deal worse than something like the Moto E, which does have an IPS screen.
SEE ALSO: Best Smartphones Round-up
Colour reproduction isn’t great either, and this combo of failings leaves the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 screen looking quite weak and milky.
On the more practical side, the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 doesn’t have the brightness it needs to compete with a sunny day either. The backlight maxes out at a pretty conservative level, and as the screen is quite reflective we found it a bit of a pain to use outdoors, even if the sun isn’t terrifyingly bright.
The screen seems to have suffered because the phone has clearly been made with the mission statement of becoming one of the cheapest — if not the cheapest — 4G phone yet. And we’d gladly trade away 4G to have a nicer-looking screen because it seriously impacts the sort of things fast internet is good for. Web browsing and video streaming are much better on a Motorola Moto E.