The Alcatel 1 (2021) might be a very cheap phone, but even as a value proposition, it’s sorely lacking. This is literally a phone from a different era, with creaky components that leave it borderline unusable for anything other than light calling.
- Very cheap
- Very small and light
- Terrible performance
- Dated design
- Awful camera
- Alarming battery drop-off under load
- Very affordableThe Alcatel 1 (2021) is one of the cheapest smartphones you can buy in 2023
- Small dimensionsThe compact form factor makes it easy to use one-handed
- Android GoThe phone runs a clean, stripped-back version of Android
The Alcatel brand has some claim to fame within the Android ecosystem. The Alcatel 1X was the very first Android Go phone to launch in February 2018.
I was reminded of this fact when I re-read my review of that phone’s follow-up, the Alcatel 1 (2018), in preparation for my review of the Alcatel 1 (2021). There aren’t many smartphones that sell for this far south of £100 anymore, so I figured the refresher would prove valuable.
It was more revealing than I anticipated. It turns out the Alcatel 1 (2021) is exactly the same phone as the Alcatel 1 (2018), only selling for even less money.
These days the Alcatel 1 (2021) can be had for around £40 from established retailers. That’s cheap, but is it good value?
Design and screen
- Exactly the same as the Alcatel 1 (2018)
- Removable back and battery
- Poor 5-inch TFT LCD
The Alcatel 1 (2021) is so old school, it comes out of the box with the rear cover and battery removed. You have to slide the SIM (thankfully a nano) into the little slot below the cover, just like you used to do with the Nokia feature phones of old.
This is a cheaply made phone with a thick plasticky body and huge display bezels. One rare benefit of the latter point is that there’s no hole-punch display, resulting in a completely unimpeded picture.
Despite those large bezels, this feels like a remarkably small phone by modern standards. Even the Asus Zenfone 9, which is the smallest Android phone I’ve used of late, feels large alongside it. The closest comparison I can draw here is the iPhone SE (though obviously not in terms of quality).
Another blast from the past is the complete absence of any biometric authentication. There’s no fingerprint sensor anywhere to be found, so you’ll have to rely on a passcode for entry. You won’t find NFC here either, so mobile payments are out of the question.
I’ve already mentioned one of the key reasons behind this old-school feel: the Alcatel 1 (2021) is actually the Alcatel 1 (2018). It’s got the same design and the exact same measurements: a 137.6 x 65.7 x 9.8mm body with a 134g weight.
That extends to the phone’s display, which is the same 5-inch 960 x 480 TFT LCD. In my review of the Alcatel 1 (2018) I called this panel “a small, dull, blurry and overly reflective screen, which is all but impossible to use outside on a bright day”. Can you guess what I think of it here at the beginning of 2023?
You have to factor in that lower price tag, of course, but bad is bad. Saving £20 – or even £120 compared to a normal ‘cheap’ phone – doesn’t change that.
Viewing angles continue to be atrocious, rendering the screen almost impossible to see from an angle. Colours are washed out, and there’s no such thing as ‘black’ here, just murky grey.
Just about the only positive thing I can say for the Alcatel 1 (2021) display is that it’s easy to use one-handed, which is an alien concept for most modern Android phones. It’s also unobstructed by any form of notch, which is always nice.
- 5MP main camera
- 2MP selfie camera
- Terrible photos in all conditions
The Alcatel 1 (2021) packs the same camera set-up as before, which means a solitary 5MP rear camera and a 2MP selfie camera.
Neither is any good whatsoever. The main camera takes fuzzy, blurry shots in even reasonable outdoor conditions, and really struggles with any large variances in light and shade. There is no form of HDR compensation whatsoever.
Dropping the light produces even murkier, noisier results, and shooting at night is a huge no-no. Needless to say, there is no dedicated night mode.
Often with lesser smartphone cameras it’s common to graciously issue the caveat that it’s fine for social media posts, but I wouldn’t even provide such a damning-with-faint-praise concession this time around. It’s just flat-out terrible.
The selfie camera is even worse, producing noisy images with flattened subjects and dull skin tones. Yuck.
- Ancient, creaky Mediatek MT6739
- Only 1GB of RAM
- Very poor benchmark results
If it’s bad enough that the Alcatel 1 (2021) retains the poor display of its three-year-older twin, consider the fact that it also packs exactly the same Mediatek MT6739 processor.
“It’s another example of a specification that seems to come from the smartphone past,” I said from the wintery depths of 2018. In early 2023, this component is practically a fossil.
Unsurprisingly, Genshin Impact won’t even install on the Alcatel 1 (2021). Slightly more surprisingly, nor will Vampire Survivors – a more recent but decidedly less technically demanding 2D game.
The likely culprit for this is the Alcatel 1 (2021)’s meager 1GB of RAM. We typically balk when a phone has just 2GB or even 3GB of RAM these days, so 1GB is slightly scary.
Needless to say, performance here is awful in every way. Apps take an age to load, menus creak and groan, and everything appears to move along at a snail’s pace. Don’t expect to jump into the camera app when you spot a shooting opportunity either.
With that in mind, the Alcatel 1 (2021)’s benchmark scores make for ugly reading. An average Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 165 and a single-core score of 79 puts the Alcatel 1 (2021) firmly toward the very bottom of the smartphone performance league table.
You get 16GB of internal storage as standard, which feels almost impossibly small by modern standards. Even sub-£200 phones have started to ship with 128GB of internal storage.
Android 11 (Go edition) comes installed out of the box. This is the main (and possibly only) change from the Alcatel 1 (2018), which shipped with Android 8.1.
This is a clean, seriously stripped-back take on Google’s OS. You’ll find lightweight alternatives to the usual fare, like a Gallery app in place of Google Photos. This is evidently in a bid to keep things moving along at an appreciable lick despite the humble hardware.
It’s a futile gesture, as it turns out, because the Alcatel 1 (2021) is an absolute chore to use. But there’s no knocking the unadorned Android Go OS, which does its best to stay out of your way.
- Tiny 2000mAh battery lasts a day of light usage
- Media playback saps power alarmingly quickly
- Charging takes hours
Like its predecessor, the Alcatel 1 (2021) only comes with a 2000mAh battery. That’s less than half the capacity of most modern Android phones.
Of course, with such an unusually small, dim, and pixel-sparse display, that battery is having to drive a lot less action than usual. With performance so limited, meanwhile, you won’t want to use the phone for much more than light phone calls. On those terms, it’ll get you through a full day without too much issue.
However, any form of media will hit it hard. An hour of Netflix streaming sapped 18% of a full charge, while an hour of YouTube Music streaming sapped 7%. By way of a comparison, the Moto G22 (a very typical affordable phone) lost 3% and 1% respectively in the same tests.
Continuing the outdated feel of the phone, you’ll need to recharge using the bundled Micro USB charger. Despite the phone’s tiny battery, this takes an absolute age. I put it on charge with 43% left in the tank, and it took two hours to hit 93%.
Should you buy it?
You literally have £40 and no more to spend. There are precious few smartphones that can be bought for just £40. This is the Alcatel 1 (2021)’s whole reason for existing.
You like to take any pictures with your phone. The Alcatel 1 (2021) has a truly terrible camera that takes horrendous shots in all lighting.
It feels a little weird steering people away from one of the cheapest phones on the market, especially in these financially challenging times. But while the Alcatel 1 (2021) is incredibly cheap, it is not one of the best cheap phones.
The phone’s strangled performance, alarming battery life under load, and flat-out terrible 5-inch display renders it borderline unusable for all but the very lightest of tasks. Web browsing, gaming, and media playback are all badly hamstrung, while the camera fails to produce acceptable results in pretty much any lighting conditions.
If you absolutely can’t spend more than £40 on a phone, and only need a handset for the lightest and most occasional of tasks, you could make a case for buying the Alcatel 1 (2021). Otherwise, we’d implore you to save a little extra, spend a little more, and achieve a bare minimum of all-round usability.
How we test
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Photos shot in various lighting conditions
Performance tested in both real-world conditions and using benchmark apps
Used as a main phone for multiple days
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Yes, you’ll find a charger in the box along with the phone.