With a price tag of £20, some might say it is churlish to grumble about any aspect of a phone like the Woolworths exclusive Alcatel OT-S520. I’d argue that you have every right to grumble if something is below par. You’d probably not pull a £20 note from your pocket and stick it in the cross cut shredder so why would you want to exchange it for a phone that isn’t good value for money?
I suppose that when buying a £20 handset the main things you are really looking for are ease of use when making voice calls and texting, a user interface that is not challenging, and a neat and tidy overall design. Sad to say you don’t get all three to perfection here.
This is a dual-band phone, so don’t expect to take it with you on your next round the world trip. However, switch the phone on in the UK and, not surprisingly, you can just start tapping the number pad to make a call. To get a text message on the go you hit the right softmenu button and then choose to create a message. Easy. MMS is supported to, but not mobile email.
The number pad, though, is the Devil’s work. I’d guess this phone has two primary target markets. The young, who aren’t to be trusted with a highly featured phone or one on prepay, and anyone who want something basic. I’d advise that second group to try this phone out before buying it because of its keys. Kids can probably cope but others, particularly some older people, may struggle.
Alcatel has decided to use a tiny proportion of the front facia for its keys. The number pad keys are just dots, albeit lozenge shaped and well raised from their surroundings. They are going to be a real fiddle for some people.
The Call and End keys and two softmenu keys are also very long and thin. The D-pad is tiny and although the select button used inside it is relatively large, it could still a bit fiddly. The keypad design of the last Alcatel handset I reviewed, the OT-S210 was streets ahead.
The screen is small at just 1.8 inches across the diagonal and it offers a mere 128 x 160 pixels. It is CSTN technology. The size isn’t really an issue as there is not a great deal going on here that requires a big display.
The busy wallpaper behind the applications menu is not easy on the eye and I couldn’t find a way to change it. You only seem to be able to alter the home screen graphic so this could become quite a nuisance.
It takes a noticeable amount of time for the screen to respond to a key press. This irritated the heck out of me. I found myself scrolling through options lists using more keypresses than necessary, with the result that I often selected the wrong option. I did learn to slow down with the key presses eventually, but it took a while.
When it comes to carrying this phone around it is not going to challenge many pockets. It measures 103.5mm tall, 44.9mm wide and 10.9mm thick, and it weighs just 69g.
Alcatel suggests that the phone will provide up to 10 hours of talk-time and 400 hours on standby. I had it on my desk and in my pocket for the better part of a week making some calls during that time and never charged it once. With no music playback built in, no Bluetooth, and just a WAP browser to drain the battery, this phone has no reason not to have a battery life of more than two days between charges. Unless, that is, you decide to really thrash the software that is provided.
The only way you could possibly do that would be to get hooked on the two included games. Chicken is a sort of vertical levels and ladders game, and UFO is a vertical shooter that runs so slowly even I managed to stay alive for a few minutes on the first play. I’m not sure Beethoven’s ”Ode to Joy” is the background music I’d have chosen for a game like this, but there you are.
You could spend some time with the VGA camera, but all you can do with images is either view them on the screen or send them as MMS messages. When you shoot a photo, you are asked if you want to MMS it immediately. With no Bluetooth and no memory card slot there’s no other way to get photos off the phone, though. I’ve not produced test shots for this handset for that very reason – photos taken with it aren’t likely ever to make it to your PC.
There is an organiser on board for managing scheduled appointments. You can add notes to them and alarms too, and even set a repeat, but there is no PC synchronising. Five alarms let you control your sleeping and other habits. You can tell the phone which day(s) to run the alarms on and even preset the snooze time in increments of 10 minutes. A calculator, unit/currency converter and voice recorder help round things out a little.
There isn’t a huge amount going on here, but for £20 you shouldn’t expect a lot so that’s OK. The slow key response time and teeny number pad are much less acceptable and diminish the score of this handset considerably.
Score in detail
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