Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile) review

If you don't need the fastest Web speeds or the sharpest display, the Alcatel One Touch Fierce is a solid Android bargain on T-Mobile.
Photo of Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile)

By its own claims, Alcatel is among the top ten fastest growing phone manufacturing companies in the world, but its U.S. offerings have been pretty paltry thus far. The One Touch Fierce is Alcatel’s latest smartphone to reach American shores, with an alluring $169 upfront price on T-Mobile. It’s a great Android bargain and much better than the company’s One Touch Idol, but you’ll feel the sacrifices in the form of no LTE, a low-quality display, poor cameras, and limited internal storage.

Design, Features, and Call Quality
Like the One Touch Idol, the Fierce looks good for such an inexpensive device. It’s fairly thin, light, and well-sized for single-handed use at 5.13 by 2.64 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and 4.59 ounces. The all-plastic body is designed to look like brushed aluminum, and while it yields slight flex, it feels sturdily built overall. The removable back plate houses the SIM and microSD card slots and non-removable battery—an odd move considering it’s so easily accessible. The 1800mAh battery was good for 7 hours, 55 minutes of continuous talk time in our tests. 

The 4.5-inch, 960-by-540-pixel TFT LCD should be reasonably sharp at 244 pixels per inch, but there are a few deficiencies holding this display back. It has the distinct graininess and poor viewing angle that tend to plague lower-quality panels. View it from anywhere but dead center and colors begin to wash out or darken depending on which way you turn it. An ever-present grain makes everything look dull and vaguely speckled, which is particularly annoying on websites with white backgrounds.

There are three capacitive Back, Home, and Recent Apps buttons below the display. Pressing and holding the Home button brings up Google Now, while doing the same on the Recent Apps buttons brings up menu options—keep this in mind as many apps’ software menu buttons will not show up when using the Fierce.   

The handset supports CDMA and HSPA+ 21 on the 850/1700/1900MHz bands and GSM on 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands. Call quality was good overall in our tests. Earpiece volume gets plenty loud without sounding overly harsh. Transmissions through the microphone come through clearly, but sound a touch thin and trebly. Voices themselves aren’t digitized and the noise cancellation does a good job of blocking out environmental noise, but it leaves some digitized noises in the background that can be a bit distracting. Reception is average, but not quite on the level of stronger voice phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4. There’s no LTE support, which is disappointing as T-Mobile is pushing to expand its nationwide coverage. Still, HSPA+ speeds in New York City were good in our tests, averaging around 3-4Mbps down and 2Mbps up. The Fierce also supports Wi-Fi calling, which is a nice fallback when coverage is sparse.

Also onboard are 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, though the former only supports the more crowded 2.4GHz frequency. The Fierce also has GPS for turn-by-turn navigation.

Hardware Performance and Android
The Fierce is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz MediaTek MT6589M processor with 1GB RAM and a PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU. Despite its multitude of processing cores, this is a rather modest setup, which showed in our synthetic benchmarks. While it handily beats the One Touch Idol in every measure, the Fierce falls more in line with entry-level devices like the Samsung Galaxy Exhibit. Graphics performance was a bit disappointing in our tests, and the phone struggled to draw smooth frame rates in intensive games like Asphalt 8. Real world performance was decent, as apps launched relatively quickly and I didn’t see excessively stuttering scrolling like you’ll find in some lower-end devices. I still saw the occasional force close and lag when switching between multiple running apps, but it’s not a dealbreaker, especially at this price.

Much of that smoothness can be attributed to the relatively light skin running on top of Android 4.2.2. It’s not the most recent OS version, that’d be 4.3, but there are still plenty of low-end phones still running on 4.0. Alcatel’s modifications are largely cosmetic, swapping out the standard icons for colorful and cartoonish ones. At the system level, Alcatel added an Audio Enhancement setting that doesn’t really do anything, and the option to schedule your phone to turn on or off at certain times. T-Mobile preloads a few apps, including My Account, Name ID, and Mobile TV, none of which can be deleted.

Multimedia and Conclusions
Audio support is average, as the phone played back MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, and WAV files, but not WMA. For video, the Fierce supported all of our test files, but it couldn’t play back any formats at resolutions higher than 720p. Our test unit came with a paltry 1.91GB of available storage, which fills up fast even if you don’t have a lot of media files. Luckily, the microSD card slot worked fine with our 64GB SanDisk card. An odd label inside the phone warns that SD cards are not hot swappable, meaning you’ll need to restart any time you switch a card out, but I found that I was able to unmounts cards and insert new cards that mounted just fine.

The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera produced some poor still images and even-worse video. The camera had trouble finding the correct focus or exposure, leading to very soft, washed-out images. Details look smudged even in the best lighting conditions, and in low light graininess becomes a big issue. Video capture tops out at 720p and maintains 30 frames per second indoors and out, but any semblance of fine detail is wiped away by the lackluster sensor and nonexistent image stabilization. The front-facing VGA camera works for video chats, but that’s about it.

The Alcatel One Touch Fierce probably won’t blow you away, but for just $169 upfront or $19.99 down with 24 monthly payments of $6, it doesn’t really have to. It’s not competing with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, which costs $600 upfront, or even with the two-year-old Samsung Galaxy S II, which still costs $336. The Fierce is nearly the same price as the $154 Samsung Gravity Q, which isn’t even a smartphone. It’s one of the most affordable Android options out there, and unlike some competitors, the One Touch Fierce doesn’t cut excessive corners to get there. First time smartphone shoppers could do a lot worse. 

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM, CDMA
Screen Resolution 960 x 540 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 5.13 x 2.64 x 0.35 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720p
Available Integrated Storage 1.91 GB
Processor Speed 1.2 GHz
CPU MediaTek MT6589M
GPS Yes
Service Provider T-Mobile
Total Integrated Storage 2.09 GB
High-Speed Data HSPA+ 21
Weight 4.59 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.2.2
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8 MP Rear-Facing
VGA Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 244 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 1700
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4.5 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
If you don't need the fastest Web speeds or the sharpest display, the Alcatel One Touch Fierce is a solid Android bargain on T-Mobile.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc