The Alcatel One Touch Shockwave for U.S. Cellular is free with a two-year contract, but it might still make you feel like you want your money back. It’s a bulky, ungraceful smartphone running a two-year-old version of Android on hardware that’s just as dated. It’s a bit tougher than your average device, but that isn’t reason enough to recommend it. You’ll have to spend some money to get a better phone, but you’ll feel less ripped off.
Design, Network, and Call Quality
At a glance, the Shockwave looks reasonably sized compared with other smartphones. But when you turn on it on, you realize the bezel is huge, both above and below the display. Alcatel chose a 3.5-inch screen, but there’s easily room for at least 4 inches. The phone is also surprisingly heavy. At first I thought that maybe it had a slide-out keyboard, but it turns out this is just one bulky phone. At 4.72 by 2.60 by 0.54 inches (HWD) and a whopping 5.7 ounces, it weighs more than the Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a gigantic 4.8-inch screen.
Size aside, the Shockwave is a somewhat rugged device, and it feels like it. It’s coated in black, grippy, rubberized plastic, with a blue accent ring surrounding outer edge and the camera on the back. There’s a sliding lock on the battery cover, and the 3.5mm headphone and power jacks are covered with rubber stoppers.
The phone is presumably named for its shock- and water-resistant casing. It doesn’t claim to meet military specification 810G like many other rugged smartphones, so I didn’t put it through our full set of torture tests. But it was no worse for the wear after a couple of hard, 5-foot drops to the floor of the PCMag Labs. It also survived a quick dip into a vase full of water, though moisture collected around the camera sensor and hasn’t evaporated yet. If you need something really rugged, you’re better off with a phone like the Sonim XP Strike for Sprint, which can withstand up to 6 feet of water for an hour, as well as the force of a forklift (yes, a forklift).
The Shockwave’s 3.5-inch display features just 480-by-320-pixel resolution. Everything looks pixelated and grainy, and there’s some backlight bleed around the screen’s edges. Below that is about half an inch of bezel, and under that are three capacitive touch buttons. I had some difficulty typing accurately on the tight onscreen keyboard, often pressing the letter next to the one I meant to press.
U.S. Cellular is the seventh-largest carrier in the U.S. It runs its own 3G and 4G LTE networks in parts of 26 states. Prices are good, but not significantly better than any of the big four carriers. Instead, U.S. Cellular sells itself on a higher level of customer service and network quality. Our readers agreed, giving the carrier our Readers’ Choice award last year, for reasonable prices and a reliable network.
The Shockwave is a dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (800/1900 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. Call quality is average. Voices sound nice, round, and full in the phone’s earpiece. The speakerphone sound fine but isn’t loud enough to hear outdoors. Calls made with the phone sound a bit fuzzy, and background noise cancellation is average at best. Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, but standard Android voice dialing crashed nearly every time I triggered it. Battery life was among the poorest I’ve seen, at just 3 hours and 34 minutes of talk time. And I tested it twice.
Processor, Android, and Apps
The Shockwave is powered by an aged single-core 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7627T processor. Time hasn’t been kind to this chip, which was just fine a few years ago. Even simple things like swiping between home screens or opening up the App menu feels slow and laggy. Benchmark scores are some of the worst I’ve recorded in recent memory, so you’ll have a hard time running many new apps and games from the Google Play store.
And to make matters worse, the Shockwave is still running the two-year-old Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), which was last relevant around the same time its processor was. There’s no hope for an update to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), let alone Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). That’s a shame, because even ICS comes with a host of major improvements over Gingerbread.
As it stands, Alcatel has made some moderate customizations to the UI, which don’t really serve to enhance or degrade your experience. The app launcher at the bottom of the screen offers three apps instead of the customary four, and three of your five home screens come fully loaded with apps and widgets, but can be customized to your liking. There’s also a good amount of bloatware preinstalled, and you can’t delete any of it.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
There’s a microSD card slot underneath the phone’s battery, which means you need to unlock the cover and remove the battery to access it. Alcatel includes a 2GB card, which is good, because my 8, 32, and 64GB SanDisk test cards we all incompatible. I tried a different 2GB card than the one installed, and that worked, so it looks like 2GB, along with the 557MB of internal storage is all you get.
For media, the Shockwave was able to play all of our music test files except for FLAC and WMA. Music sounded fine through Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones as well as wired earphones, but there’s a bit of hiss in the background when something isn’t playing. The phone was able to play H.264 and MPEG4 videos at resolutions up to 800 by 480, but not AVI or Xvid files.
The 3.2-megapixel has an LED flash. Shutter lag is pronounced, at 1.5 seconds, with another second or two to save the image. Unfortunately, that time isn’t worth it. Photos taken by the Shockwave look flat-out bad, with terrible color reproduction and next to no detail. Video looks better, but resolution maxes out at 800 by 480; at 9 frames per second indoors and 16 outside, it’s also pretty choppy.
Don’t be swayed by the Shockwave’s low price. The real shock is that this phone is actually being sold in 2013. $50 can get you a much more capable phone, like the Samsung Galaxy Axiom. We haven’t reviewed it yet, but it has support for U.S. Cellular’s 4G LTE network, a fast dual-core processor, Android 4.0, and a front-facing camera, which is enough to know it should be a good deal better than the Shockwave. If you need a more rugged device, even the Motorola Defy XT is a better choice, although it’s not one of our favorites. Still, it has a newer version of Android, a better camera, and a sharper screen than the Shockwave.
More Cell Phone Reviews:
|Service Provider||US Cellular|
|Screen Details||480-by-320 TFT LCD|
|Operating System||Android OS|
|High-Speed Data||EVDO Rev A, CDMA 1X|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||3 hours 34 minutes|
|Processor Speed||800 MHz|
|Screen Size||3.5 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||557 MB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc