Alcatel has launched a duo of wallet-friendly phones in the One Touch Fierce and Evolve, the latter of which is designed for those who only want to pay the bare minimum. Available for $27 down with a total cost of $99, the T-Mobile Evolve packs Android 4.1, a Swype keyboard and an intuitive interface. However, this handset involves too many compromises, even for budget shoppers.
The all-black Evolve has a sleek and simple build. The bezel has a small speaker and VGA camera at the top, while touching the bottom will illuminate three touch buttons for Back, Home and Recent Apps.
The Evolve has a microUSB port on the left edge, volume control on the right, and a power button and headphone jack at the top. The handset's soft back panel hosts a 5-MP camera at the top, with a small rear speaker next to it and a One Touch logo below. A small indent at the bottom left of the phone's rear allows you to pop off the back panel and remove the phone's 1400 mAh battery.
At 4.78 x 2.52 x 0.46 inches, the short and thick Evolve was comfortable to hold. The phone isn't as long as budget competitors like the Kyocera Hydro Edge (4.9 x 2.5 x 0.39 inches) and the LG Optimus F6 (5 x 2.59 x 0.4), and its One Touch Fierce big brother stands taller at 5.13 x 2.64 x 0.35 inches.
At 4.8 ounces, the Evolve is a little heavier than the 4.5-ounce Hydro Edge and 4.7-ounce Fierce, and barely lighter than the 4.9-ounce Optimus F6.
The Evolve packs a 4-inch, 800 x 480 WVGA display, the same resolution as the Hydro Edge, but the display is not as sharp as the 960 x 540 screens on the Fierce and Optimus F6. App icons and text was clearly visible, and we had no problem viewing the various images on Laptopmag.com.
When we watched the 1080p "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" trailer, the Evolve was able to preserve the lavish purples and blues of the movie's extravagant party scene. However, the 800 x 480 screen showed its limitations in the finer details, as the clip's various characters were pixelated and lacking in facial detail.
Viewing angles are also limited: Colors became dark and inverted when we tilted the screen past 45 degrees.
The Evolve's screen registered a brightness rating of 271 lux, which is dimmer than the Fierce (327 lux) and far less bright than the Hydro Edge (388 lux), Optimus F6 (401 lux) and category average of 398 lux.
With a single small speaker on the back panel, we cranked Panic at the Disco's "Miss Jackson" at a respectable volume, though the song's vocals became significantly muffled at full volume.
The Evolve had a solid showing on our LAPTOP Audio Test, with an 80-decibel tone rating that's right on a par with the category average. The Fierce was a bit louder at 83 decibels.
In addition to the standard Android keyboard, the Evolve comes loaded with Swype, which allows users to trace-type with their fingertips. The software has various shortcuts, such as sliding from the Swype key to the A key for "Select All."
Swype is dark gray by default, but you can change the keyboard's color in the Swype settings menu, where you can also edit the Evolve's dictionary, change languages, and view a variety of Swype shortcuts. If Swype isn't your thing, you can revert to the standard Android keyboard with Google voice typing in the settings menu.
The Evolve runs a customized Android 4.1 skin with a few aesthetic tweaks. The device's no-frills lock screen lacks any app icons or widgets that can be accessed before unlocking the device.
The phone's default home screen features an analog clock in the center, as well as icons for Email, Calendar, Camera and Gallery. Like the Fierce, the icons are slightly different from the stock Android, each having a slightly more rounded shape.
Swiping to the left reveals a home screen dedicated to T-Mobile apps and widgets, though any of the handset's five available home screens can be fully customized to your liking.
Holding the home button down launches Google Now, which grants access to customized widgets for news, sports, and directions.
Sliding down from the top of the screen reveals a custom drop-down menu that allows users to quickly toggle 11 settings such as brightness, Wi-Fi, ring volume and Bluetooth at the top. Tapping the gear icon in the top right of this screen launches a full settings menu.
You'll find the standard smattering of Android apps on the Fierce, including Email, Calculator, and Movie Studio, as well as Google's usual offerings such as Drive, Maps and Gmail.
A handful of T-Mobile apps on the device include T-Mobile TV for on-demand entertainment and Visual Voicemail for organizing voice messages. Users can manage their data consumption with the MyAccount app, while NameID helps identify unknown numbers.
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T-Mobile widgets include MobileLife for quick bursts of aggregated news and T-Mobile TV & Movies, which allows you to get a peek at what's available for streaming via the T-Mobile TV app.
The One Touch Evolve packs a 1-GHz single-core Mediatek MT6575 processor, which provided a smooth experience when flipping between home screens and using apps. Our fast-paced romp through "Temple Run 2" was free of slowdown. However, multitasking can slow things down. The Camera app opened in 2.52 seconds with Drive, "Temple Run 2," Email, Video Player, Chrome and Gallery running in the background.
The Evolve had a paltry showing on most of our benchmarks. The phone netted a 2,267 on the Quadrant test, which measures CPU, GPU and I/O performance. This score is below the Hydro Edge's 3,766 and is less than half of the Fierce (4,884), Optimus F6 (4,957) and the category average of 6,858.
This device squeezed out a mere 645 on the 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark, which is just a fraction of the Fierce's 2,746, the Optimus F6's 3,719, and the category average of 7,919.
The handset underperformed its peers once again on the Geekbench 3 processor test, scoring a lowly 309 compared with the Optimus F6's 738, the Fierce's 1,072, and the 1,577 category average.
The Evolve took a lengthy 21 minutes and 49 seconds to complete our Vidtrim test, which consists of converting a 1080p video to 480p. By comparison, the Optimus F6 completed the test in 14 minutes and 21 seconds, while the Fierce did so in 10 minutes and 24 seconds. All three handsets performed more slowly than the 7:47 category average, which is understandable given the lower price for these phones.
The Evolve's camera interface lacks the various shooting modes of its pricier Fierce counterpart, but it allows you to change common settings such as Scene mode, Exposure and White Balance.
The phone's rear-facing 5-MP camera produced decent shots. We took a few pictures along the streets of Manhattan's Flatiron District, and the colors of the yellow taxis, brown bricks and green leaves in our shots looked rich. However, after opening the pictures on our desktop, we noticed some pixelation in such finer details as pedestrians' clothing and license plate text.
A 720p video was similarly rich in color but lacking in detail. Store logos for Staples and TD Bank were hard to make out until they were front and center in our video.
The handset's front-facing VGA camera failed to impress. Colors looked extremely washed out in our self-portraits, as our skin tone and clothing came through much paler than normal.
Network and Web Browsing
Like the Hydro Edge, the Evolve only supports T-Mobile's 3G network. Without the high speeds of the 4G-ready Fierce, the Evolve was fairly sluggish when surfing the Web. Laptopmag.com took 9.26 seconds to load, while CNN.com and IGN.com were even slower at 10.5 and 11.11 seconds, respectively.
The phone was similarly slow when using Speedtest.net, with an average download speed of 43.4 Kbps and an upload speed of 70 Kbps in the same part of Manhattan.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The Evolve lasted a mere 4 hours and 17 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via 3G). While a few minutes longer than the Hydro Edge's time of 4:09, it's well below the Fierce's 6:33, the Optimus F6's 6:20, and the category average of 6:27.
We had no problems hearing a contact in Manhattan over the phone, and none of our calls were dropped over T-Mobile 3G.
Plans and Pricing
Smartphone shoppers on a budget can nab the Evolve for $27.99 down with 24 monthly payments of $3 on T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan, which equals the phone's retail value of $99.99. The Evolve costs more upfront than the more powerful Fierce, which starts at $19.99 but will run you $169.99 in the long run.
The LG Optimus F6 is also available on T-Mobile for $49 down and 24 monthly payments of $10, or $289 total.
T-Mobile users have three options when it comes to data. Paying $50 a month gets you 500MB of high-speed data, while $60 a month includes 2.5 GB and $70 gives you unlimited data.
Available for $27 down with a total cost of $99, the Evolve can be completely paid off for less than a down payment on a major smartphone. However, the budget handset is held back by a low-res screen, weak battery life and sluggish 3G performance.
Although it ultimately costs $70 more, the One Touch Fierce has a cheaper $19 down payment, HSPA+ 4G, and longer battery life. You can also get the bright, LTE-ready Optimus F6 for $49 with 24 monthly payments of $10. The One Touch Evolve has a low price, but it's worth spending more for something better.
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