Alcatel aims to entice budget shoppers with the One Touch Fierce, an Android 4.2 handset with a 4.5-inch qHD display that costs just $19 up front at T-Mobile. As with any budget phone, though, there are tradeoffs. Find out if Alcatel's latest smartphone is truly a fierce competitor in the low-cost arena.
The Alcatel One Touch Fierce has a thin, black bezel with a large Alcatel logo just above the 4.5-inch screen; there, you'll also find a speaker and front-facing camera. The bottom of the bezel has backlit touch buttons for Back, Home and Recent Apps, the standard trio of Android navigation icons.
As with most smartphones, the Fierce has a power button and headphone jack at the top edge, with a narrow volume control resting at the top of the right side. There's a microUSB port on the bottom edge for charging the phone and transferring files.
The lightweight handset is comfortable to hold, thanks to a soft-touch cover that wraps around the back. Our review unit sported an attractive, steel-blue finish on the back, though the Fierce is also available in silver. A 5-MP lens sits at the top of the panel, above a small One Touch logo in the center and a thin horizontal speaker at the bottom.
The Fierce measures 5.13 x 2.64 x 0.35 inches, which is a bit taller and thinner than other budget phones such as the Kyocera Hydro Edge (4.9 x 2.5 x 0.39 inches) and Nokia Lumia 521 (4.4 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches). The handset is easy to hold at 4.7 ounces, but is slightly heavier than the 4.5-ounce Hydro Edge and the 4.4-ounce Lumia 521. While the LG Optimus F6 has a smaller 5 x 2.59 x 0.4-inch profile, it weighs in at a slightly heavier 4.9 ounces.
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The Fierce's 960 x 540 HD display -- the same as the Optimus F6 -- won't dazzle anyone, but its bright screen has a higher resolution than the 800 x 480 displays on the Hydro Edge and Lumia 521. Headlines and photos on ESPN.com looked fairly sharp, and the small text within the phone's various widgets was easy to read.
However, the Fierce's screen showed its limitations when we watched a 1080p trailer for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." Though the handset retained the clip's colorful, snow-covered mountain scenes, the faces of the various elves and dwarves in the video were noticeably pixelated. Also, viewing angles were limited, washing out whenever we tilted the phone.
The Fierce's display registered 327 lux on our light meter, which is less than the 388-lux Hydro Edge and the 401-lux category average and F6, but brighter than the 219-lux Lumia 521.
The Fierce's lone speaker is surprisingly loud, even if the quality sounds canned. We were able to blast Kings of Leon's "Supersoaker" at a respectable volume, but the song's jangling guitars were hard to hear amongst the roaring vocals.
The handset performed favorably on the LAPTOP Audio Test, registering an 83-decibel tone at full volume, compared to the 80-decibel category average.
In addition to the standard Android keyboard, the One Touch Fierce comes with a Swype keyboard, which has smooth-edged keys and a lighter shade of gray than the stock Android keyset. You can customize the color in settings, however.
Holding the Swype icon will open a keyboard menu, where users can edit their dictionary, switch languages, view shortcuts and change the look and feel of the keyboard. You can also enable handwriting, which allows you to use your fingertips to doodle words with your fingertips, which the Fierce will convert into on-screen text.
Loaded with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the Fierce has a fairly standard Google interface, with a few One Touch enhancements. At the lock screen, users can swipe right to access a customizable widget screen with options for email, Google and messaging; sliding to the left opens the camera.
The phone's default home screen features a Google search bar in the middle, with icons for Gmail, Play Store, Calendar and Camera below it. The Fierce interface has room for five home screens in total, two of which are populated by T-Mobile widgets and apps. You'll find the familiar Apps button on the interface's bottom bar, which features Phone and Contacts to the left and Messages and Chrome to the right. As with any Android device, you can hold your finger on any app icon to shift it around to your liking.
Sliding down from the top of the screen reveals a modified notifications/settings menu. With this menu open, pressing on the icon in the upper right lets you switch between notifications and settings. The quick settings, too, have a few new options. Audio Profiles let you toggle among General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor. A Time Out button lets you determine how long the screen stays on.
The Fierce is full of familiar Android apps such as Calculator, Voice Search and Sound Recorder, though the app icons have a rounded, customized look in contrast to their stock counterparts. For example, the standard Email icon for Android is an open envelope with a yellow letter sticking out, whereas the Fierce's Email icon is simply a yellow square with an envelope in the center.
T-Mobile apps include MyAccount, which shows usage data, and NameID, which identifies unknown callers. The phone packs a Mobile Hotspot app, as well as Visual Voicemail software for easy organization of voice messages. T-Mobile TV allows users to stream on-demand television content to their phones.
The device also has a variety of T-Mobile widgets. MobileLife provides a quick fix of news from various outlets, while T-Mobile TV & Movies presents a menu of shows and films that can be streamed via the aforementioned T-Mobile TV app.
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The Fierce packs a 1.2-GHz quad-core Mediatek MT6589M CPU, which gives this phone slightly more power than the 1-GHz dual-core Snapdragon-based Lumia 521 and Hydro Edge have. We were able to hurl our "Angry Birds: Star Wars II" characters across the screen without any lag, and the phone's Camera app opened in a quick 1.55 seconds, with YouTube, Video Player, Chrome, T-Mobile TV, Calculator, Music and Email all running behind it.
The device scored a 4,884 on the Quadrant benchmark, clearly outperforming the Hydro Edge's score of 3,766 while falling short of the F6 (4,957) and the 6,806 category average.
The Fierce netted 13,867 on the AnTuTu performance benchmark, a significantly lower score than the 18,196 category average, but higher than the Hydro Edge's score of 9,716 and the F6's score of 12,335.
On An3DBench, the Fierce scored 7,766, which is higher than the Hydro Edge's 6,957, the F6's 7,195 and the category average of 7,352.
The handset took 10 minutes and 24 seconds to complete our Vidtrim test, which consists of converting a 1080p video to 480p. That's a few minutes short of the 7:47 category average, but 4 minutes faster than the F6 (14:21).
Tap the Fierce's Camera icon, and you'll be presented with a quick video that shows users how to zoom in and out, scroll through camera options and take a shot.
Some of the Fierce's camera icons are a little inscrutable, but it has a bevy of options. Along the right are choices to switch between stills and video, as well as settings (such as image size, effects and GPS location info). Along the left are a variety of shooting modes: panorama, HDR, Auto Scene Detection (the speedometer icon), Smile detection and Best Shot (the star icon).
Despite a healthy feature set, the handset's 5-MP rear lens provided mostly mediocre images. While colors were fairly well saturated, indoor shots taken of a Grover doll and a vending machine had a white haze, giving everything a gauzy look.
The same haze appeared in a 720p video we shot of a Manhattan street; taxicabs looked washed out, and the scene in general lacked contrast.
The Fierce was similarly underwhelming when we used the VGA front- facing lens to take some self-portraits. While we had no problem making out our purple shirt and light-blue headphones, facial details were far too pixelated to see clearly.
Network and Web Browsing
The One Touch Fierce supports 4G networks but not LTE. In our testing, T-Mobile's HSPA+ 21 service was very spotty in our Flatiron offices but much smoother in the northeast Bronx.
When using Speedtest.net on 4G in the Flatiron section of Manhattan, the Fierce delivered an average download speed of 5.4 Mbps and an average upload speed of 1.06 Mbps. Things improved slightly when using 4G in the Bronx, as we saw an average download speed of 1.98 Mbps and an average upload speed of 7.48 Mbps and.
Surfing the Web was smooth on 4G, as IGN.com loaded in a brisk 3.03 seconds, while NewYorkTimes.com did so in 3.79 seconds.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The Fierce offers decent battery life, lasting 6 hours and 33 minutes while surfing the Net on our LAPTOP Battery Test. That's slightly longer than the 6:27 category average and the F6's 6:20, and it blows away the Hydro Edge and Lumia 521's measly runtimes of 4:09 and 3:09.
Plans and Pricing
Under T-Mobile's Simple Choice Plan, the Fierce is available for $19 down with 24 monthly payments of $6, which will run you $163 after two years, although Alcatel expects the retail price to drop to $139.
T-Mobile has three different data plans. You'll get 500 MB of high-speed data for $50 a month, 2.5 GB for $60 and unlimited data for $70. Adding $10 to any of these plans nets you unlimited international talk and text.
By comparison, T-Mobile's Lumia 521 has no up front cost with 24 monthly payments of $6. The full retail price is $144, which costs the same as two years of monthly payments.
The Hydro Edge is free on Sprint with a two-year plan, or $119 with no contract from Boost Mobile.
The Alcatel One Touch Fierce provides a solid Android experience for just $19 down on T-Mobile. You get a good-sized 4.5-inch display, loud speakers, a comfy soft-touch design and decent battery life. However, the Fierce's unimpressive camera and limited viewing angles are turn-offs.
LG Optimus F6willing to spend a little bit more, the LG Optimus F6 ($50 down, then $10 a month for device) offers comparable battery life, LTE and a brighter display, but a slower CPU. But if you're trying to spend as little money as possible on a new Android phone, the Fierce is definitely worth considering.