BERLIN - With the rise of wearable devices, consumers seem to be growing fond of companion devices for their smartphones. Handset maker Alcatel is embracing that interest, but catering to it in a unique way with the E-Card and the Sidekick 2. The former device is a mini eReader that takes calls and texts, and the latter is a remote control that interacts with a smartphone much like a smartwatch does. We went hands-on with both Alcatel accessories, which are meant to enhance the experience of using Alcatel's new Hero 2 handset.
I was most intrigued by the E-Card, which packs a 3.5-inch E Ink display within a thin and lightweight dark gray plastic encasing. When paired to your Hero 2, the E-Card allows you to receive texts, get call alerts, check e-mail and set alarms. You'll be able to transfer things like navigation maps and boarding passes to the E-Card's display, just in case you can't be bothered to whip out your 6-inch smartphone every few minutes.
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The accessory also doubles as a mini eReader, allowing your to transfer any of your purchases from the Kobo bookstore to the device. This is one of the E-Card's more significant uses (if you don't already have an eReader, of course), as you can read your eBooks as they're intended to be enjoyed, and not strain your eyes on your smartphone's digital display.
I also played with the Sidekick 2, which is a remote control for the Hero line that looks like a miniature feature phone. In addition to taking calls and texts, the Sidekick 2 lets you access your device's music library and activate your Hero 2's camera remotely. It's less innovative than the E-Card, but, once again, is far easier to take out of your pocket than Alcatel's 6-inch Hero 2.
As for the Hero 2 itself, it's not too shabby a smartphone. The handset sports a comfortably lightweight aluminum build, a crisp 6-inch full HD display, a 13-MP rear camera sensor and a zippy octa-core CPU. Its specs aren't anything we haven't seen before, but the device does sport a magnetic interface on the rear panel that lets you attach some nifty accessories. Among these attachments is a smart cover that can display the time and notifications using LED lights, and, more interestingly, a music-making tool dubbed the Magic Flip DJ.
Doubling as a phone cover, the Magic Flip DJ becomes a digital DJ deck when opened up and laid flat alongside the phone. With the Cross DJ app open, the Magic Flip allowed me to control sound effects and volume levels, giving me more space to scratch the digital turntables on the Hero 2's large display.
The 350 ($453) Hero 2 and its companion accessories are coming to Europe in this month. There are no set plans for a stateside release, but we're hoping to get our hands on it by the end of 2014.