In the US, Alcatel is carving out a name for itself as a low-cost Android provider that really slashes price tags to their limits. With the OneTouch Fierce 2, a sequel to last year's T-Mobile model, the company has packed a quad-core chipset and Android 4.4 into a 5-inch screen device. As usual, the trade-off comes down to hardware performance. Image quality suffers and data speeds fall far below the the 4G (but not LTE) average. The low-resolution screen doesn't help matters either.
For $126 without a contract (or $5.25 per month on a 24-month plan,) the T-Mobile sequel is one of the lowest-cost Android phones you can buy with the carrier, topped (or perhaps bottomed out?) by the even more basic OneTouch Evolve 2. However, it's worth ballooning the budget to accommodate the more reliable Motorola Moto G (both the $180 model and this summer's $220 LTE version) or Samsung Galaxy Avant ($230).
Design and build
Tall and heavy, the Fierce 2 is a familiar-looking phone with rounded corners and a glossy black face. A deep navy backing adds a touch of character, with a matte finish to ward off smudging. With a 5-inch screen that slightly recesses from the frame, the handset is attractive enough, though its 5.3-ounce weight (149 grams) is weighty in the hand. Fairly straight sides make the plastic Fierce 2 easy to grip, but not especially comfortable to hold.
A volume rocker on the right spine sits atop the power/lock button. The phone's bottom-right corner hosts both the Micro-USB charging port and an indentation for prying off the back cover, allowing access to the microSD card slot beneath. You can plug in the headset jack up on top and glance into the front-facing VGA camera (0.3-megapixel) above the display. On the back, the 5-megapixel camera and flash reside in the center.
Dimensions of 5.6 x 2.8 x 0.39-inch (141 x 71.9 x 9.9 mm) make it difficult for those with smaller mitts to operate the Fierce 2 one-handed, but those who are used to phones of this size will find that it fits pockets and purses about as well as other handsets.
When it comes to screen quality, the phone's 5-inch display is on the lower end. A 960x540 pixel-resolution yields a pixel density of 220ppi, for those who keep count. In real-world terms, it doesn't take much to see how dimly the screen glows at automatic brightness, or the gently hazy edges of icons and images. Even at full brightness, the Fierce 2's display is bright enough, though never blinding (in this case, that isn't particularly a good thing.) Viewing angles are also more narrow and readability blanches in strong sunlight.
Below the display, customary capacitive buttons take you back and home (or launch Google Now). Interestingly, the Fierce 2 hasn't adopted the new button for recent windows. Instead, a menu button acts as your shortcut to widgets and wallpaper.
OS and apps
Lovers of the stripped-down Android look and feel will appreciate Alcatel's restraint with dressing up the 4.4.2 KitKat OS. There's still some of the handset-maker's mark, like on the lock screen for instance, but extras are minimal.
One exception is the SwiftKey keyboard, which is preloaded by default, though you can always change this in the settings.
On top of Google's usual apps and services, you'll find a number of extra programs preloaded in the Fierce 2, including Adobe Reader and compass and flashlight apps. There's a note-taking app as well as Lookout security, and you'll also be able to tune into an FM radio. T-Mobile's own apps are portals to some of the carrier's services, like visual voicemail and T-Mobile TV.
Cameras and video
Autofocus and flash are two things going for the Fierce 2's 5-megapixel camera. Unfortunately, image quality isn't one of them. You do get settings like HDR and Panorama, and there's burst shot as well. While you can monkey around with timer settings, you won't be able to access more advanced features like white balance settings or effects.
Colors are a little more blued than real-world objects, but it's the camera's inability to achieve a crisp, sharp focus that makes it so underwhelming.
Video quality from the 720p HD recorder was also poor. Inside, the camera struggled to focus but never managed to nail down a defining edge. It also fought against lighting changes in the scene, oftentimes losing out and over- or underexposing the scene. Subjects being videotaped sounded quiet. The picture looked better on outdoor scenes taken in natural light, but competition from the wind and environment took its toll in the form of weak audio.
Chunky outcroppings of pixels define the landscape of the Fierce 2's 0.3-megapixel (VGA) front-facing camera. The color balance isn't bad, but its images are splotchy and uneven, with a veritable rainbow of smudgy color stippling the skin, post-impressionist-style. The natural airbrushing erases your less-desirable signs of aging, which is the nice way of saying that the image is a hazy reproduction at best.
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