T-Mobile 768 review: Makes good calls, but expect nothing more

The phone offers 3G connectivity, and the Opera Mini browser makes surfing the watered-down WAP Web decidedly less painful. You're restricted to mobile sites and much of the "real" Internet remains off-limits, though I did spend some time on text-heavy sites like Wikipedia. You can send and receive emails, with support for POP3 and IMAP -- if you have a Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or Gmail account, you can simply enter your login information and be ready to go. The phone doesn't support instant messaging, but after composing text and email messages on the phone, the thought of having a real-time conversation on its alphanumeric keypad just sent a shiver up my spine.

There are a few game demos to try (including Tetris), and a weather and news app, but this is a decidedly bare-bones experience -- perfect if you aren't at all interested in the Web, but certainly a sore point for the rest of us. And there's more besides: you can create and prioritize tasks in the built-in to-do list manager, convert measurements with the unit converter, time yourself with a stopwatch or just take some notes. True, there's nothing really earth-shattering there, but these are genuinely useful tools that are buried in menus that are laborious to navigate. The phone also offers Bluetooth connectivity, which paired effortless with Bluetooth headsets. I mostly used it to transmit photos and videos I took with the 2-megapixel camera to my PC.

Camera

I needn't have bothered, as the 2-megapixel camera's quality is largely a miss. Given ample natural light the phone will have a slightly better chance of producing something recognizable, and perhaps even usable. But colors in my images consistently appear washed out, and the camera struggled to focus on static objects.

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In this indoor shot with natural and artificial lightning, Mr. Potato Head's features look a bit washed out, and the office lighting just behind him is blown out. CNET

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The bright greens and oranges in this outdoor shot look decidedly faded, and everything is a bit blurry. Nate Ralph/CNET

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In our standard studio shot you can certainly make out the objects present, but details are nonexistent. CNET

That said, there are exposure and white balance controls, and the camera is ready for duty within a second and a half of pressing the dedicated shutter button. There is no flash.

The camera can technically record video, but tops out at a 640x368-pixel resolution, and the image quality is just as poor as the still-camera experience. It struggles with movement, serving up a blurred, pixelated approximation of my subjects. If you're looking to pay comparatively little for a mobile phone, this mediocre level of quality is about what you can expect.

Performance

Fortunately, the T-Mobile 768 does an admirable job at the only thing it really needs to: making and receiving phone calls. I tested the GSM quadband (850/900/1800/1900) device in San Francisco and Oakland as was generally pleased with the results -- I could hear and was heard clearly, with only minor static momentarily interrupting one of my test conversations. It could stand to be a touch louder, but the overall experience was a good one. The FCC's radiation measurements list the phone's SAR rating at 0.747W/kg.

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The Micro-USB charging port is admittedly rather convenient Josh Miller/CNET

The speakerphone is decidedly less satisfying. It doesn't really get very loud, and sounds decidedly scratchier than the relatively clear earpiece calls. That much is to be expected from a basic flip phone -- particularly given the small size of the speaker on the rear.

The T-Mobile 768's 850 mAh battery is removable, and rated at 5.5 hours of talk time. In my own anecdotal tests that number holds up, as the phone powered through an idle weekend and a testing-heavy work day or two before needing to be topped up. And it charges via Micro-USB, which is great if you've got lots of modern devices and thus plenty of compatible charging cables lying about.

Conclusion

There are plenty of budget phones under the sun, but most device manufacturers manage to slap a fanciful moniker onto their wares, no matter how basic. Consider the Huawei Pal, the Pantech Vybe, or the Kyocera Verve. The T-Mobile 768's nondescript name doesn't exactly exude confidence -- the phone is made by Alcatel OneTouch. And truth be told it isn't a very impressive device, marred by a poor camera, labyrinthine menus, and an unimpressive display.

But here's the thing: this is a pretty good option if you aren't averse to T9 texting, and want to spend very little on a phone that makes calls well and can get you on the Internet in a pinch. And while it feels odd to be checking out a 3G clamshell phone in the era of the LTE smartphone, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the T-Mobile 768 on price: just $72 outright, or $3 a month over the course of two years. With T-Mobile's Starter plan ($40/month) you can expect to pay about $43 a month for unlimited talk and text, no data caps if you spend some time on T-Mobile's 3G network, and no contract to sign. If you just want to chat and don't need much else, that's not a bad deal.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Service Provider T-Mobile
    T- Mobile
  • Weight 3.46 oz
  • Diagonal Size 2.4 in