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Alcatel One Touch Evolve review:

Underpowered phone isn't worth the low cost

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In this close-up shot, the camera's fixed focus lens couldn't focus on the mug in the foreground. Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Alcatel included a few extra camera features, like continuous shot (also known as burst mode for capturing many pictures at once) and smile detection. These, along with panorama mode and facial-detection technology, help make the camera more useful.

Smile detection can tell if your subject is smiling and will snap the photo when they do — you don't even need to press the shutter. In my testing the camera did a great job of ignoring other facial expressions and only reacting to smiles. The portrait shots I took looked sharp, though a bit dark, even in bright indoor lighting conditions.

Alcatel One Touch Evolve
In this indoor shot, there is noise on the couch and carpet. The CNET logo also looks like it's glowing. Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The back camera captures video in 720p and the videos I shot played well on the phone's screen and my computer, with no pixelation or choppiness. It also easily picked up my voice indoors, though it sounded distorted. The video suffered from the same washed-out lighting issues as the still shots.

In this standard studio shot, colors look muted and half of the photo looks dark. Josh Miller/CNET

Streaming video from YouTube looked worse than recorded video, even when playing YouTube's high-quality video over a fast WiFi connection.

There's also a front-facing VGA camera, which has even more digital noise that the back camera and made me look either completed washed out or remarkably dark, depending on the lighting. It also doesn't have any of the special features I mentioned earlier that the 5-megapixel camera has.

Call quality
Alcatel's One Touch Evolve (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) is available on T-Mobile's network in the US. I tested it using the network in San Francisco.

Call quality was impressive and clear, though the phone's earpiece and speaker made audio sound flat and muffled.

My main testing partner said my voice sounded clear and crisp, both when I held the Evolve to my ear and used the speakerphone. On my end, her voice was flat, but there was no background noise, static, or dropped words. On speakerphone, my tester's voice sounded muffled, like I was holding my hand over the speaker even though I wasn't.

One Touch Evolve call quality sample Listen now:

I used the Evolve on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco, one of the regions that has 4G LTE. However, this phone only supports 3G, which means apps will take typically several minutes to download and Web pages won't load quickly.

Alcatel One Touch Evolve
Average 3G download speed 1.3 Mbps
Average 3G upload speed 0.6 Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 35MB in 4 minutes and 19 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8.7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 21 seconds
Restart time 44 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds

The 1GHz processor also slows things down. There was also often a lag between when I selected something on the screen and when the phone carried out my request, especially if I was running two processes at once, such as downloading an app and reading an e-mail.

The Evolve plays mobile games like Temple Run 2 without freezing or slowing down, though the graphics didn't look sharp. The gameplay also didn't feel as responsive as it is on other handsets.

Behind the back cover, there is the removable battery. You need to remove it to get to the SD and SIM card slots. Josh Miller/CNET

In our official battery lab test, the 1,400mAh battery lasted for just over three and a half hours while playing video continiously. In my real-world tests, the phone stayed alive during a full day of making a few phone calls, checking email, and playing a game.

According to FCC radiation measurements, the Evolve has a digital SAR rating of 1.49W/kg.

There is nothing evolved about the Alcatel One Touch Evolve. That's largely due to the fact that Alcatel had to make trade-offs when making this entry-level budget phone, and couldn't include the newest and best specs. For its price, I wasn't expecting a quad-core processor, outstanding camera, or brilliant screen, but the lack of 4G support and the fixed focus camera are deal breakers.

The only worthwhile feature of this device is its bargain-basement price, $99 off contract or $28 down and $3 monthly payments for two years, making it the one of the cheapest phones on T-Mobile, as of October 2013. But even with that low price tag, it's still a disappointing device thanks its old version of Android, fixed focus camera that can only take decent shots outdoors with sufficient light, and slow performance that anyone, not just someone who reviews phones for a living, can notice. For those reasons, I don't recommend it.

At the moment, there are no other Android phones at the $100 level that I can recommend, including the One Touch Fierce. If your heart is set on Android, you're a T-Mobile customer, and you can scrape together another $100, look at the LG Optimus F3 for $200 all-in. You'll get a faster processor, LTE, and a better camera. The Optimus F3 is also available on MetroPCS, which T-Mobile now owns, for only $50 more than the Evolve.

An alternative budget phone is the Nokia Lumia 521, which is running Windows Phone 8 and bests the Evolve with a nicer camera and 4G support. It's only $140 off contract with T-Mobile ($40 more expensive than the Evolve).

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