Alcatel Authority review: Low-end Android for a midrange price

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The most compelling of Cricket's onboard software is the Muve Music rental service. If you subscribe to a special Muve Music plan bundled with a Cricket Wireless subscription, you can download and store as many music tracks as will fit in your phone's memory. There are caveats though, such as that you can only listen to tracks on your handset and that Muve wireless plans cost an extra $10 per month.

Camera and media
Equipped with a 5-megapixel sensor and a no-frills camera app, the Alcatel Authority takes decent if rather uninspiring photos. Still-life images I snapped indoors were exposed correctly and exhibited accurate color but details were soft.

The camera app doesn't offer much in the way of extras. Sarah Tew/CNET

Image quality improved outdoors under sunlight and subjects had lifelike, not oversaturated color, but again lacked the sharp crispness you find on phones using higher-resolution sensors. Shot-to-shot time wasn't too shabby, with the Authority capturing pictures in about a second, far from the instantaneous handling you'll see in many modern smartphones.

Indoors, colors were accurate but details were soft. Click for full image. Brian Bennett/CNET

The handset's camera also lacks many of the fancy shooting modes of more advanced phones, such as panorama, burst, or even snazzy color filters. Besides special effects for Sepia, Mono (Black and White), and Negative, the most exotic tools on board are manual ISO settings that range from 100 to 400.

Colors were brighter outside. Click for full image. Brian Bennett/CNET
Details outdoors were not extremely sharp. Click for full image. Brian Bennett/CNET

Processor and data speeds
Powered, or, more precisely, underpowered, by a 1.4GHz processor and a small, 512MB allotment of RAM, the Alcatel Authority is no speed demon. In fact it's downright pokey, often handling like a lumbering 60-ton battle tank. The phone launched apps sluggishly with a perceptible delay and sometimes the screen didn't respond immediately to my finger swipes.

Benchmark tests backed up my anecdotal experience, with the Authority coughing up a very low Linpack score of 50.2 MFLOPs (single-thread). For instance, another Cricket Wireless handset, the HTC One SV (1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 1GB RAM) managed a much higher 147.3 MFLOPs on the same test. The Authority also turned in an anemic Quadrant score (Quadrant is a test that measures overall smartphone performance) of just 2,572.

As a 3G handset, the Alcatel Authority demonstrated slow -- but not unexpectedly so -- data speeds. Using Ookla's Speedtest app I clocked average download throughput at a low 223Kbps while uploads averaged a slightly higher 303Kbps.

Call quality
I tested the tri-band CDMA (800/1900/AWS) Alcatel Authority on Cricket's network in New York. Call quality was adequate but not exceptional. People I called could immediately tell I was using a cell phone and described my voice as sounding muffled. They could also hear crackling at the beginning and ends of words. To me, voices on calls I placed to landlines came through loud and clear and with considerable warmth.

Callers reported that they experienced audio quality with speakerphone similar to what they heard when I spoke through the mouthpiece. To my ears, though the Authority's speaker is large, calls through the speakerphone didn't have much volume even at its loudest setting.

Battery life
Alcatel rates the Authority's 1,530mAh battery as giving a talk time of up to 5 hours and a standby time of up to 420 hours (17.5 days). That's not very long, which isn't a shock considering the relatively small capacity of the phone's battery. Indeed, the handset struggled to last through a full workday and conked out after approximately 6 hours of playing an HD video continuously.

Just because a smartphone is sold without a contract, that's no reason to swallow a raw deal. While the $249.99 Alcatel Authority sits squarely in the midrange of the Cricket Wireless product line, its slow performance, uninspiring camera, and ancient Android operating system are underwhelming to say the least. Newer handsets at the same $249.99 price, such as the ZTE Engage and LG Optimus Regard, both run the more modern Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Better still, the Optimus Regard boasts a faster processor resulting in peppier performance, not to mention access to 4G data if you live in Cricket's fast cellular coverage area. That's why I'm hard-pressed to recommend any other device on Cricket at this price than the Regard. Of course if the stylish and nimble $369.99 HTC One SV drops in price then I'd say scoop it up.

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