Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile) review: Cheap, but not worthwhile

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The Good The Alcatel One Touch Fierce is inexpensive, has great call quality, and clocks in with respectable HSPA+ speeds.

The Bad The handset's internal speeds are sluggish. In addition, its camera has a unintuitive UI and takes poor photos.

The Bottom Line Even if you're on a tight budget, you should skip Alcatel's One Touch Fierce in favor of a better prepaid phone.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

Despite its name, the Alcatel One Touch Fierce is anything but "ferocious."

For starters, its 5-megapixel camera takes poor photos, and its quad-core processor lags behind rival phones.

And yes, while the Fierce's competitive $139.99 prepaid price and solid call quality are redeeming factors, it's best just to save up some more dough for a faster, smoother, and more reliable prepaid smartphone like the LG Optimus F3 or Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE.

The Fierce comes in two colors, slate and silver, with the latter featuring a nice brushed-metal look that adds a unique accent. But apart from the stylish battery door, the device feels cheap: hollow, plastic, and toylike. At 4.6 ounces, it's also very light.

The handset measures 5.13 inches tall, 2.64 inches wide, and 0.35 inch thick. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button. On the right edge lives a volume rocker and at the very bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging.

The back houses a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash that sits right below the lens. At the bottom is a small grille for the speaker. Using a small indentation on the bottom left corner, you can pry off the battery door.

Josh Miller/CNET
Despite a removable battery door, you can't take out the battery itself. Josh Miller/CNET

Underneath, you'll see a microSD card slot (it accepts cards of capacities up to 32GB), and a warning label. The label notifies users that the 1,800mAh battery inside is nonremovable. This is odd given the fact that you can take off the phone's back; one would expect the battery to be removable. The label also reads that the phone doesn't support "hot swapping" of the microSD and SIM cards. This means you can't switch these cards out while the Fierce is turned on. Instead, you must power off the device beforehand.

The 4.5-inch qHD display has a 960x540-pixel resolution. Unfortunately, the screen isn't sharp. App icons had blurred edges, pictures looked speckled, and even default wallpaper looked grainy and showed notable color banding. In comparison, the LG Optimus F6 has the same resolution, but its display is far crisper. It's also more sensitive, unlike this handset's display, which wasn't very responsive or accurate. Often times, I felt I had to tap slightly harder to select the items I wanted, and typing was difficult since the screen would incorrectly register the wrong letters.

Moreover, the display has a narrow viewing angle, and unless held perfectly straight at eye level, some parts of the screen would look momentarily blacked out. Viewing it in direct sunlight also worsened this effect.

Above the display is a VGA camera, and below are three hotkeys (for back, home, and recent apps) that light up white in use. Long press the home key to launch Google Now, and long press the recent apps key to bring up extra setting options.

Software features
For the most part, the phone's user interface stays true to a skinless version of Android -- the dialer, lock screen, and app drawer have been left pretty much untouched. However, the Fierce also features some colorful icons that can be considered "playful" at best, though honestly, they look dated and childish.

It runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and as expected, it comes with your standard package of Google apps: Chrome, Search, Plus, Maps with Navigation and Local, Messenger, apps for the Play store's Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, and Music portals, Talk, and YouTube.

T-Mobile landed a handful of apps as well. You'll get T-Mobile My Account, which gives you information about your phone and data plan; a trial subscription to the caller ID service Name ID; and apps that help set up your visual voice mail and mobile hot spot. Lastly, the media streaming service T-Mobile TV offers a 30-day trial to channels like Fox News and ESPN.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (screenshots)
In general, the Fierce sports a skinless Android UI (left), but its cartoonish icons leave something to be desired. Lynn La/CNET

Basic task managing apps include a calculator, a calendar, a native e-mail client, a notepad, a sound recorder, a clock with alarm functions, a voice dialer, voice search, and a to-do list. At the same time, you'll get some less common (but still useful) apps such as a flashlight, an FM radio, a movie editor, Facebook, Twitter, an app to help you set up wireless devices via a Bluetooth connection, and Lookout Security, which backs up data and scans apps and files for malware.

Additional features include about 4GB of internal storage (though this ends up being more like 2.4GB that's available to the user), 1GB of RAM, and Bluetooth 4.0.

Camera and video
The camera operates quite slowly, save for its shot-to-shot speed refreshing rather swiftly. It takes nearly 3 seconds (an average of 2.94, if you want to be exact) to launch, and you'll need to wait a beat for it to call up certain menu items and activate settings. It even takes a few moments longer than I'm used to, to switch from landscape to portrait mode.

Another issue is the camera's confusing UI. When launched, a row of nine icons appear on one side of the viewfinder. Some of these icons represent something obvious (like HDR and panoramic shooting modes). Other icons have a small explanation pop up when you tap on them. For example, tap the smiley face icon and the sentence, "Auto capture when smile is detected" appears.

And yet other icons are vague and have no explanation. There's an icon that looks like a speedometer. When I tap on it, nothing happens, and I have no idea what it does. Same goes for the small box icon that has a plus and minus on it (though I'm used to that representing some sort of brightness or exposure meter, this one doesn't appear to be so). And same goes for the star -- yup, it's just a star. I tap on it, thinking it might be a way to save favorite shots, but there's no explanation. True, one can do some light sleuthing to figure out what these icons mean, but for general users, these meanings should be intuitive. If they're not, then Alcatel should provide consistent tool tips to guide its consumers, and it's odd that some icons get a little explanation of what they do, while others don't.

ALcatel One Touch Fierce (camera UI)
The icons on the left are about as clear as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Lynn La/CNET

As for photo quality, the device's 5-megapixel camera was mediocre. Colors looked muted and ran on the cold side, objects looked blurry (especially around the edges), and even with amply lit settings, you can see a notable amount of digital noise. In addition, because the camera has a fixed focus, getting sharp, crisp images of objects up close was nearly impossible.

Both the 5-megapixel camera and the front-facing camera has 4x digital zoom, a "face beauty" shooting mode that lets you adjust your smoothness, skin color, and sharpness in a photo, and geotagging. The cameras also have face detection and a timer.

However, the 5-megapixel camera has an LED flash, the aforementioned nine shooting modes (like I said, some are known, some are unknown), an exposure meter with a range of -3 to +3, seven color effects, 14 scene modes, eight white balances, and four antiflicker options. You can also adjust the sharpness, hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast of a picture, choose from seven photo sizes (from QVGA to 5 megapixels), and the camera has six ISO options. Meanwhile, the VGA camera's exposure meter only ranges from -1 to +1, and it only has five color effects, two scene modes, six white balances, three antiflicker options, and two photo sizes (QVGA and VGA).

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (outdoor)
Though the flowers look bright, this photo lacks focus and white hues are blown out. Lynn La/CNET