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

With its slow internal speeds, absent LTE, and poor camera, T-Mobile's Alcatel One Touch Fierce doesn't live up to its name.

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Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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7 min read

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

Alcatel_One_Touch_Fierce_35828163-0739.jpg
6.0

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile)

The Good

The <b>Alcatel One Touch Fierce</b> 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.

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.

Design
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.

Alcatel's not-so-fierce One Touch Fierce (pictures)

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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

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (close-up)
With fixed focus, you can forget about getting clear close-up shots. Lynn La/CNET

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (indoor)
In this indoor photo, the light outside from the window has an odd blue tint. Lynn La/CNET

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (SSI)
In our standard studio picture, objects look blurry, and you can see digital noise in the white background. Lynn La/CNET

Video quality fared a bit better, but not by much. Though it took a few seconds for the camera to readjust itself for lighting, both moving and still objects looked smooth for the most part, and audio picked up well. I also like how you can take photos while recording and pause recording without stopping it altogether, a trait that's common in Android handsets.

I also liked how videos uniquely previewed in the photo gallery. When you browse through your gallery, any videos you've recorded autoplay and loop, similar to a GIF. Aside from it being trippy, it's a neat way to look at your movies quickly without having to open up a video player.

One Touch Fierce (camera)
Not only does the Fierce's camera take mediocre shots, it also has a rather unintuitive UI. Josh Miller/CNET

Unfortunately, I did once again run into some trouble with the camera's UI when recording video. When you tap on the video icon to switch to video mode, the camera automatically starts recording. This is jarring, since a video icon doesn't usually signal "record," but rather, a big red dot should. (Oddly enough, a red dot does appear when you tap the video icon, but only after the camera's already started recording). This resulted in a lot of two-second videos of random things because I had no idea I was shooting. Sure, give anyone a few more days and they'll probably get used to it, but that still doesn't make the UI any less user-friendly.

The bulk of the recording options for both cameras include all the features I've already mentioned. You'll also get image stabilization, time lapse recording, three audio modes including muting, three video qualities, and special effects, which manipulates faces (bulge out the eyes, pinch in the mouth, etc.) while you record. Lastly, the 5-megapixel camera also has special background effects, and the highest you can record video and play it back is at 720p with 30fps.

Performance
I tested the quad-band handset (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in our San Francisco offices and call quality was excellent. Voices sounded clear and strong, with volume being at an adequately loud level. During times of absolute silence I didn't hear any background noise or extraneous buzzing, none of my calls dropped, and audio was steady and consistent. Likewise I was told that I sounded great as well, and my friend even asked if I was talking from a landline. Unfortunately, audio speaker could be better. I thought maximum volume remained a tad bit low and whenever my friend spoke, I could hear a subtle tinniness with each word. In general, however, voices were clear and were easy to understand.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile) call quality sample

Listen now:

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As an HSPA+-enabled phone, T-Mobile's 4G data connection was adequate and consistent. On average, CNET's mobile and desktop site loaded in 8 and 13 seconds, respectively. The New York Times' mobile site took 8 seconds and its desktop page loaded in 13. The mobile site for ESPN loaded after 7 seconds and its full site took 11 seconds. On average, it took 1 minute and 56 seconds to download the 35.01MB game Temple Run 2. Finally, Ookla's speed-test app showed me an average of 3.29Mbps down and 1.48Mbps up.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce Performance
Average 4G download speed 3.29Mbps
Average 4G upload speed 1.48Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 35.01MB in 1 minute and 56 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13 seconds
Power-off and restart time 28 seconds
Camera boot time 2.94 seconds

A slower-than-expected 1.2GHz quad-core processor powers the Fierce. The camera lags, and on average it takes 28 seconds for the device to reboot. Quadrant results clocked in at 4,880, which is barely comparable to last year's HTC One X.

Though small but necessary tasks (like switching from landscape to portrait orientation, returning to the home screen, and calling up the keyboard) are carried out relatively smoothly, it takes a hair longer than usual to carry out said tasks. When it came to gameplay, I noticed that frame rates weren't very high while playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, and the handset would take a handful of seconds just to launch Temple Run 2.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (Quadrant)
Quadrant results for the Fierce's quad-core processor. Lynn La/CNET

Anecdotally, the 1,800mAh battery provides a decent amount of power. On light to medium usage it can last throughout the workday and into the night without a charge. It has a reported talk time of 8 hours (on 3G), and a standby time of about 19 days. During our battery drain test for talk time, the phone lasted 10.28 hours. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.783W/kg.

Conclusion
While you may be tempted by the One Touch Fierce's price, satisfying 4G speeds, and reliable call quality, I still don't recommend this device. Especially considering its laggy processing performance, unimpressive camera, and poor touchscreen.

If you want to stay with T-Mobile, consider other devices like the LG Optimus F3. Though it costs $100 more, it packs a vibrant, responsive screen and LTE capabilities. If you're open to an alternative OS, the Nokia Lumia 521, which is a Windows Phone 8 handset, is a $144 steal with a better camera.

In addition, there are better prepaid handsets from different carriers as well. Both Virgin Mobile's Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE and Boost Mobile's LG Mach have 4G LTE data speeds, but are currently only $55 and $40 more expensive, respectively. The Victory also has NFC while the Mach has a physical keyboard -- proving that you don't have to shell out a whole lot to get a better device.

Alcatel_One_Touch_Fierce_35828163-0739.jpg
6.0

Alcatel One Touch Fierce (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6
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