Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 review: Appealing price can't save it from its faults

Taken indoors on automatic settings, these CNET editors held still while the Fierce 2 struggled to focus. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Low light is not the Fierce 2's forte. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Our typical studio shot looks a little dark and bleary-eyed when captured from the Fierce 2. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance: 4G, speeds, battery life

Performance is the Fierce 2's Achilles' heel. The phone supports HSPA+ "4G" (actually 3G that wheedled its way into a 4G designation) but not LTE. In other words, theoretical highs of 21Mbps downlink and 5.76Mbps uplink.

Even so, it was slower than average on just about every count. In many San Francisco locations, 4G data speeds limped along, both in real-world tests and with the diagnostic app. Some large-file games took many minutes to download, rather than 30 seconds or 1 minute. YouTube videos and Pandora songs mostly streamed fine, but took a little longer to load and needed to stop to buffer on occasion. In a few locations, I got the expected speeds, which works out to about 11 or 12Mbps down on Otherwise, results were consistently, alarmingly low: 1 or 2Mbps down.

Diagnostic speed test results from (L) and Quadrant. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Surprisingly, Wi-Fi wasn't much better. In many cases, it dragged as well. It isn't unusual for phones of this class to ride the slower 2.4GHz network rather than support faster 5GHz standards, but switching to Wi-Fi didn't dramatically fix my slow data speed problem.

As always, network strength depends on a blend of factors, like where you live and what the network congestion is like in your area at that exact moment of the day.

Internal performance also lagged a bit, but was acceptable. The 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor sounds fancy, but it's easy to notice a slightly delayed response when navigating around. Results of the Quadrant diagnostic test came in at 8,527 (on par with the 2014 Motorola Moto G and Samsung Galaxy Avant). Ditto, Linpack multithread tests for all three, which came in at the low 200 mark.

Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 performance tests

Install CNET mobile app (5MB) 48.3 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 7 seconds
CNET mobile site load 13 seconds
CNET desktop site load 22.6 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 45 seconds
Camera boot time 2.8 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 3.2 seconds with autofocus, same with flash

Speaker quality was a bright spot. Volume was nicely loud and clear when streaming YouTube videos through the phone's external speakers for a small audience. Note that audio sounds both louder and clearer when laying down on its rear speaker versus being held aloft.

Storage space is much more limited on the Fierce 2 than on these competitor phones. Its 4GB limit will fill up quickly, but you can expand up to 32GB more through a microSD card. The Fierce 2 has 1GB of RAM.

Anecdotally, battery life wasn't great on the Fierce 2's 2,000mAh ticker, which is rated for up to 6 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby time. Although it did last during my working hours, battery stores waned faster than I would have liked. Stay tuned for results from our video playback test.

FCC tests measure a digital SAR of 0.78-watt per kilogram.

Call quality

Call quality was decent when I tested the Fierce 2 in San Francisco using T-Mobile's GSM network. Volume was good at a medium-high setting so long as my environment was quiet. I needed to raise the volume in louder settings. The line was mostly clear on both ends, though I heard a little bit of crackle and fuzz, and my testing partner noted background "scratchiness". He said I sounded so close, he could hear my keyboard typing. Voices sounded appropriately rounded and natural.

Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 audio sample

Speakerphone was a different story. Volume plummeted on my side, and even at the highest setting I had to strain to hear. My calling partner said that volume dropped, and that I sounded a little distant and little flatter. My voice also came out slightly muffled, he said.

Buy it or skip it?

Unless cost is your utmost consideration, skip it. Yes, you'll need almost twice as much cash for the better-performing recommendation, but it's worth the investment for a phone that's going to last you a year or more.

Motorola's Moto G ($180) is my favorite for overall performance, like an 8-megapixel camera and really nice body design. It helps that you can also customize colors on the backing and trim. For an LTE version with slightly slimmer specs, the $220 Moto G 4G LTE can be yours directly from Motorola's website.

As an alternative that's already stocked at T-Mobile stores, the Samsung Galaxy Avant is a better all-around phone than the Fierce 2, though I don't like it quite as much as either Moto G . Its screen is smaller but a little sharper, and its camera takes better photographs. At $230, you're almost doubling the Avant's sticker price, which is a hard sell. Waiting for a seasonal or holiday promotion may be your best bet there.

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