Alcatel has been in the mobile space for many years, whether is be on the network infrastructure side, or even producing a few handsets of their own, having joined Google’s Android project in 2011 with the OT-890 [http://www.gsmarena.com/alcatel_ot_890-3793.php]. Alcatel was also one of the first to be associated with Mozilla’s Firefox OS with the Fire E, a project they’re still a part of.
In 2015, the company launched a line of budget smartphones known as the Pixi 3 range, which included 4 entry-level handset to choose from. The range was, soon after, extended to include a few more variants, with different specifications ranging from screen size, camera megapixels, operating systems and even a few tablets. Along with Firefox OS and Android, Alcatel now also includes a few Windows Phone OS models as well. In addition to this, there are also 4G and Dual-SIM variants to choose from, completing a wide spectrum of choice in this space. Today, we have the Alcatel OneTouch Pixi 3 (4.5) for review, the mid-range variant of the entry-level smartphone Pixi 3 range. The unit was launched roughly 10 months ago, but only made its way to our shores earlier this year. We hope it was worth the wait.
Build and Design
The Pixi 3 (4.5), and pretty much the entire range, aren’t all about looks. That’s not saying the units are ugly, they’re just not spectacular. But you won’t be expecting much more on a budget. The Pixi 3 (4.5) fits the bill of a classic Android smartphone from 2, maybe even 3, years ago. The large capacitive menu button on the bottom of the screen are testament to this, with the standard Back, Home and Option (now Task) buttons. The unit is a bit on the heavier side, but nothing that will be pulling your pants down or feel as if you’re carrying a brick in your handbag. According to the spec sheet, the weight is around 125g, but feels a tad heavier when compared to my Galaxy Note 4 weighing 153g. Perhaps the more compact design creates this illusion. At 10mm, it is thicker than many of the modern smartphones, but fairly slim for other units within the same entry-level market space.
The unit follows much of the standard smartphone design, with all the buttons on the right side of the unit, easily accessible with the thumb, and easily operated in one hand, although with slightly less ease for left-handed users. The unit doesn’t have many exposed ports, with only the auxiliary 3.5mm jack on the top, and the micro-USB port on the bottom. A 5MP camera resides on the centre of the rear, along with an LED flash immediately below. Off centre to the right you’ll find the loudspeaker, which may have a few issues projecting loud enough sound when the unit is lying on its back, given the near flush removable cover. The Pixi logo is engraved slightly below the flash, with the Alcatel OneTouch carvings further down towards the bottom.
Screen and Display
Most entry- and mid-level smartphones don’t venture close to the 5″ screen mark, but at 4.5″, the Pixi 3 (4.5) isn’t that far off. The screen is large enough for most operations and tasks, including playing games and watching a movie or two, if you choose to. The only downside of having a 4.5″ screen is that it requires a display to match, of which the Pixi 3 doesn’t quite deliver. The display has a 480x854px resolution, only narrowly beating out my original Galaxy S from 2010 by a few pixels. That isn’t to say the display is bad. Yes, the observant eye can easily pick out a few pixilations here and there, but nothing that’s tremendously bad. The colour representation is a tad bit washed due to low contrast, but does a decent enough job to get by.
Despite being a budget smartphone and comparing the unit to higher standards, I didn’t mind a lot of the performances during daily use of the unit. There were, however, two gripes I had with the device, one which I’ll discuss in the following section, and one directly relating to this section, being the touchscreen. Using the device as you would your standard smartphone might be a bit of a pain when first making the switch. The gestures aren’t easily picked up from the fingertip without being depressed slightly harder. Interestingly, I often noticed the buttons highlighted when normal touch occurs, but no action is performed until I increase the pressure of that touch. Although I did eventually get used to it, it just doesn’t sit well with me to have to continually press the screen to perform any action.
Performance and Battery Life
And that brings me to my next gripe, the performance. Powered by a Dual-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A7 CPU and Mali-400 GPU, you’ll have expectations that the unit will be able to perform basic functions. But this isn’t the case. Operating the Pixi 3 (4.5) during first setup was a nightmare. This is because there are many different computations being run in the background, not just the setting up of your Google account, date and time, and Wi-Fi connection. Once this was done, the unit came back to me, and was fairly usable. I ran into issues again once I started updating apps, as I normally would any device, while still attempting to operate it at a basic level. This lead me to the conclusion that while performing basic operations and usage, even gaming, everything works as it should, but troubles, and sluggishness are never far off once operations are being performed in the background.
Knowing how to use your Pixi 3 is part of the learning curve of living with it as a daily driver. But, with all the performance issues with the CPU, the unit has a decent battery life, easily capable of making it through the day without any concerns. Personally, I’m not one for taking photos or looking for opportunities to take photos even less. But, since reviewing a mobile phone, it does become something I am familiar with. That said, I had no joys with the 5MP camera of the Pixi 3. Many of the issues are derived from the lack of focus. Even with the autofocus feature stated on the spec sheet, it seemed almost non-existent for anything greater than 30cm. And that’s not ideal for a smartphone, a feature that can make or break the success of a model. But, I do have to remind myself again that this is an entry-level device, and may not be something that will be scrutinised as much as I have, despite, almost certainly used on a daily basis by most.
The Pixi range is meant to fill the gap across a wide variety of specs, including screen sizes as big as tablets. And while it caters for many, the choice will always come down to price point, even choosing a device outside the Pixi range. The Alcatel OneTouch Pixi 3 (4.5) comes in at a price point of R899.99 on prepaid. While I will admit that Alcatel are missing just a few touches with the Pixi 3 range to make it a powerful unit, at that price point it is easily overlooked.
The only real issue I find here is that the Pixi 4 range has now been announced, and I definitely look forward to seeing all the niggles being ironed out. As it stands, the Pixi 3 (4.5) is a steal at R899.99.