Alcatel A3 XL phone: Full, in-depth review

A sub-$200 6-inch Android smartphone? How cheap is too cheap?

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Alcatel A3 XL phone
  • Alcatel A3 XL phone
  • Alcatel A3 XL phone
  • Alcatel A3 XL phone
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Very cheap
  • Good big screen
  • Good stills camera
  • Good speaker

Cons

  • Front camera is mediocre
  • Responsiveness is below average

Bottom Line

It's just $179 and yet we struggled to criticise this 6" Android smartphone. Enthusiasts will find it a bit slow, but cash-strapped casual users will love it.

Would you buy this?

[Update: Our initial review of this phone used a review model with old software (and some lesser hardware) that was particularly slow and laggy. We've since used an updated model and found that things were much improved. The overall score has increased accordingly.]

We’ve been flooded with new phones over recent months and the differences have all been relatively minor. But now here’s Alcatel with a six-inch smartphone that makes the $300 Moto G5 look expensive. But how cheap is too cheap?

Key specs

6in, 720 x 1280 (245ppi) LCD screen, 2GB/16GB RAM, 1.1GHz quad-core A53 CPU, Mali-T720MP2  GPU, 8MP rear and 5MP front cameras, microSD, microSIM, Micro USB, Android 7, 3000mAh battery, 165 x 83 x 8mm, 145g. Full specs here.

Design and Handling

We don’t expect too much at this price but the A3 XL still punches above its weight. The front screen with its rounded corners looks similar to most other phones and the textured, grey back looks business-like. It doesn’t look like a cheap phone. 

Alcatel A3 XL - looks like most other phones.
Alcatel A3 XL - looks like most other phones.
Alcatel A3 XL - The textured corporate grey belies the $179 price tag.
Alcatel A3 XL - The textured corporate grey belies the $179 price tag.

The six-inch screen gets bright and colours are impressively vibrant. While the 720p HD resolution is down on many rivals and the relatively-large size means that there are only 245 pixels per inch, at least icons and text appear larger than usual which will be a boon for those who are fed up of squinting at the minuscule lettering of small, Ultra HD screens.

The Operating System is a basic Android 7 and is simple enough to use. But it doesn’t take long for the limitations of the 1.1GHz quad-core processor to rear their head. Basic apps can take a moment or two longer to open than we've been used to and responsiveness is a bit low compared to the rest of the market. Loading mail apps can take an extra second or two but scrolling through them is fast enough.

A high-end, computationally-demanding game like Need For Speed No Limits takes an age to load but the well-optimised coding meant that it was still playable albeit with a few frame drops. Dropping down to Angry Birds, loading times were a bit slower than usual but not by much and the game was very playable. Pokemon Go (with its new gym update) took a long time to load up. It can be a bit juddery and laggy at times but it’s very playable.

There’s a fingerprint reader on the back which is an impressive feature at this price. However, it’s not the fastest or most reliable unit we’ve seen. It frequently took a few attempts to recognise our finger but at least the feature is there and you don’t have to use it.

There's a fingerprint reader but it's not the quickest or most reliable.
There's a fingerprint reader but it's not the quickest or most reliable.

All in all, we were impressed. An early version of the software on this phone led us to believe it was annoyingly slow and laggy but really, while it's not as responsive as more-expensive models, it's still usable for most smartphone applications (forget about VR though!)

Audio quality

We were actually impressed with the speakers. Regular phone quality was decent and conference calls were loud and clear – more so than some pricier rivals.

Playing our treble-rich test track, Bjork’s Play Dead, demonstrated an impressive amount of volume, clarity and even a little punch – despite an almost complete lack of bass. Indeed, performance here exceeded many top phones.

The main speaker is at the rear and, for a phone, is really rather good.
The main speaker is at the rear and, for a phone, is really rather good.

Switching to the bass heavy Army of Me, we were again greeted with an impressively-rounded and loud sound despite the lack of bass. We should also note that the speaker is located on the back and sound is much better when turning the phone over and listening to it that way rather than it bouncing off a table or whatever.

Ultimately, though the Arkamys-optimised speaker does a very good job compared to any phone at any price.

Alcatel A3 XL camera review

The main camera is only 8-megapixels but it’s capable of sharp and colourful pictures in good lighting – up close and at distance.

Up close and in low light, the A3 XL captured a sharp, colourful image.
Up close and in low light, the A3 XL captured a sharp, colourful image.
Food shots may need a filter to brighten things up.
Food shots may need a filter to brighten things up.
A collage feature lets you combine images.
A collage feature lets you combine images.

Things can fall off a cliff in low light but even so, some mediocre-lit indoors shots still came out usable. In the dark though, there’s not much to see.

The A3 XL struggled badly in very low light.
The A3 XL struggled badly in very low light.
In mediocre light you'll get some blur but pictures can still be sharp enough to use. They may need some colour correction though.
In mediocre light you'll get some blur but pictures can still be sharp enough to use. They may need some colour correction though.

Panoramas are just about acceptable but you wouldn’t want to print them out. They’re low resolution and some lighting blending transitions can be verge on harsh.

Panoramas are low resolution and some lighting transitions can border on harsh.
Panoramas are low resolution and some lighting transitions can border on harsh.

Landscapes looked better with HDR but using this did mean there was a few seconds wait while image processing occurred.

Landscapes looked better with HDR turned on, but you have to hold the camera still and wait a while for image processing.
Landscapes looked better with HDR turned on, but you have to hold the camera still and wait a while for image processing.

Selfies were a mixed bag. The front camera is only 5-megapixels and it’s not great in low light per se. However, there's a small LED flash that can make up for mediocre lighting. This can also make you look a little palid but Beauty Mode can add some colour to those cheeks (if required) without making you look ridiculously airbrushed. Nonetheless, many of our shots came out looking soft or had colour casts. It's not the best phone for Narcissists. 

Beauty Mode can add a nice subtle hue to selfies (l). However, in less-than-optimum light, things got blurry quickly, not least because of shutter lag.
Beauty Mode can add a nice subtle hue to selfies (l). However, in less-than-optimum light, things got blurry quickly, not least because of shutter lag.

Video is captured at 720p (HD). It’s naturally a bit fuzzy on high resolution screens and gets grainier when in low light. It’s poor in very low light and background noise can be sound a bit robotic. But for undemanding users it was all still (just about) usable. It helps if lighting is good and everyone is still, though.

The HD video will be a bit low resolution and fuzzy for some people.
The HD video will be a bit low resolution and fuzzy for some people.

Next: Battery Life and Conclusion

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