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Alcatel OT-980 hands on UK preview:  The best budget smartphone yet

Remember the Alcatel OT-980? We first roadtested this Palm Pre-esque Android phone way back in February at Mobile World Congress, but as we broke the news of first, it’s coming to the UK. It’s out in a month, but we got to go hands on with it today, and for what we’re seeing at the price we’re hearing, we’re really excited. Read on to find out what we mean.

As a quick refresher, the Alcatel OT-980 is an Android phone with a 2.8-inch touchscreen and two megapixel camera, plus an unusual portrait slide out QWERTY keyboard, only really seen in the Palm Pre and upcoming BlackBerry Torch. It’s had a bit of a makeover in the last seven months, with the awful red shade dropped, and gained a new matte finish which shuns fingerprints nicely.

The Alcatel OT-980 is a somewhat different proposition to those high end rivals however: Alcatel intends to sell it for just £99 on Pay As You Go, and at that price, from what we’ve seen, it’s going to render low end Android rivals like the T-Mobile Pulse Mini and Vodafone 845 utterly redundant.

Alcatel OT-980 hands on photos

How so? Android 2.1 isn’t anything to get overly excited about with the Alcatel OT-980: the largely vanilla OS ran relatively smoothly, but if anything it’s behind the times now (Alcatel says a Froyo upgrade is coming but wouldn’t give a date). But it should run plenty of apps you’ll need in a pinch, like Google Maps with navigation.

Nor is it the screen on the Alcatel OT-980. It’s resistive so pinch to zoom is out, not especially bright, and the notification draw can be tricky to pull down on.

No, It’s the Alcatel OT-980′s keyboard that really makes it stands out. The keys are tiny, and made of a soft rubber that at first feel doesn’t seem like a good idea. But they work like a dream, and you’ll be bouncing off them in no time. We honestly think this is one of the fastest typing experiences we’ve ever had on Android: it’s probably easier than on the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro, and even the Motorola Milestone 2 or LG GW620, our old low end favourite. It’s certainly in another league compared to the T-Mobile Pulse Mini and its accursed stylus.

That combined with Android itself and a firm build and slide mechanism, means the Alcatel OT-980, barring any hiccups like surprise network bloatware, should definitely be worth a close look when it comes out next month. Needless to say, we’ll be doing that for you in a full Alcatel OT-980 review, so stay tuned, and in the meantime, enjoy the hands on photos!

Out October | c.£99 PAYG | Alcatel

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