The Alcatel OT-990 isn’t an Android phone for spec heads. While Samsung and HTC do battle at the top end of the market with dual-core CPUs and lavish qHD displays, this new handset is designed to lure in Pay As You Go folk, with a sub £100 price tag, but also the latest version of Android. It’s not out until August but we’ve been testing a prototype over the weekend: read on to see what we make of it.
We wouldn’t blame you if you’d never heard of Alcatel before. The French phone peddler is known for its awful dumphones and rapper/royal family tie-ins rather than smartphones, but it’s no stranger to smartphones: last year, it quietly released the Alcatel OT-980, a charming £99 phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
It’s following that up with the Alcatel OT-990, which is out in August on Pay As You go exclusively on O2 – the first time an Alcatel smartphone’s been sold through a network. This one lacks a QWERTY keyboard, but will ship with Android 2.2 Froyo and receive an Andorid 2.3 upgrade in Q4 (October-December), the network says.
The Alcatel OT-990 comes with a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen with a 480×320 resolution, plus a five megapixel camera with flash, and the whole thing is powered by a 600MHz CPU. In the hand, the 12.2mm thick smartphone has a satisfying solidity, with a nice arrangement of touch sensitive buttons below the screen, and a raised physical home button.
The back cover has a lovely rubberised and smudge resistant finish, complete “with Google” logo, but this could actually change. O2 says it’s planning to run a competition on Facebook next month to let readers vote for another back panel to be included on the Alcatel OT-990, and we’d expect the shortlisted candidates to be a little bit more vibrant, INQ style.
All in all, it’s a solid piece of kit for under a ton. Of course, so is the Orange San Francisco, which is made by ZTE, sells for the same price, and comes with a superior, sharper AMOLED screen, presumably through some Faustian pact. However, there is software to consider.
In a rare occurrence, the Alcatel OT-990 will actually be sold without a software skin. on top of Android – and if you’ve read our reviews of LG and Motorola‘s recent Android smartphones, you’ll know we’re rarely fans of them.
What we’ve got here is largely untouched Android 2.2, complete with the typical Google apps. The only obvious change Alcatel has made is to switch out the stock keyboard for CooTek’s TouchPal on-screen QWERTY. We found it frustrating to use, but you can of course switch it out for one of many (free) alternatives on the Android Market. O2 also says it’s planning to ship the Alcatel OT-990 with the most popular free Android apps on the Market preloaded, which is a welcome touch.
Check out our best Android phone: budget Top 5 here
We were testing a pre-production unit, but the 600MHz CPU delivers surprisingly impressive performance in the web browser, with pinch to zoom gestures coming across very smoothly indeed. It should be more than enough to handle email, web pages and even the odd game of Angry Birds, though the processor used means Adobe Flash support is out of the question. Oh well, you can’t have everything for nothing, right?
An unskilled Android phone available for under £100 is music to our ears, especially if it receives a timely upgrade to Gingerbread, and while the Orange San Francisco lingers on Android 2.1, it could be the budget smartphone to get. Stay tuned, and we’ll have a full review for you in due course.