Review: Alcatel Fierce XL with Windows for T-Mobile
Microsoft has done a good job refining the lock screen experience for Windows-based handsets. The Fierce XL's Windows 10 operating system helps deliver useful nuggets of information when they're needed most.
The XL doesn't have the Glance Screen available to Lumia-branded handsets, but its lock screen shows a large clock, the date, and user-customizable notifications on top of your wallpaper. You have to press the screen lock button to view this information. You can elect to show notifications from several apps, one of which is prioritized on the lock screen itself. I selected the calendar app, which is why you see my girls' dentist appointment in the photo below. Had I selected email or messaging, the most recent missive would be there instead.
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You can choose whether or not the Action Center is accessible from this screen. The Action Center (which is similar to Android's Quick Settings menu) drops down for access to certain controls and in-depth notifications.
The Fierce XL does not have a fingerprint sensor, so you need to use a standard PIN or password to secure it.
Microsoft does not allow its handset partners to alter the behavior of Windows 10 Mobile, so the user interface of the XL is more or less identical to that of other Win10 phones.
You can arrange the Live Tiles into three columns, and the tiles are available in small, medium, and large sizes. Many of the Live Tiles update automatically with content and notifications, while others are just app icons. I like that you can manage the transparency of the tiles. The Start screen, arranged in an unending vertical column, supports folders.
The full app menu is a long list of apps sorted alphabetically. A search bar at the top is the quickest way to find apps if you have a lot installed.
The system settings are broken down into groups and each group clearly spells out what controls or tools are within. As in the app menu, the search bar makes finding individual settings a breeze. You can make all the typical adjustments to the phone, such as wallpapers, colors, themes, ringers and alert sounds, and so on. It's all fairly easy to digest.
I found the XL to be much more stable out of the box than Microsoft's own Lumia 950. The XL runs the very latest version of Windows 10 Mobile, which didn't exhibit any bugs or weirdness while I tested the phone. If you're worried about performance, let me assure that the XL feels quick even with Qualcomm's entry-level 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 200 processor under the hood. A few apps were a bit sluggish, but the overall experience was good enough.
The XL does not have a dedicated camera button. The only way to launch the camera is to press the screen lock button, unlock the phone, and then launch via the Start screen shortcut. It's a process. The XL uses the default Windows 10 camera app, which is straightforward and easy to use. Actually, it's simple to a fault.
There are separate on-screen shutter buttons for still and video. You can program the camera button to take single images, or fire a burst / shoot video with a long press. You can touch the image to lock in focus, but you have to use the shutter button to capture images.
A small strip adorns the top of the viewfinder and holds the controls that let you switch to the user-facing camera, toggle through the flash settings, and turn HDR on or off (there's no “auto” HDR setting). The strip expands to reveal the Pro shooting tools if you want it, which includes full manual controls. When in Pro mode, you can manage white balance, exposure, ISO, brightness, and focus all on your own. Sadly, shutter speeds are limited to 0.5 seconds at the slowest, which limits creative potential.
Beyond these tools, there are no other shooting modes. For example, there's no panorama, no bokeh, no filters, no timelapse, no sport mode, no night/evening mode, etc. You can choose to download Lenses from the Windows Store, which add some of these features to the camera, but the Lumia-branded Lenses are off limits.
Unfortunately, the camera suffers from slow performance. It takes a painfully long time for the phone to focus, capture images, save them, and get ready to shoot another images — probably 2+ seconds in total. It's way too slow, and you can see that in the results below.
Alcatel gave the XL an 8-megapixel camera. The camera app defaults to the 16:9 aspect ratio, which crops images to 6.2 megapixels. You need to change the setting to 4:3 to get the full pixel count.
The camera is really inconsistent. About one-third of shots were good, one-third were acceptable, and the last third were total trash. Frustratingly, it wasn't any one aspect of the camera that was troublesome. On some shots focus was great, but exposure was awful. On others focus was awful and exposure was a nightmare. White balance was more consistently accurate than focus or exposure, but that's not saying much. I would say the camera's slow speed caused a lot of the focus problems.
The XL is passable when shooting during the day or in other bright settings, but low-light environments were a real challenge to the XL's camera.
The 2-megapixel selfie camera is practically worthless. Images are sodden with grain and rarely have sharp focus.
Video capture can be set as high as 720p HD, which we can probably blame on the Snapdragon 200 processor. The video I shot with the XL was generally better than the still imagery, but not by a lot. Focus was soft throughout and exposure was all over the place. In particular, the phone had trouble adjusting between bright and dark scenery.
The Fierce XL can manage for everday imaging and video, but just barely. Definitely use a real camera for stuff that's important to you.
T-Mobile kept the bloatware to a minimum. In fact, the T-Mobile TV app is the only one pre-installed. The phone is compatible with T-Mobile's WiFi Calling and HD Voice features.
Microsoft's Office productivity suite is on board, and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OneDrive. The apps are excellent for making quick edits or creating new documents. OneDrive automatically syncs everything so your files are accessible from anywhere. The utility of these apps cannot be understated. They're fantastic. The same goes for the Outlook email app, and the Edge browser. Let's not forget the Cortana voice assistant, who gets smarter every day.
The XL does not include the Continuum feature, which would allow it to serve as a PC when connected to the appropriate set of accessories. (That requires much beefier innards.)
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