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Hands-On: Alcatel OneTouch Pop Mega and Pop Star

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Sep 29, 2014, 7:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

Alcatel revealed two new Android smartphones headed to Tracfone later this year, the Pop Mega and the Pop Star. Here are a few thoughts on these low-cost cell phones.

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Alcatel had a few new phones on hand at an event in NYC this evening, the Pop Mega and the Pop Star. Both will reach Tracfone in the coming weeks with support for LTE 4G on board and low price points to boot. Here are a few words about these new phones.

Pop Mega

As the name implies, the Mega is huge. It has a 6-inch screen and the footprint to match. It's so big, Alcatel plans to sell it with the "Buddy" Bluetooth accessory, which is essentially a smaller handset for making calls. (We've seen this before from Alcatel with its flagship phones.) The device is plain black with few differentiating characteristics. I'd call it a bit vanilla in the looks department, but it's not ugly by any stretch.

The Mega is gigantic, for sure. It is as phablet-y as a phablet can get. The screen is enormous, and Alcatel didn't do much to minimize the footprint, such as shrink the bezels. That said, it could be worse. The materials are mostly plastics, with glass covering the display. The back shelll is made of a soft-touch material that offers plenty of grip, but it is not the best stuff we've ever laid hands on. The back surface is contoured a bit, which helps, but it is definitely going to be a two-handed phone for most people most of the time. Alcatel did build in some tricks to make it easier to use one-handed, but they are somewhat hidden and rather obtuse.

Pop Mega  

The 6-inch display includs 960 x 540 or qHD resolution. It's not an HD screen, and pixels were easily visible to my eyes a normal viewing distances (about two feet). Held close to my eyes, the pixels really stood out. The screen is rather bright, and colors looked good. For the price point, it's not bad.

The buttons are all concentrated along the right edge. The volume toggle is nearest the top. It is slim, has a low profile, and rather crummy travel and feedback. The same is true of the screen lock button, which is just below the volume toggle. These buttons could be a lot better. The headphone port is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. You have to remove the back cover to get at the battery, SIM card, and memory card. It peels off rather easily.

The Mega comes with a really small companion handset, which several other phone makers have offered alongside their biggest devices. The Buddy, as it is called, runs a proprietary OS but can access most of the basics from the Mega, such as contacts, messages, call history, and so on. It can even control the media player. It is much more comfortable to use for making calls - especially since it actually fits in your pocket. The Mega itself is very large and has trouble fitting into regular jeans pockets.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Pop Mega is its price. Tracfone will sell it for just $249 (with the Buddy included) without a contract. When you consider that, the Mega is a bargain.

Pop Star

The Pop Star has most of the same features as the large Mega, but really ramps down the size to accommodate those with small hands.

The Pop Star has similar materials, build quality, and design when compared to the Mega. The corners are a bit more square, but the family resemblance is clear. The rear cover, for example, has the same soft-touch finish and forms a shell protecting the back and the side surfaces. It doesn't meet flush wth the front, however, and the screen sticks up significantly. It's like a reverse lip, if you will.

Pop Star  

I had no trouble cupping the Star in my hand, and my pockets swallowed the phone easily. It is lightweight and comfortable to hold and use. I could reach all aspects of the UI and hardware with no trouble.

The screen measures 4 inches across the diagonal and has only WVGA resolution. This is about as low-rez as a modern smartphone gets, but remember Alcatel is going for the value play here. Despite the lack of pixels, the screen is relatively bright and had decent viewing angles. There are three capacitive buttons below the display, for Back, Home, and Menu. (Yes, Menu, not Multitask. Alcatel is going old school!). These buttons were responsive and worked well.

The volume toggle is on the left edge of the phone and the screen lock button is on the top. Neither button was all that awsome. Like the Mega, they have low profiles and wimpy travel and feedback. They could be much, much better.

The UI of both phones was pretty decent. It's close to stock Android with a few customizations here and there. For example, the combined Multitasking and Menu functions are rather unique. I like that you can close all the open apps at once with a quick flick. The camera UI is a bit unique and has a distinct layout. Both phones operated quickly and wthout pause or hesitation.

Alcatel Interfaces  

The Pop Star's killer feature is the price. It will cost just $149, with no contract, and will include LTE 4G as part of the deal. It should be available at Tracfone locations by the end of October.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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