Review: Alcatel Fierce XL with Windows for T-Mobile
Alcatel ported Windows 10 to its Fierce XL handset and the result is a low-cost point of entry to Microsoft's ecosystem of productivity apps. The Fierce XL with Windows in a simple smartphone that impresses and bores at the same time. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth report.
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Is It Your Type?
The Alcatel Fierce XL is one of the least-expensive Windows 10 handsets on the market. It's also the only one being sold officially by T-Mobile. If you're on a tight budget and already invested in Microsoft's ecosystem, the Fierce XL is a low-cost point of entry.
The Fierce XL is a pretty blunt device. It's big, heavy, and relies on a pedestrian design that is plain almost to a fault. It's also sort of a copycat.
The XL first arrived last fall as an Android handset. This version of the phone runs Windows 10 from Microsoft, but otherwise the hardware is identical. The only other phone maker that has stuffed Windows into a former Android handset in the U.S. is HTC, which did the same thing with the One M8. (Honestly, I'm not sure why we haven't seen more of this from Android phone makers.)
This handset is a simple slab. The shape and overall appearance are rather boring. The four corners are rounded nicely, but the side edges have a generic curve to them and the back panel is flat and lacking personality. The glass of the front panel is fitted into a plastic frame that sits in a polycarbonate shell. The most exciting thing the XL has going for it is the color. Alcatel dropped the gray coloring of the Android XL in favor of a cyan rear shell for the Windows XL. Too bad Nokia did this years ago with the Lumia 800 and myriad other handsets. The XL's color strikes me as a bit unoriginal.
Most would classify the XL has a phablet. The 5.5-inch screen and chunky bezels push the phone out in all directions. It's 5.98 inches tall, 3.06 inches wide, 0.37 inches thick, and weighs in at a mighty 6.14 ounces. The XL is definitely toward the bigger end of the handset sizing spectrum.
If you have small hands, the XL may not be the best choice for you; it's a two-handed phone for sure. The phone's smooth plastic skin means it won't catch on your pocket liners, but the XL's footprint means you always know it's in your pocket. The build quality and materials are decent, but not the best I've seen. I saw some variation in the uniformity of the polycarbonate shell, but the seams were mostly tight.
Alcatel took a straightforward approach to crafting the XL's front surface. A chrome grille covers the earpiece speaker above the display and the three capacitive buttons are painted onto the glass below the display. These are the only things that are noticeable from afar. The screen when off is a dark gray that stands out from the black glass around it, which is a characteristic I don't like on any phone. The buttons work well enough.
The screen lock button and volume toggle are placed on the right edge of the phone. The screen lock button is closer to the top. I wish their positions were reversed, as I often found myself hitting the volume button when I meant to wake the XL. The buttons are both narrow strips with low profiles. The profiles could be better, as could the travel and feedback. The headset jack is built into the top edge and the micro USB port is built into the bottom. This is a pretty standard configuration. There are no controls along the left edge, which is smooth.
The rear surface is mostly flat and empty space. The camera module is positioned close to the top edge and has a chrome rim that makes it stand out visually. The rim has a physical profile, as well, and protrudes a bit from the phone's back surface.
The entire back panel lifts off easily thanks to a notch carved into the lower corner. Despite the removable panel and sheer size of this phone, the battery is sealed inside. Slots for memory and SIM cards are available underneath the cover.
The Alcatel Fierce XL is a perfectly functional and serviceable piece of hardware, it's just a bit uninspired to my eyes.
The display measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and has 720p HD resolution. That gives it a pixel density of about 267ppi, which isn't bad considering the phone's low price. I compared it side-by-side with the quad HD screen of the Lumia 950 and the Fierce XL's display holds its own against the far more pixel-rich flagship. The XL's screen delivers pleasing color, nice contrast, and sharp (enough) on-screen elements, such as text and icons. I was only able to spot pixels if I held the phone right up to my eyes. I did have to set the brightness up all the way to use the phone outdoors, but viewing angles are quite good.
The Fierce XL operates on T-Mobile's LTE network and I found it to perform on par with other phones I've tested on T-Mobile in the metro NYC area. Calls generally connected on the first attempt and didn't disconnect as I traveled around via car. T-Mobile's LTE service was always available to the phone while I reviewed the device and data speeds were decent. I've seen faster speeds on other T-Mobile devices, but the Fierce XL did well enough.
I was pleased with the XL's call quality, which I'd rate as above average for a T-Mo phone. The earpiece produced crisp, clear voices that were a breeze to hear thanks to the solid amount of volume delivered by the phone. I had no trouble holding conversations at home, in busy coffee shops, when walking around town, or in the car. Two dozen screaming 9-year-old girls were, however, able to overwhelm the XL's earpiece when I used it to order pizza for my daughter's birthday party; I had to step outside for that call. On the plus side, the guy taking my order on the other end of the phone said he could hear me, chaos be damned.
The speakerphone isn't quite that good. Quality is solid enough, but volume drops significantly. I was still able to use it in quiet places with no issue, but loud spaces will more easily overwhelm it.
Ringers and alerts had no trouble finding my ears, but the vibrate alert is far too subtle.
I'm rather stunned that such a large phone has a mere 2,500 mAh power cell inside. However, the phone pushes through a full day on a consistent basis. I was worried the XL wouldn't last to dinner, but found the battery still had plenty of life left come bedtime. The XL's lower-resolution screen and entry-level processor probably help keep power demand low. Alcatel did a good job tuning the battery to the Fierce XL's needs.
Windows 10 includes some pretty powerful power-management tools, though I doubt you'll need to tap into them. The battery dashboard offers a detailed look at what apps are using power and estimates how much time remains. Moreover, you can control when the battery saver software kicks in. You can even set exceptions, allowing some apps to perform at full power even if the battery saver is on.
The XL doesn't include rapid charging, nor wireless charging.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
I didn't encounter any issues when using the XL's various other radios. The Bluetooth radio paired with my car, headsets, and PCs without problem. Call quality through a mono headset was decent. Music sounded OK when played via Bluetooth speaker, but I've heard much better. The XL doesn't have an NFC radio, so I had to pair everything manually (oh, the horror!)
The GPS radio worked well with the mapping software on the XL. The phone was able to locate me swiftly, but accuracy varied a bit, often stretching to 100 feet or more. Most phones can pinpoint you down to about 25 feet; the best know where you are within 5-10 feet. I was surprised to see the XL's accuracy a bit soft, even when using GPS, WiFi, and cell triangulation for location. At least Windows' mapping software is great.
The WiFi radio pushed bits back and forth effortlessly.
Feb 10, 2016
T-Mobile has made the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL with Windows 10 available from its web site. The phone, announced earlier this year, has a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen, a 1.1GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210 processor, an 8-megapixel main camera with flash, and a 2-megapixel front camera.
Jan 6, 2016
Alcatel today announced a Windows 10 variant of the Fierce XL smartphone. The phone is a direct carry over from the Android version, which was announced last year.
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Cortana and hands-free
One thing Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile reviewers always seem to miss is the phenomenal capability of Cortana combined with either a Bluetooth headset or earbuds for safe, efficient hands-free use, either while driving, or working around the house:
1) Listen to and REPLY TO texts without touching the phone, using strictly voice.
2) Dictate emails through the headset.
3) Bring up specific webpages without touching the phone, for example "Open webpage Sigalert.com" and it displays the page without requiring any touch input.
4) Initiate navigation without touching the phone: "Directions from current location to Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena, California"....