Review: Alcatel 1x with Android Go
The Alcatel 1x may be a low-cost phone with Android Go on board, but it still has an "ambient display" feature that will wake to show you incoming notifications. It's a pretty basic service that blinks the screen on when you have a new email or message. The screen blinks off again after several seconds. The LED light performs double duty, pulsing on and off when there are unread notifications.
A quick press of the screen lock button wakes the display and shows you the clock, wallpaper, and Alcatel's Func shortcuts at the bottom of the screen. These let you quickly access the calendar, flashlight, timer, and camera. You can customize which apps are available from the lock screen, which is nice.
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I'm surprised to see such an inexpensive phone include a fingerprint reader, and yet there it is on the back of the 1x. Training the reader is no trouble. It works for unlocking the phone as long as you're not in a hurry. It often required two attempts for verification and that slows things down. You can rely on a PIN, pattern, or password as backup.
Android Go, which is based on Android 8 Oreo, looks and feels like regular Android. You've got a home screen that accommodates shortcuts and widgets, an app drawer, a quick settings / notification shade, and a settings menu for adjusting all the usual stuff. Out of the box, you'll see a search bar, clock, and several apps and folders on the home screens.
Some things you can tweak include how the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen behaves, whether or not there is an app drawer, and how much power and memory apps are allowed to consume. This tool lets you individually tweak which apps are allowed to run and when so you can keep the processor and RAM free to do other things.
About half the apps included are "Go" or "Lite" versions. For example, Google Maps runs in the Chrome browser rather than as a stand-alone app. Gmail, Files, and Google Search are all really lightweight "Go" versions. Gmail Go looks and behaves just like the full version on any Android phone, but Google Search Go is definitely pared down. It includes a search bar along with a number of categories for focusing searches on things such as images, GIFs, the weather, and so on. You can still type and speak search queries as you expect, but it's clear Google wants people to use the categories to cut back on how broad the search is.
Many apps are direct carryovers, such as Google Photos, Chrome, the calendar and clock, Play Music, and even YouTube.
Despite the "lite" build of Android, the 1x is a dog. The 1.3 GHz quad-core MediaTek processor and 1 GB of RAM simply aren't up to the task. The phone lags, refuses to recognize some screen input, and otherwise runs poorly. Apps open when they're good and ready, and many are so slow as to cause frustration. If Android Go is supposed allow a phone with these specs run decently fast, it fails. This laggy UI is a near dealbreaker. It's like the Alcatel 1x is a low-end Android phone from 2012.
If there's one app that really suffers from poor performance, it's the camera. The fastest way to open it is to double-press the down volume key. The lock screen shortcut is convenient, too. But the app opens slowly.
The viewfinder and controls are familiar. A strip of toggles (night mode, flash, HDR, timer, filters) lines the left edge, while the shutter button and other controls are on the right. Interacting with any of these is frustrating for several reasons: lack of screen responsiveness and simple slowness on the part of the app. I wanted to chuck the phone at a wall after a few minutes.
The shooting modes include automatic, panorama, time-lapse, social, and light-trace. That's more modes than most phones in this class. The only stand-out here is the social mode, which lets do you put together a four-image collage. You can capture each image manually, or set a timer so it does it in a quick series. It's sort of like a photo booth.
The camera does everything in slow motion.
The 8-megapixel camera does not do a good job. Image quality is all over the place. First, because the app is so slow you're apt to smear images by accidentally moving the phone before it's done capturing the image. Exposure is overblown as often as it's underexposed. Color and white balance are generally decent. The 1x does terribly in low light, with insane grain and noise speckling the images.
The 5-megapixel selfie cam works when you have plenty of light. Focus is often soft, but color looks good. Selfies tended to be underexposed and grainy.
You can record video up to 1080p full HD with the 1x if you wish, but keep in mind you only have access to about 10.8 GB of internal storage. The quality is so-so. I saw decent focus and exposure, but lots of grain and noise.
Alcatel showed off new hardware at CES this week, though it stopped short of fully announcing any new phones. The 5 Series, 3 Series, and 1 Series devices will encompass its entire smartphone range moving forward.
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