Review: Alcatel 7 for MetroPCS
Sep 8, 2018, 9:00 AM by Eric M. Zeman
The Alcatel 7 offers MetroPCS customers a big screen, a big battery, and other modern features in a relatively slim piece of hardware. With dual cameras packing features such as portrait and slow-motion capture, and a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, the Alcatel 7 seemingly has it all. Is anything holding this phone back? Phone Scoop reveals all in this in-depth report.
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Is It Your Type?
The Alcatel 7 is an inexpensive Android phone that packs a big screen, a big battery, dual cameras, and plenty of security options. If you need an affordable phone that doesn't skimp on modern features, the Alcatel 7 could be the right choice.
The Alcatel 7 is an obsidian slate, narrow and tall, as modern phones have become. It's made from a mix of glass and plastic. A 2.5D piece of Dragontail glass on front is tucked into a matte plastic frame. The rear panel is deep black, glossy, and also made from plastic. Scattered chrome accents catch the light here and there.
The design doesn't particularly stand out from other phones in this category, and yet it's not unappealing.
It's big. The Alcatel 7 is in the same neighborhood as the Google Pixel 2 XL as far as size is concerned. The length stretches to nearly 6.4 inches, though thankfully the width is under 3 inches. I found the weight to be reasonable. The smooth texture of the curved plastic makes the phone more comfortable to grasp. The phone is slim enough that it will slip into pockets, but the length might be cumbersome. The phone poked me a few times as I sat down in chairs, requiring that I adjust the position of the 7 in my pocket.
Alcatel did a fine job with the 7's manufacture. The 7 feels strong thanks to the polycarbonate frame and solid rear panel. There's nothing loose or flexible about it. This is not a rugged phone, though it should survive drops far better than an all-glass device. It doesn't offer protection from water.
The 2:1-shaped screen defines the face of the Alcatel 7. The side bezels are kept in check. A sizeable forehead and chin serve to exaggerate the elongated dimensions of the phone. The face is glass from top to bottom. A slit near the top for the earpiece is the only break in the otherwise smooth surface.
Button and port placement around the edges of the phone doesn't break with convention. The screen lock key and volume toggle are both on the right edge. I like that the buttons have chrome accents so they stand out visually from the black frame. The screen lock key is ridged to help set it apart by feel. Travel and feedback is very good. The volume toggle is smooth and has similarly good action. The tray for SIM and memory cards is on the left edge. A tool is required to eject it.
A standard headphone jack populates the top edge and a USB-C port is centered on the bottom. Some holes are drilled on either side of the USB port for the speakerphone.
The rear panel is piano black and reflective thanks to the high gloss finish. It attracts fingerprints and oily grime as flypaper does flies. Most of the panel is flat, but it curves nicely close to the edges to help reduce the footprint a bit. This also makes it easier to hold. The fingerprint reader and camera module are both framed in chrome. Alcatel put the fingerprint reader in just the right spot. It's indented deeply, which helps your finger locate it by feel.
Alcatel designed and manufactured a respectable phone in the 7. It eschews high design in favor of practicality.
The Alcatel 7's LCD panel stretches 6 inches from corner to corner. It adopts the 2:1 aspect ratio with full HD+ resolution (2,160 x 1,080 pixels). The pixel density comes in at 402ppi. It's a fine display for a phone at this price point.
The resolution is more than adequate. The screen puts out a fair amount of light, but I sometimes found it hard to see outdoors under the sun. Colors are accurate. Viewing angles are very good; it exhibits minimal brightness loss when tilted.
The phone does not offer advanced screen controls.
MetroPCS, owned and operated by T-Mobile, sells the Alcatel 7. The phone supports all of the LTE bands for T-Mo, including 66 and 71, which are the newest. This helps the phone perform well.
I tested the Alcatel 7 over several days and found it met my expectations for a low-cost phone. I had no trouble connecting calls on the first dial each and every time. The 7 dropped one call on the highway in a known T-Mobile weak spot, meaning the device did about the same as others sold by T-Mobile/MetroPCS.
On the data front, the phone always showed an LTE 4G connection. It consistently had strong access to the data network. A good connection is one thing, but speeds are another. The phone supports only Cat 6 LTE, which doesn't allow for the fastest speeds available. In the real world, that means browsing the web was generally quick, but media-laden social networks were sometimes a hair slow. You may see longer load times for YouTube videos or Spotify. The 7 certainly does well enough to make it usable on a day-to-day basis, as long as you don't mind average-quality video/audio streams.
Quality of voice calls could be better. The biggest issue is the lack of volume. In a noisy coffee shop or moving car, it's just not loud enough. The clarity of voices is acceptable, though prone to distortion and scratchiness from time to time.
Calls made via the speakerphone can only be heard in near-silent spaces. It's simply not loud enough, not by far. Clarity is worse than the earpiece thanks to raspy distortion.
Calls and alerts are so-so with respect to volume. I definitely missed some incoming notifications because I didn't hear them. Turning on the vibrate alert will help, as the vibration motor delivers a noticeable buzz.
Few flagship phones ship with a 4,000mAh battery and yet the low-cost Alcatel 7 manages to offer just such a power cell. With a full charge, the 7 easily cruises from dawn to dusk and beyond. The phone consistently pushed from breakfast to bedtime and never once ran out of juice before I was ready to call it a day. Most days I had a healthy cushion of 30% or more capacity leftover.
The phone includes the standard Android battery saver tool, which you can toggle on manually, or have switch on automatically at preset battery levels. I didn't find that it helped all that much.
The 7 supports what Alcatel calls "Pump Express 2.0" rapid charging. It doesn't take too, too long to charge. You can score approximately 30% in battery life if you leave it plugged in for about 30 minutes. That's enough for hours of up time.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The Alcatel 7 includes a basic set of secondary radios and they all do a reasonably good job.
First up is Bluetooth 4.2, with myriad profiles for connecting to headphones, speakers, cars, PCs, and so on. I was able to pair the device with a range of accessories. Unfortunately, calls sent to my car's hands-free system were miserable with respect to volume and clarity; bad enough that you shouldn't even bother. Music, on the other hand, sounded quite good when streamed via headphones or speakers. I was able to share files with other devices seamlessly.
The GPS radio interacted with Google Maps as if they were born for one another. The Alcatel 7 pinpointed me on the map to within about 20 feet in just a few seconds. It kept pace with walking and mass-transit navigation no problem.
There's no NFC radio aboard, but you will find an FM radio for tuning into your local favorites.
The WiFi radio was often a good bet for downloading apps, media, and such while at home.
The 7's lock screen strays only a little bit from standard Android. It includes up to five app shortcuts at the bottom of the lock screen. You can fully customize which apps appear in this space, which is nice. Tap the shortcut you want to open, unlock, and the phone opens the app quickly.
There is no advanced active / ambient display on the Alcatel 7, which is a let down. You have to wake the screen to see notifications, which appear below the clock. You can dismiss notifications one at a time from the lock screen, or en masse if you unlock the phone. The clock is really big and easy to see.
The 7 offers an array of ways to unlock the phone. The fingerprint reader is consistently the fastest way to wake and unlock the phone. I had no issues training several prints.
Alternately, you can take advantage of the face unlock tool. Alcatel warns that this is a simple camera-based tool that can be fooled by "a person or an object that resembles your face." Moreover, your sunglasses, hat, or make-up may cause it to fail. Recording your face data into the phone is easy enough. You'll need to set a backup security method, such as PIN, pattern, or password.
The face unlock tool works, but just barely. The phone took far longer than I wanted it to to recognize my face and errored out often. Given the fact that your fingerprint is faster and more secure, I suggest sticking with the finger.
The home screen experience is pretty straightforward. The phone runs Android 8.1 and has a very light skin from Alcatel. Essentially, Alcatel is using its own fonts, colors, and icons. The basic framework of Android is unchanged. You can adjust the home screens however you prefer.
I like that the Alcatel 7 includes a dedicated app drawer, which is easy to open via the dock at the bottom of the screen. You can opt to view your apps alphabetically, by download date, or by most-often used. There's no hiding apps, and no folders, in the app drawer.
The settings menu offers no surprises. It's a straight text list and is laid out in plain black text on a white background. A search bar makes it quicker to sort through the settings.
There are no special interface features, such as themes, easy mode, or the like.
A 2.5 GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P23 processor powers this baby. It has 2 GB of RAM to go with it. After testing the phone for several days I'll say that I didn't come across any deal-breakers as far as speed and performance are concerned. The phone ran smoothly the majority of the time I used it. Most apps opened quickly, screen transitions were smooth, and it felt like the phone had enough juice for most typical tasks.
The fastest way to open the camera is to double-press the screen lock button. The app opens quickly enough.
The viewfinder and controls are familiar. A strip of toggles (night mode, flash, HDR, timer, filters) lines the left edge.
The shooting modes include automatic, panorama, time-lapse, social, light-trace, portrait, and slow motion. That's more than most phones in this class. One 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 like a photo booth.
The portrait mode relies on the two rear cameras to create bokeh-style images with sharp subject and blurred background. I like that you can dial in the amount of background blur, and even adjust the effect after the fact. This mode is fairly slow to operate, however, particularly in low light.
You'll find access to the settings menu from the shooting mode screen. You can only adjust the most basic settings, such as resolution, grid, and sounds.
I was hoping for solid performance from the app, but the Alcatel 7 let me down. The processor and/or 2 GB of RAM isn't enough to deliver smooth operation of this app. It's slow to do everything, and even the viewfinder is slow. It takes two blinks to catch up to what your aiming at. Jumping through the settings and modes takes time. Worse, the phone just takes forever to focus before firing the shot.
The results are mediocre at best. The Alcatel 7 suffers horribly in low light, creating grainy, underexposed messes that just don't look good. No amount of flash use seems to help with anything that's more than a couple of feet away. You'll get better results in brighter environments.
The biggest problem is focus. Because the camera is so slow, it's easy to think it has finished taking a picture when in fact it has not. I can't tell you how many pictures I got of my feet because I thought the camera had done its job. Color and white balance are fine, but exposure and noise level are all over the place.
The 8-megapixel selfie camera is no better. The flash never seemed to fire no matter how dark the scene was, and the beauty tools offer no salvation from your freckles, lines, and other imperfections.
The phone captures video up to full HD and it doesn't look very good. The results are, like the pictures, a noisy disaster filled with grain and aberrations. Colors come across as muted and all the video I shot is lacking in proper exposure.
The Alcatel 7's camera may function as a stop-gap, but I wouldn't count on it for saving those important events.
MetroPCS is pitching the Alcatel 7 as a media machine and it's mostly due in part to the presence of the Closer TV app. This app is a combined remote control (there's an infrared emitter on the top of the phone) and content discovery tool. You'll need to spend some time pairing it with both your television and your cable box. Then you'll be able to use Closer TV as a visual guide to what's on.
The app shows you what's available in real time from your cable TV provider, as well as third-party services such as Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Prime. It shows both free content, and a variety of paid types.
Closer TV is clunky. It never seemed to want to talk to my cable box no matter how many times I paired the two. I'd often find something I wanted to watch through the app, select it, and nothing would happen on my TV. Bottom line: you're better off sticking with your existing remote / app setup, which is surely less frustrating.
Alcatel has an opportunity to fill a certain gap in the U.S. market right now. If it can churn out respectable, affordable phones, it could become a reliable go-to manufacturer for prepaid carriers such as MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless. The Alcatel 7 doesn't quite go the distance.
I'm sold on the hardware design and promise. It's not the most unique phone in the market, but the screen is fine, the chassis is strong, and the all-black design works. It's great to see a fingerprint reader, USB-C, and a headphone jack.
The phone excels at battery life, outlasting many other devices in this market segment. At the same time, call quality is questionable and data speeds are average. The Android-based platform runs smoothly enough, but the camera simply isn't up to snuff.
MetroPCS sells the Alcatel 7 for $180. If you port-in a number and subscribe to Metro's top plan, you can snag the 7 for $30. At MetroPCS, the $50 Moto E5 or the $80 LG Stylo 4 are better options.
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