We review the cheapest 4G phone out right now, the dinky Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 smartphone.
Alcatel One Touch has a great little niche carved out with its series of impressively affordable Androids, and the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 had us intrigued from the off, as it’s currently the cheapest 4G smartphone you can buy, at a piffling £80. That’s almost half the price of the Motorola Moto G 4G and Nokia Lumia 635. But is it a worthy contender for the affordable 4G crown?
Check out our massive comparison review on the best affordable 4G phones in the UK.
Read our full ‘4G explained’ article for more info on fast mobile internet.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 design: Pick n’ mix
Just cos a smartphone’s cheap, it doesn’t have to look like crap. That’s something that’s more true than ever, with colourful, attractive designs creeping into affordable phones such as the Nokia Lumia 630 and Motorola Moto E.
The One Touch Pop S3 isn’t going to drop any jaws or stir anyone’s undergarments with its plain glossy body, but it’s a tidy-looking handset with a clean design. The best part is the rear panel, which snaps off and can be replaced with a fresh new colour – and Alcatel has kindly included two replacements inside of each box. So our white Pop S3 could be made blue or yellow at any time, and there are tons of other colours.
These smooth, colourful cases don’t provide much grip, but they’re bright and fun and kiddie-friendly. The Pop S3 is comfortable to fondle and use one-handed, thanks to its compact stature, and although it’s rather hefty for its size, it never weighs you down.
Pop that cover off and you can also remove the battery, and in there you’ll find a full-sized SIM card slot and a microSD memory card slot – essential, as there’s very little built-in storage.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 features: Bloatware bonanza
Alcatel has lightly tinkered with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, although pretty much all of the phone’s features are vanilla Android. The only real addition Alcatel has thrown in is a bunch of bloatware, which we personally decided to delete as quickly as possible. Between five Amazon apps, extra services like Deezer and Viber, and irritating games such as Littlest Pet Shop, we were hitting ‘uninstall’ for a solid 20 minutes.
Aside from that, Android runs smoothly and can be fully customised as usual. The notifications bar has a funky new look and you can add tons of stuff to the shortcuts menu, up to 15 at a time.
You get full access to the Google Play store, for downloading apps, music, movies etc. but you also have direct access to Amazon’s online Appstore. There’s a much more limited selection on there compared with Google’s effort, but there is a free app given away every day which makes it worth a gander.
And of course, the One Touch Pop S3 is fully 4G-ified, so as long as you have a 4G contract and you’re living in a hotspot, you’ll be able to enjoy fast video streaming and web browsing. Considering most 4G phones cost from £140 upwards (the only rival that comes close is the EE Kestrel/Huawei Ascend G6 4G for £99), that’s some strong value for money.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 screen: Achilles’ heel
When you go budget, there’s usually one or two compromises you have to make over more expensive phones. Even the near-perfect Moto G had a slightly iffy camera.
With the Pop S3, that smudge is the four-inch screen. It’s a blast from the past, with grainy visuals, limited viewing angles and lifeless colours. Compared with rivals such as the EE Kestrel and the Nokia Lumia 625, it’s a serious disappointment.
It’s a shame the display is a bit ropey, as half of the point of having 4G is smooth video streaming. Sure, your movies will be playing smoothly, but they won’t look too hot.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 performance and battery life: Simply does it
Everyday performance is decent, and we didn’t see any real problems when browsing the web, checking emails and so on. The basic processor can handle simple games for now too, although we did see one title crash out mid-way through. Still, movie tie-ins like Transformers and Despicable Me ran with smooth frame rates.
We managed roughly a day of battery life between charges, and if you stream video over Wi-Fi you can expect a rather average five hours. We’d expect that from a flagship phone with a massive screen, but were hoping for more from the dinky Pop S3. At least there’s a battery saving mode, which automatically turns off some power-sapping features to increase longevity.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 camera: Decent budget snapper
A five-megapixel camera pokes ever-so-slightly out of the Pop S3’s rear, and it’s typically bare bones but does the job for quick, dirty shots. Our photos weren’t over-saturated by bright sunlight and crammed in a decent amount of detail for a budget lens, although the lack of auto-focus and manual focus means up-close macro shots are just a blur.
One nice addition is the LED flash, something missing from rivals such as the Motorola Moto E, plus a reasonably respectable front-facing camera for selfie shots and web chats – again, something missing from most low-cost mobiles.
As for features, expect little more than the bare bones. There’s an HDR mode if you find the lighting conditions are tricky, and of course the obligatory panorama mode, but little else besides.
Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 verdict
Considering it’s the cheapest 4G phone around, the Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 offers pretty decent value for money. It’s a colourful and usable 4-inch wee blighter, with a good camera for the cost. It’s a shame the screen is rather lacklustre.
If you really need 4G and have no cash left after the expensive contracts, this is one option. We’d personally be more tempted to lay down another 20 quid for the EE Kestrel/Huawei Ascend G6 4G instead.