Alcatel is one of a small handful of manufacturers thus far that have opted to make a Windows 10 Mobile device. Admittedly, this isn’t a particularly amazing feat, since the Fierce XL with Windows 10 (that’s the name of the device, it doesn’t have Windows 10 Mobile in its name) is essentially a re-purposed version of its own Fierce XL (which sports eerily similar specs and chassis design). Nonetheless, the Fierce XL with Windows 10 has some surprising tricks up its sleeve that might make it worth considering for many a budget Windows Mobile user.
As demonstrated in our unboxing last week, the ONETOUCH Fierce XL with Windows 10 is a budget phablet with a 5.5-inch display with a 1280 x 720 resolution, 16GB of storage, microSD card support, and a 2500mAh non-removable battery. Of particular note is the rather generous 2GB of RAM, a rarity in budget phones like these. This addition, while pleasant, is a bit striking considering the very meek processor. I never thought I’d catch myself saying this, but I would rather trade 1GB of that RAM for a better SoC.
The reason I’d want to make this trade is simple: the phone is slow. Now, when I say slow, I don’t mean it’ll cripple you. It works well in day-to-day use. But there’s a lot of stuttering. Transitions can be quite jerky. Edge, which is already quite a slow browser compared to Safari and Chrome on competing platforms (at least in my experience), is even more dismal with this phone’s baseline Quadcore Snapdragon 210. While the mediocre performance doesn’t usually get in your way, it completely belies the “fast and fluid” mantra that has always been one of Windows Phone’s signature trait.
To be fair, I expect a lot of this has to do with a lack of Windows 10 Mobile optimization (it runs 10586.63). So it’s highly plausible that the phone will get significantly faster over time.
The 2GB of RAM, in theory, should help with multitasking and app-suspension-retention, but I’ve yet to see any solid evidence of this, especially since my Lumia 950, with its 3GB of RAM, doesn’t do splendidly in that area either.
Something rather striking about the Fierce XL with Windows 10 can be found in its microSD specification. According to the official specs, its microSD card slot only accepts a microSD card up to 32GB. Having never encountered a device who’s accessory limit is lower than the capacity of my cards, I inserted my 64GB card in and found it worked perfectly.
Aside from the pretty blue back cover, there’s nothing even remotely interesting about the design of this phone. The phone is 9.45mm thick, quite bad for 2016 standards. On the bright side, this makes the phone easy to grip. The phone actually feels lighter than it is, maybe because you get used to it really quickly.
The positioning of the power button, above the volume buttons, is a bit annoying, especially when you’re used to the very sensible arrangement of most Lumias, having the power button beneath the volume buttons within easier reach of your thumb. In practice, the Fierce XL’s button layout isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but I struggle to see the reasoning for placing that button there to begin with.
One particularly perplexing element of this phone’s design is the slight bulge of the camera’s housing. This isn’t really a bulge in the same sense as a Lumia bulge. The camera itself sort of sticks out the back with its silver ring around it. In essence, you can’t lay the phone completely flat, and there’s no obvious reason why that’s the case. You have a phone that’s unusually thick and still has something sticking out of it.
One element of the design I like is the it has traditional capacitive buttons, instead of relying on the software navigation bar like newer Lumias. This boon is unfortunately marred by two deficiencies. One, the bezel containing the buttons is a few millimeters thicker than it needs to be, in my opinion. Second, the tactile vibration that occurs when you press any of the three capacitive buttons is pathetic. You can barely feel the vibration, which makes it feel like mechanical parts of the phone are worn out and dying, or really cheaply made. Either way, it’s not good.
On the bright side, the top bezel is quite thin, which makes the display feel more airy.
Stellar. This could be attributed to the fact that between the mediocre SoC and the low-density display, there isn’t much to power. But regardless, I found the battery life with this phone to be up-to-par with my immortal Lumia 1520, which is my benchmark for measuring phone battery life. With moderate usage, this phone can easily last two whole days.
This is one area where the Fierce XL with Windows 10 really shines. Despite the lower 720p resolution (and thus much lower pixel density on such a large display), as I’ve stated in my unboxing I’ve noticed few of the deficiencies that would be found in a lower density display like this. Coupled with strong brightness, this makes for a solid screen. I will say though if there is one flaw I’ve found is that the display’s colors tends to lean on the cooler side, and I’ve found no way to adjust this like I would in a typical Lumia phone.
Unlike the screens found in most other Windows 10 Mobile devices, this phone uses Asahi Dragontail glass instead of Corning Gorilla Glass. It feels very grainy like there’s a layer of dried spit covering the phone. It’s also extremely prone to attracting dust. On the other hand, it seems to do its job of protecting the screen well, considering I’ve dropped it twice with no scratches to speak of.
It sucks. Daylight performance is passable. Low-light performance is dismal. But what do you expect from such a cheap phone? This isn’t really a knock on the phone, but just something to note from my checklist of things to examine.
One area that’s truly appalling is the speaker. I don’t have particularly high standards with smartphones speakers (really, no one does), but even by such standards, this phone’s speaker was truly abominable. Even at max volume, I can barely hear it over the spraying water of the shower or my bathroom’s ventilation system. We take for granted with most other phones that we can actually hear the unique clicking sound when we lock the phone, or the signature, tongue-snapping sound of the Windows Phone/10 Mobile keyboard with other phones, but that luxury all but vanishes with this phone. Putting it simply, take whatever competent phone you have, and gently smother its speaker(s) with a soft cloth. That’s about what you can expect out of audio fidelity with the Fierce XL with Windows 10.
Also particularly glaring are the other Lumia-staple omissions. There’s no Glance. No audio equalizer. No double-tap-to-wake. Basically, anything you’d find in the “Extras” section of a typical modern Lumia phone you wouldn’t find on this phone because there is no “Extras” settings option.
While I applaud Alcatel for bringing its offerings to the Windows platform (lord knows it needs all the help it can get at this point), and am pleasantly surprised by its strengths in some areas (battery life, display, and extra RAM) there isn’t much else exciting about the phone. Is it a bad phone? No.
Well, kind of.
I would be inclined to say it’s an “okay”, maybe even “decent” phone if its speaker were at least average. One of the joys of owning a 5.5-inch display phone is being able to watch videos on it with aplomb. The display handles the visual side of the experience well, but the speakers are so abysmal that it ruins any chance of a decent non-headphone-powered viewing experience. Speaker performance was one of those things I had taken for granted with other phones and was shocked at how much it dampened the smartphone experience.
Coupled with the lack of Glance, it’s just one compromise too many.
Ultimately, while I wouldn’t dissuade people from buying this phone if it met their timely needs and budget, if it were my money, I’d just save a few extra bucks and buy up a grade or two. It’s very well-priced, but I feel I wouldn’t want to live with this phone for an extended period of time.
You can buy the Alcatel ONETOUCH Fierce XL with Windows 10 on T-Mobile.Further reading: Alcatel, Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL, OneTouch Fierce XL, Windows 10 Mobile