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First Look at Alcatel OT-980


  1. Introduction
  2. Design, Dimensions and Controls
  3. Display
  4. Keypad
  5. Battery
  6. Interfaces
  7. Performance
  8. Software
  9. Camera
  10. Rivals
  11. Impressions

To tell you the truth, I was willing to write a fully fledged review of the device as I had been using it for a long time and the hardware in my unit was already finalized at the time. However, I was asked by the company representatives not to do so as what I had at my disposal wasn't a retail version and some changes still could be made. As of this writing, I have no idea about those changes but I am pretty sure that they will be of minor importance and this article will remain at least 90 per cent true when the device makes it to the market. But of course, once we get our hands on an actual retail sample, we will tell you what is different.

The first Android based smartphone made by Alcatel, or rather under the Alcatel name since the brand has been owned by TCL for quite a while now, was first showcased at Mobile World Congress last February. In early June, the device was rumored to be available by the end of the summer but then the availability date slipped to September, and after that to October. In a word, the device hasn't been launched yet. Right now, all I can say is that even if the handset does hit the shelves eventually (at least, as far as Russia is concerned), that won't happen before the very end of December. The company representatives keep saying that the device is not ready yet but refuse to provide any further explanation.

By the way, the version presented at MWC was powered by Android 1.6 but even then Android 2.1 was already in the specification. Today, it is certain that the device will ship with Android 2.1. On the other hand, the upgrade to version 2.2 is up in the air.

Design, Dimensions and Controls

In the first official photographs that appeared on the Web in early February, the smartphone from Alcatel looked similar to the Palm Pre, but when the actual device was presented at the show, it became clear that it was only the form factor that two devices had in common.

In fact, it is the BlackBerry Torch that the OT-980 is somewhat similar to. One can't say that the design has been copied yet the similarity of certain features of it, let alone the form factor, can't be denied either.

At least two variations of the device will be available. In the first case, the body will be made of soft-touch plastic and the hardware keys (both the functional ones and those of the QWERTY board) will have ample spacing in-between.

The other version will have a glossy finish, the hardware keys sitting close to each other as well as a few minor design differences, e.g., in the appearance of the lens rim and speaker grilles.

As far as color options are concerned, the situation is not that clear yet. To date, I have seen the first version in black and gray and the second one in white (with a pattern on the battery cover) only.

The casing is 100 per cent plastic, not the best you can get but that is compensated for by its sturdiness. The build quality is good, the device feels solid and there is no squeaking or flex there.

Although the slider mechanism is automatic, the device won't open or close as smoothly as you would probably like it to. That, however, is due to its large size and doesn't take a lot of time to get used to.

As I just said, the smartphone is fairly large (112.5х60.4х15.9 mm, 152 grams), which is justified by the presence of a QWERTY keyboard but may be a problem if you want to carry it in your pocket. Anyway, in one's hand, it fells nice, and most users shouldn't have problems actually working with it.

Comparison with LG Optimus:

Comparison with HTC Wildfire:

On the right-hand side of the device, you can find a standard 3.5 mm audio jack, small yet handy volume rocker and again, a standard microUSB port. On the top, near the left edge, there is a lanyard hook.

The 2-megapixel camera lens is located on the rear side, right next to the loudspeaker.

The back panel also serves as a battery cover. To remove it, you will need to grab it by the edge and pull. The cover sits tight; all you have to do is to make sure that all the clasps are closed, so that there is no gap between the cover and the rest of the body.

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The device is equipped with a 2.8-inch sensor display, which is not that much for a contemporary smartphone. It is based on the TFT technology, has a QVGA resolution (i.e. 240x320 pixels) and supports up to 252K colors. The display is resistive, which personally I consider to be a minus as Android devices are much more comfortable to use if they have capacitive displays instead. The sensitivity is moderate, which implies that sometimes you will have to press harder just to make sure your input is recognized. The viewing angles are limited but that doesn't really affect the user experience. The display is fairly bright and I guess you won't be using the maximum level most of the time. However, if you make a direct comparison between the OT-980 screen and that of the HTC Wildfire for example, you will immediately see that the former is not that bright after all. And yes, you can't but notice that it is quite grainy.

Although the OT-980 screen is not very good in general, it makes a decent choice for a low-end smartphone.

The display has a protective scratch-resistant plastic coating to it.

By the way, it is very good that the device features a hardware QWERTY keyboard, which means that you don't have to use the on-screen keyboard very often. And you probably wouldn't want to do that since the display is neither large nor very sensitive.

The smartphone has an integrated G-sensor that automatically changes the screen orientation when you rotate it.

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Function keys are made of plastic and offer convenience in work due to large size. Apart from standard Android keys (minus search key) we have hardware buttons to start and terminate calls.

QWERTY buttons are made of rubber, which is not the best material for this type of keypads and during the text input you will have to adapt and press harder. In fact you can easily get accustomed to this keypad and even large texts are not a problem. Different body variants offer various keypad modifications. Some have gaps between buttons, which is more convenient than a dense row of keys, but the second variant is decent enough too.

The backlight is white and uneven. Diodes are located in four corners of the keypad and live the central part slightly dim.

I cannot describe localized versions of the keypad. You can only look at official pictures to get a glimpse of Russian variant.

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The handset features a 1150 mAh Li-Ion battery, which according to the manufacturer provides up to 10 hours of talktime in 2G and 8.1 hours in 3G networks. It also offers 19 hours of music playback and 245 hours on standby. In real life we managed to get 1.5-2 hours with average load. Increased load resulted in 1 day of operation. Full charging takes around 4 hours. As any other Android smartphone the handset can be charged from the power supply or USB.

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Communicationwise Alcatel OT-980 is doing fine. The handset boasts Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 with all main profiles support. The phone works in GSM (850/900/1800/1900) and UMTS (900/2100) and uses EDGE and HSDPA data transfer. I don't have any complaints regarding networks operation.

USB 2.0. is responsible for PC connections.

OT-980 also has GPS, which offers a hassle free service.

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The model is built on Qualcomm 7227 platform and has a 600 MHz processor, 256 MB of RAM and 512 MB of permanent memory out which users can have around 200 MB.

The handset also features a microSD memory card slot for hot swappable cards under the battery cover to the left. The maximum size of cards is 32 MB.

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The phone works on Android 2.1 and you can read about its features in a separate article:

Full review of Android 2.1 (Eclair)

There is no a proprietary shell here. Instead we get many preinstalled apps, which can be easily found in Market. All applications are free or demo versions. Alcatel adds a task manager, file manager and SyncML synchronization software. These preinstalled apps are not the best as you can find better (and free) options in Market.

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The model has a simple 2 MP camera without the autofocus. The maximum resolution is 1600х1200, and you can also record 800х480 video. There are no surprises for a low-cost smartphone. Below you can watch samples of photos and video.

Samples of photos:

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If we take into account models with a QWERTY keypad Alcatel OT-980 has no rivals as the most accessible Android smartphones with QWERTY - Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro and LG GW620 cost at least $330, but if we ignore a hardware QWERTY keypad, then OT-980 is in trouble as LG GT540 offers a better screen (3", 240x480), camera (3 MP with autofocus) and more compact size. In November we will see МТС 916 from ZTE, which will have similar features, but its price will be lower by $30-50.

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Communication quality is on par with all modern GSM models. The speaker is loud and the microphone is sensitive enough for different types of environment. Courtesy of a dedicated speaker ringtones sound loud without squeaking. The vibro is decent for such a large model, but it could have been more powerful.

Music playback via the headphones is standard for an Android smartphone and the majority of users will be satisfied, especially if you replace the headset from the box by something more respectable.

The phone attracts as a low-cost Android smartphone with a QWERTY keypad as it has no rivals in the segment. The popularity of Alcatel OT-980 will depend on its price. In September the recommended price was $270, but due to delays the price tag was reduced to $230-250. To my mind the $230 will be the best option as it will be $30 more expensive than an inferior МТС 916 and $30 cheaper than LG GT540. This way OT-980 will be sandwiched between its main rivals to offer more choice for consumers.

In some European countries the phone has already appeared in shops. In UK you can get it for free if you sign a 1 or 2 year contract.

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Related links

Full review of Android 2.1 (Eclair)

Vladimir Fokin (vladimir.fokin@mobile-review.com)
Twitter    Livejournal
Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Olexandr Nikolaychuk (meiam@inbox.com)

Published — 26 November 2010

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