Chipsets continue to get faster while component prices continue to fall, and the end result is that these days buying a cheap Android phone doesn't have to mean entering a world of constant lag and endless frustration.
Enter the Alcatel 5 – a perfectly usable Android handset that's both affordable and mostly a pleasure to use.
Do you really need a dual-lens camera that can rival DSLRs? Or a chipset that's fast enough to power a laptop? Do you? Do you really? We've been thinking about that in the time we've spent with the phone.
Of course there are shortcomings to talk about, which we'll get to, but every phone is a compromise of price and performance, and there's more than one sweet spot along that line.
The 5.7-inch, 720 x 1440 screen (that's the fashionable 18:9 aspect ratio there) has some mid-range punch, but the 2/3GB of RAM and MediaTek MT6750 chipset are the tell-tale signs that this is competing down at the low-end.
There's no dual-lens snapper on the rear either, just a single 12MP lens – though you do get a dual-lens 13MP pair on the front.
Alcatel 5 price and availability
- Available to buy right now
- On sale in the UK, US and Australia
The Alcatel 5 can be yours in exchange for £179.99 in the UK, around $200 in the US, and AU$299.99 in Australia, without a contract.
Straight away that tells you what kind of league we're playing in here – the phone is going up against the likes of the Moto G6 (£219 / $249 / AU$399), the Nokia 6 (2018) (£229 / $269 / about AU$410), and the Honor 9 Lite (£199 / about $265 / about AU$355).
We've actually seen an increasing number of phones try and hit the sweet spot between bargain basement budget and more respectable mid-range, and the competition here is as fierce as it is at every other price point.
However, being the cheapest out of its main competition will help the Alcatel 5 when it comes to attracting those on the strictest of budgets.
Pushing the limits of budget
- A lot of phone for your money...
- ...But few standout features
Dimensions: 152.3 x 71.1 x 8.4mm
OS: Android 7.1
Screen size: 5.7-inch
Resolution: 720 x 1440
CPU: MediaTek MT6750
Storage: 16/32GB + microSD
Rear camera: 12MP
Front camera: 13MP + 5MP
Nothing in the specs list of the Alcatel 5 is going to wow you – this phone is all about how much performance, build quality and satisfaction you can wring out of around pounds/dollars.
It certainly looks the part, with a style and elegance that belie its close-to-rock-bottom price.
It ticks a lot of the boxes that other budget phones often don't – USB-C? Check. NFC? Check. A reasonably unbloated take on Android? Check. A build quality that feels like it won't fall to pieces at the slightest of knocks? Also check.
Alcatel is promoting that 18:9 screen as the main selling point of this phone, and we'd certainly agree with that. It's also pushing the capabilities of the dual-lens front-facing selfie camera, which we were less impressed by, though it works mostly as advertised.
One of the party tricks of the Alcatel 5 is that it will automatically switch to a wider lens when it detects a lot of friends in your selfies. That's a kind of neat tech demo but perhaps not something you're going to be making use of a lot.
Down at this price the usual shortcuts are taken – no waterproofing, for example, and a very basic face unlock as an alternative to fingerprints or PINs (no Memoji here).
You really need to weigh up what you want from a smartphone and how much you're prepared to pay for it to get the Alcatel 5 in perspective.
Storage is either a paltry 16GB or a just-manageable 32GB, depending on where you are in the world – you can expand that via a microSD card, though of course that's extra on top of your purchase price.
Design and display
- One of the best-looking budget models
- 5.7-inch screen is vibrant and colorful
As we've said, the Alcatel 5 looks better than you might expect, with chrome finishes top and bottom, and a plastic backing that doesn't look too plasticky at all.
The silver chrome touches around the rear camera and fingerprint sensor look good too, though as always with design, your personal tastes may vary.
The stars of the show design-wise are the thin bezels Alcatel has managed to get around the sides and the bottom of the 5.7-inch display. The top bezel is a little thicker, but overall it looks very attractive, even putting some more expensive handsets to shame.
All the edges of the unit are nicely rounded too, and while it's not an exactly symmetrical chassis from front to back, it's still very easy on the eye.
That 5.7-inch, 18:9 screen isn't the sharpest you'll ever clap eyes on – its 720 x 1440 resolution leaves you with a 282 pixels-per-inch density – but we found it perfectly usable. Colors are sharp and vivid, though we did ramp up the brightness quite a bit from the default setting.
Menus, icons, webpages, photos and movies all look great on screen, as does the rotating lock screen wallpaper carousel which several phone manufacturers seem to like now.
At 8.4mm (0.33 inches) thick and with a weight of 144g (5.08 oz), the Alcatel 5 feels a bit lightweight yet isn't quite as thin as the flagship phones of 2018 – but it's impressively close, especially at this price point (a qualification you find yourself coming back to again and again when trying out this phone).
There's nothing down the left-hand side of the handset except the dual-SIM tray, while down the right you've got the volume controls and the power button.
The bottom of the phone features the USB-C port and two speaker grilles (though just one speaker).
It's really in the display and the design where the Alcatel 5 most exceeds expectations for a device at this price – we've seen plenty of mid-range phones that aren't this well built and don't look this good.