Given the exclusivity and prestige surrounding the ownership of a BlackBerry phone, the idea of replicating it with a handset that can cost no more than £30 seems like folly, yet budget manufacturer Alcatel has done just that. The OT-255 takes what is arguably RIM's most famous signature feature -- a full Qwerty keyboard on a portrait-oriented device with email connectivity -- and offers it to consumers shopping on a shoestring.
The Alcatel OT-255 can be purchased for around £80 SIM-free or £30 on a pay as you go deal.
Like so many of Alcatel's handsets, the OT-255 resembles a child's plaything. The inordinate amount of cheap-looking plastic on display doesn't exactly instil the impression of quality, and at 76g, it lacks that all-important weighty feel that goes hand-in-hand with expensive tech. On the upside, the lack of heft means it won't become an unwelcome impediment in your pocket.
Despite the cheap casing, the OT-255 boasts a decent TFT screen, which eclipses the dim and blurry displays seen on rival budget handsets. At 1.8 inches and boasting just 128x160 pixels, it's hardly gigantic, but the landscape aspect ratio comes in handy when composing epic emails and titanic text messages. It also has a neat two-stage power saving mode, which dims the screen down a little when left unattended before finally switching it off altogether.
As impressive as the display is, the OT-255's main attraction is unquestionably its Qwerty keyboard. As is often the case with keyboards on candybar handsets, the buttons are small and initially feel quite cramped, especially if you're blessed with particularly large digits. However, after a few minutes, things begin to fall into place and typing becomes a swift and pleasurable affair.
Key to my heart
The keys themselves emit a satisfying click when pressed, and mercifully lack the spongy quality that sometimes afflicts low-cost phones. Accessing special characters is done via a separate menu button, while capitalisation and other functions can quickly be toggled on and off by tapping the relevant shortcut key.
Aside from the keyboard and traditional arrangement of call and direction-pad commands, the casing of the OT-255 is disappointingly bare. The back of the phone is entirely featureless, and the sides are only interrupted by the USB port and a quick select key, which opens up an on-screen menu granting swifter access to key functions.
The OT-255's menu system is eye-catching, if a little uninspired. Icons are laid out in a three-column grid system, navigated using the direction pad. Moving around the phone's sub-menus is quick and intuitive, and features such as weather reporting and 'fake call' functionality help spice things up a little. The latter allows you to avoid unwanted conversations by prompting a bogus telephone call, and has been featured heavily on Samsung's budget phones, such as the E1170 and E1360.
Wi-Fi and 3G are nowhere to be seen on the OT-255. Instead, your connectivity options are limited to GSM and GPRS. As you might expect, this seriously dents the phone's practicality as a Web-enabled device. The stock Web browser is woefully inadequate, struggling to render pages correctly and loading with all the speed of a narcoleptic tortoise. The option to go online is there should you really need it, but it's too awkward to be of everyday use.
As is the case with the BlackBerry brand it seeks so hard to emulate, the OT-255 is being sold on its proclivity for mobile email. It's refreshingly easy to configure -- we got our Google Mail account up and running within minutes of turning the phone on -- but downloading large amounts of data can take an age, thanks to the feeble GPRS data connection. Having said that, the OT-255's email access certainly gives it a marked advantage over rival phones such as the Nokia 1616 and Samsung E1150 -- neither of which are even capable of getting online.
Out of memory
There's no camera on the OT-255, and with less than 2MB of internal storage, it's not something that would have been of any practical use anyway. Curiously, the handset is capable of utilising MP3 ringtones, but the small amount of memory is only good for holding a minute-long song. Needless to say, there's no expansion slot so you can't boost your storage quota.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though. The OT-255's relative lack of flair means its power consumption is incredibly modest. It offers around 8 hours of talk time, with the standby period clocking in at roughly 380 hours.
If you intend to exploit the phone's email capabilities heavily, you can expect that figure to drop slightly, but on the whole the OT-255 is the kind of phone you can quite happily leave for a few days before worrying about charging. In that respect, it could be useful as a secondary device for times when you're away from home and unable to top up with juice at a wall socket.
Despite its lack of connectivity, minimalistic design and bare-bones feature set, the Alcatel OT-255 actually managed to impress us. When you consider its low price, what is on offer here is commendable. Not only does the phone boast a responsive Qwerty keyboard and robust battery life, it also delivers a decent display and above-average email functionality.
If you're after a cheap phone that allows you to stay connected with your email account, the OT-255 is the obvious choice. It's well worth sacrificing peripheral features such as music playback and image capture for the comfort of a Qwerty interface and colourful display. If you prefer your mobiles to have a little more entertainment value, you might be better advised to go for one of the OT-255's siblings, such as the OT-880 -- although that particular touchscreen handset will set you back a few more pennies.
Edited by Emma Bayly