The Alcatel OT-990 is a budget Android phone running version 2.2 of Google's popular operating system. It features a 5-megapixel camera and microSD storage expansion.
The OT-990 is exclusively available for £100 from UK network provider O2, on a pay as you go deal.
Should I buy the Alcatel OT-990?
Alcatel’s line of cheap and cheerful budget phones has always managed to stay on the right side of acceptable, and the OT-990 is no exception. For the asking price, it’s a decent enough proposition. The casing is surprisingly well-constructed, and it boasts a capacitive touchscreen as opposed to a cheaper resistive variant.
As positive as all this sounds, there’s no escaping the fact that corners have been cut to achieve that £100 price tag.
The OT-990’s touchscreen doesn’t respond as well as we’d like. And it’s running the slightly outdated Android 2.2 -- which is a little behind the times when you consider that rivals such as the Orange Monte Carlo and Huawei Blaze are pre-loaded with 2.3.
Also, with the recent announcement of the next version of the Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, you can reasonably expect low-cost Android 4.0 handsets to appear early in 2012 -- which will make the OT-990 seem even more archaic.
Not so long ago, the OT-990 would have been a highly desirable device, but the game has changed in recent months. Budget Android phones are commonplace, with some rival handsets -- such as the bargain-basement Samsung Galaxy Europa -- selling for half the price of Alcatel’s challenger.
If you’re purchasing this for a young relative or smart phone newcomer, then there’s little danger of them being disappointed. Despite its faults, the OT-990 is a competent enough product for the price. The only problem is that it’s up against some stern competition and doesn't do enough to really differentiate itself.
The Alcatel OT-990 comes furnished not with the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, but with version 2.2 -- also known as Froyo. It's not alone in this regard, with several other low-cost Android devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Fit and Mini, sporting the same iteration of the software.
While die-hard Android fans will lament the lack of the 2.3 operating system, to the average person it will make very little impact. Froyo is a solid platform and boasts several cool features, such as the ability to save application data to your SD card, turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot and use attractive live wallpapers on your home screen.
Alcatel hasn't tinkered too much with the Android interface, aside from adding a few new widgets and changing the appearance of the dock at the bottom of the display. The most significant visual addition is the ability to select a theme for your home screen.
Most sub-£100 handsets have the build quality and sturdiness of an Airfix kit put together using PVA glue, but we're pleased to report that the Alcatel OT-990 manages to fly in the face of tradition.
Although it's constructed entirely from plastic, the Alcatel OT-990 possesses a surprising amount of heft. The case is reassuringly solid, and you'll find no hint of creakiness when you hold it tightly in your palm. The only downside is that at 147 grams, it's quite heavy for a device of this class.
The back of the phone is fashioned from glossy plastic, which can make it tricky to grip when your hands are clammy. Thankfully, there's a bump at the bottom -- very much like the one seen on the Samsung Galaxy S -- which makes it easier to hold.
Another nice touch is that there’s an alternative battery cover included in the box, which gives you some visual variety should you find the default cover a little too boring.
We're rather less keen on the placement of the OT-990's buttons and interfaces. The power key is located on the left-hand edge of the phone, and is awkward to press because it sits flush with the casing of the device.
A press is required to power-down the phone's screen, and it often takes several attempts to successfully locate the button. Thankfully, you can wake up the OT-990 by pressing the home button -- which, incidentally, is the only physical input on the front of the handset.
At 3.5 inches, the Alcatel OT-990's capacitive touchscreen is slightly larger than those seen on rival budget devices, such as the LG Optimus One and Samsung Galaxy Mini. It can't quite compete with the 4.3-inch display on the gargantuan Orange Monte Carlo, however.
With a resolution of 320x480 pixels and a palette of 256,000 colours, the OT-990's TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD panel isn't going to win any awards, even in the modest budget sector of the market. The screen is dull even when set to full brightness, with colours looking drab and washed-out.
Although the touch panel is capacitive rather than the cheaper resistive kind, we experienced a few problems with its performance. Moving through home screens and interacting with on-screen commands often requires you to make several swipes and pokes as the screen doesn't seem to be particularly responsive.
We wondered if this were a processing issue, but a quick check of the pre-loaded Android task manager shows that few apps were actually running at the time.
This worrying lack of responsiveness could have something to do with the screen protector, which comes pre-applied to the OT-990. Sony Ericsson has done a similar thing with some of its Xperia smart phones, although we never noticed a problem with touchscreen performance on those handsets.
There's a chance that removing this protective barrier will improve the accuracy of the screen, but we're not convinced.
Processing power and internal storage
Because we're well into budget territory here, it should come as no great shock to learn that the OT-990 is sporting a 600MHz processor. This in itself is hardly a crime at this end of the market, but these CPUs were doing the rounds on cheap Android phones many months ago, and we can't help but feel it's high time that some brave manufacturer upped the stakes a little.
It's immediately apparent that you're running a humble CPU the moment you fire up the device. It takes an age to boot up, and swiping between home screens is occasionally jerky. We didn't notice any massive issues with moving between applications, though. Core apps such as Google Mail, Google Maps and YouTube functioned without a hitch, too.
Internal storage is rather stingy, with just 200MB available from the get-go. Thankfully the device comes with a 2GB microSD card, so you've got a little more space for vital media. You'll need to make use of Android's ability to store a portion of application data on the microSD card, too, because the phone's tiny amount of app storage space fills up alarmingly quickly.
Fans of hot-swapping will be disappointed to note that the microSD card bay is located underneath the battery, so you'll have to totally power-down the handset to replace it.
The OT-990 is furnished with a relatively untouched edition of the stock Android 2.2 browser.
The occasionally unresponsive screen and low resolution have a predictably detrimental effect on the phone’s suitability for Web browser. To add insult to injury, Adobe Flash isn’t supported either.
Camera and video recording
The OT-990’s 5-megapixel camera is a pleasant surprise, given the budget nature of the handset. It has autofocus, so you can take some pretty decent close-up shots, should the mood take you.
The LED flash is problematic, however. It completely blasts most low-light shots, so a close-up of someone's face tends to look like you’ve captured a ghost on film. When you’re not taking tight shots it’s less of an issue.
The OT-990 also captures video, although it’s restricted to VGA resolution, so don’t go getting any lofty notions of HD recording.
Connectivity and battery life
With this being an Android device, you get your usual 3G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity -- although it’s worth noting that the latter omits the more recent ‘n’ wireless standard, which just happens to be the one that’s fastest and has the best range.
Battery life is average, with the OT-990 managing around a day on one charge. One thing we did like was the way in which the battery charging status is displayed on the phone’s lock screen.
A pool of green liquid forms at the bottom of the display, with drops slowly filling it up to the top. When your battery is fully charged, this pool of liquid totally fills the bottom third of the screen.
This time last year, an Android 2.2 device with a 600MHz processor and 5-megapixel camera would have been a real achievement, and we’d have had no qualms about giving it a hearty recommendation. Unfortunately for Alcatel, times have changed somewhat in the past 12 months.
Cheap Android phones are not as rare a commodity as they once were, with the likes of the Orange San Francisco and Huawei Blaze coming in at less than £100. For only slightly more than that figure you can purchase an Orange Monte Carlo, which features a massive 4.3-inch screen, Android 2.3 and a 800MHz CPU.
Against this competition, the OT-990 struggles to shine. It’s a certainly a well-made device, and is sure to survive a few drops and bumps. Sadly, the touchscreen is a unpredictable and Android 2.2 just feels tired and worn out now. With 4.0 around the corner, releasing a Froyo handset just seems like poor judgement, regardless of the low price.
For the undemanding user, however, the OT-990 is going to represent a sound investment. That interchangeable battery cover and tough case design could make the phone ideal for accident-prone youngsters, too.