Review: Alcatel Boost DEX smart phone

A shiny new premium smart phone costs over a thousand dollars. As we’ve seen over the course of the year, there are some very nifty almost-as-good smart phones around for prices of between $300 and $600. But what’s say we dive in at the real entry level. Here I’m looking at the Alcatel Boost DEX smart phone. Price? Just under $80 for this prepaid phone.

Features

So what does just under $80 get you? Well, as it happens, a real smart phone, running a reasonably vanilla version of Android 6.0. Of course, it’s a little light on with specs by comparison with those thousand dollar phones.

For example, according to the specifications it comes with only 8GB of storage and while there’s a quad core CPU, it’s running at 1GHz. The amount of working RAM isn’t mentioned. I used some software to find out a bit more about what was going on in there. Turns out the review unit is running an Mediatek MT6735M four core ARMv7 processor at 988MHz and it has around 1GB of RAM.Alcatel Boost DEX

Oddly, when I plugged the phone into my computer it reported the storage as 1.29GB free of 4.23GB. Fortunately there’s a microSD card slot which supports up to 32GB. When I popped an 8GB card in, the phone asked me if I wanted it left formatted as it was, or reformatted for system storage. Since it warned that a reformat couldn’t be undone, I didn’t take a chance, but that does make it clear that you can bump up the effective storage to a respectable amount at a fairly low cost.

The resolution of the five inch display is 480 pixels across by 854 pixels down (a figure that takes me back: that’s the resolution of the first generation of widescreen plasma TVs).

Boost says that the phone has a 5MP rear camera and a 2MP front camera. Which is weird, because the review phone had resolution options up to 8MP and 5MP respectively. Perhaps the software was pointlessly scaling up from lower resolution sensors. The maximum video resolution available is 1280 by 720 pixels.

Alcatel screen (left) is not oleophobic - shows fingerprints more readily than screen with oleophobic coating (right)

Alcatel screen (left) is not oleophobic – shows fingerprints more readily than screen with oleophobic coating (right)

It’s not super thin, but not excessively chunky either. It’s 9.5mm thick and weighs 165 grams. The back is removable, so you can take a spare battery if you want, I guess. It is held in place by lugs overlapping onto the main body. They’re always a little tricky and noisy to remove, and leave me convinced that if used too regularly lugs will snap off and the phone’s back will no longer be securely held. But since it comes with two bonus rear covers – one orange, the other green – perhaps that doesn’t really matter.

The micro-B USB connection is at the bottom left, while the headphone socket is at the top left. The phone supports Bluetooth and, of course, WiFi. But the WiFi only works with 2.4GHz access points.

It supports 4G in the 700, 1800, 2100 and 2600MHz bands. Boost uses the Telstra network so coverage should be good. It is rated at up to 11 hours of talk time and up to 440 hours of standby time. It uses a Micro SIM rather than a Nano.

Automated transfer of details from another Android phone didn't work too well

Automated transfer of details from another Android phone didn’t work too well

Also, it comes with a bonus “Power Jam”, which is apparently a speaker, charger and stand. I didn’t see one, so I have no opinion on whether it might be useful.

Finally, the phone comes with $10 credit pre-loaded, so it’s effectively a $70 phone.

Performance

Let me say at the point that I come to this phone after having been using for some time the high end Moto Z phone, and before that the iPhone 7, and before that the high end Sony Xperia Z. So I was quite sensitised to any weaknesses in this phone. So bear in mind as you read that this phone costs just eight per cent (or less) than of any one of them.

The phone appeared to have been used before getting to me so I started by performing a full factory reset through Android. For quite a few minutes it sat there showing the Boost Mobile splash screen, and I’d reconciled myself to pulling the battery and starting again when it finally moved on to the auto Android setup. This offered the chance to automatically copy the contents of another phone, which I accepted. But although it established a connection with the other Android phone, the transfer immediately failed. I gave up after a few goes, logged in with my Android information, and then allowed Android to handle the setup. You get an opportunity to select which Android apps otherwise used by you will be downloaded and installed, which is useful given the relatively limited storage.

Screen washes out when viewed from below

Screen washes out when viewed from below

It all went smoothly enough, if a little slowly. Occasionally there’d be few milliseconds of lag when I pressed keys. At one point I accidentally permitted OneDrive to download some photos from my Samsung Galaxy S6 to this phone, and they took five to ten seconds to open on its photo viewer.

The Quadrant benchmark software reported an overall speed index of 7618, compared to 29698 for the Samsung Galaxy S6, but also comparing favourably to the 7074 of the LG X Power. Their CPU ratings were, respectively, 28,050, 127,211 and 21,251. Were there a bit more operating RAM, I think it would run quite a bit faster.

The display is clearly one area where savings have been achieved. Most obviously, when looking at the specification table, there’s its relatively low resolution. But that is not especially evident in normal use. Trying to read some poorly designed websites it became more of a limitation, but not for just looking at pictures and using most apps.

Unscaled detail of image below: Alcatel Boost Dex left; Samsung Galaxy S6 right

Unscaled detail of image below: Alcatel Boost Dex left; Samsung Galaxy S6 right

The lower cost of the display is more evident in the relatively low contrast, somewhat muted colours, and limited viewing angles. Outdoors there was a tendency for the screen image to be washed out, but in doors things were clear. The display was clear, if distorted in colour, when viewed from angles to sides, but when viewed at an angle from the base, it lightened up and become very hard to read. Conversely, when viewed from the top at an angle, it darkened up and become very hard to read.

One other aspect of the display made it difficult to read in strong ambient light: the display does not appear to be coated with an oleophobic substance. Oleophobic coatings repel the natural oils on one’s fingers, helping to reduce the smearing of the screen with fingerprints and other markings. Under any significant light they tend to obscure the screen image.

Full image (scaled down) taken by Alcatel Boost DEX to give context for above comparison

Full image (scaled down) taken by Alcatel Boost DEX to give context for above comparison

Not too big a deal, it just means that one ought to clean the screen fairly frequently.

The picture quality produced by the rear camera was pretty mediocre. The pictures can largely speak for themselves. I did take them at the maximum resolution of 8MP, so perhaps they were scaled up by the phone.

Conclusion

So, yes, compared to the great premium phones today, the Alcatel Boost DEX is a bit so-so. But what could we expect given the price differential? Instead, I have to say that it does what it’s supposed to do at a truly great price.