The Telstra Essential 8” Android tablet made by Alcatel for
a crazy $129 could be a great Christmas gift. It includes a 4G pre-paid sim and
$10 call/SMS credit.
Of course, the aim is to get you to use more data, perhaps purchasing an annual $100 recharge mobile broadband plus. (Telstra’s plans are here).
The tablet is pretty good if you position it as a $129 device although there are 7 and 8” offerings from Laser, Lenovo, and more but these lack 4G sim capability. At least buying from Telstra ensures that you get Australian Consumer Law (ACL) warranty.
A black glass slab with reflective front glass. Alcatel makes good, low-cost devices and it should last a few years.
To get an 8” screen device at this price point, it has barebones specifications. None are deal breakers, but for example, Wi-Fi N single band means very slow data transfers. An MT865B is an entry-level 4G tablet SoC, not even on MediaTek’s website! But hey, my guess is that you would spend closer to $250 to get any better.
1/16GB (10.2GB free) with microSD to 128GB
OTG supported (size unspecified)
Front: 5.3MP (2.1MP video) fixed focus, no flash
Rear: 8.3MP (2.1MP video) fixed focus, no flash, HDR
1920×1080@30fps (default 1280 x 720@30fps), EIS
Approx charge time at 5V/2A is 4 hours
Talk-time up to 25 hours (3G)
Single sim 4G (locked to Telstra)
LTE Bands B1/3/5/7/8/28/38/40
Dialler app included (use as a phone)
Wi-Fi N 2.4Ghz only, Micacast, Hotspot
BT 4.0 SBC codec
No GPS chip (Assisted GPS using Wi-Fi or 4G)
Android GO 8.1
Plastic frame and back
No glass protection
3.5mm audio jack
rear lower back-firing speaker
Kids Mode, Eye Care, Google Lens, Face unlock
Dedicated GPS chip
Sensors like compass, g-shock, ambient
Unsure of VoLTE or VoWiFi
Optimised to run on 1GB of RAM and limited storage it has security updates for three years. Operating system updates are unlikely, especially for a system locked to a Telco.
It comes with Android Go versions of Google apps that are optimised to run as fast as possible on available hardware. What that means is most Google apps run inside a Chrome Shell requiring internet access. You can run regular apps, but performance will depend on memory and CPU usage.
If you have not used Google lens it is an image recognition app that uses AI-powered technology (requires internet connection) to helps users explore the world around them. Take a photo or screenshot, and GoogleLens will detect and identify the object, as well as offer suggestions based on the object. Users can find products online, copy and paste text, learn more about landmarks, add events to their calendar, look up movie posters, identify popular plants and animals and more.
It has Family Mode, a dedicated mode for kids with pre-loaded popular games, cartoons and books. Parental controls can be set for app accessibility and usage time.
In one word – laggy. There is not enough power to multi-task nor complete GeekBench 4 tests. But that is what you expect of a device this price.
The 1280×800 screen has reasonable colours. They are not anywhere near sRGB colours but look fine for tablet use. High reflectivity makes outdoor use difficult.
It will playback an H.264/265compressed video but only very basic browser-based games.
Battery use depends on usage patterns. Four example it will sit on a shelf for 16 days, or give 25 hours 3G voice before needing a recharge.
But Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth take their toll, and the 4000mAh battery (strangely reported as 2904mAh in AIDA 64) lasts from 5-10 hours of normal use. An HD video loop at 50% brightness and in aeroplane mode did nine hours.
It does not support fast charging, nor does it charge well while operating. In a test on charge for two hours battery was 52% and stayed there.
The rear back-firing speaker can reach 80dB which is fine for personal use. There is no earpiece speaker so that may limit its use as a phone handset.
The sound signature is mid. Bass/treble– there are virtually none. This is fine for voice but lacks the easy listening needed for music or movies.
We tested the cameras, and it is easiest to say that they are social media quality.
Video at 1080@30fps was jerky and lacked details. At 720p it was fine, and the EIS provided by the SoC kicked in.
GadgetGuy’s take: Telstra Essential 8” Android tablet by Alcatel
It was brave of Alcatel to give the tablet to us for a review. Brave because we have dug deep into the specifications and identified the compromises to meet this price point.
But if you consider it is $129 locked to Telstra it is unique – there is no competition, so it is what it is.
As a Telstra Essential Tablet, it meets its needs like cheap printers are to ink consumption. I am not sure I would trust kids with a 4G tablet even if it has pre-paid to limit data use.
For me, I would spend at least $100 more to get 8” tablet, at least 2GB RAM. You can get these from Lenovo or a superseded Samsung Galaxy Tab A. Still it does a good job for what it is.