Think of a phone with a physical keyboard, and chances are you’ll think of a BlackBerry, even though there are a fair few Android alternatives.
Alcatel’s One Touch 916 isn’t the first keyboard phone from the French manufacturer – last year we had the likes of the One Touch 255, a great value mobile that was sadly a little light on features. Alcatel’s latest effort is another smart texter/emailer that gives great return for your cash, but suffers the odd performance stumble.
Design and Ergonomics
The Alcatel One Touch 916 combines a physical keyboard with a 2.6-inch touch-screen, similar to the BlackBerry Bold 9790. It’s a chunky little beast that feels quite wide in the hand but is comfortable enough to grip and type on one-handed. A row of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons sit beneath the square display, followed by the spacious call/reject buttons and a central touch-pad that can be used to flick through menus, messages and websites instead of the touch-screen.
We rarely used the touch-pad as the touch-screen works so well. It may be a little squat, but we had no trouble skimming through webpages or messing around with apps. The touch controls also perfectly complement the keyboard when typing messages. The keyboard’s rounded buttons are a quick way of firing off lengthy emails, but if you make a mistake you can tap the suggested words bar to select the correct alternative.
A ‘Function’ key makes it quick and easy to type numbers or symbols, and you even get a torch button that turns the camera flash on – although for some reason this only works when the phone is already unlocked.
Performance and Software
The One Touch 916 slips nicely into the ‘budget smartphone’ bracket, so a basic single-core processor provides the power. That means you’re stuck with the old Gingerbread version of Android, which is still perfectly usable but also a little creaky and lacking some of the excellent features found in Ice Cream Sandwich and the brand new Jelly Bean version.
That said, the One Touch 916 adds a few neat touches of its own. A blue alerts light above the screen flashes when you have messages waiting, while the usual notifications tab can be dragged down from the top of the screen to see a full list of new emails, texts and other happenings.
You can also toggle power-sapping features like GPS and Wi-Fi from this menu, and change your profile in a pinch. The app, calls and message shortcuts are positioned on the side of the screen instead of at the bottom, giving you more space to fill with your shortcuts and widgets. Sadly you don’t get many widgets to play with, and a lot of the pre-installed apps are simply placeholders that take you to the Google Play store.
The basic processor means gamers should steer clear, as the latest titles are a stuttery mess. The likes of Angry Birds Space ran at an acceptable frame rate most of the time but would occasionally freeze up, forcing us to bash buttons until we were thrown back to the Android desktop (this also happened once in a while with standard apps such as Facebook, which was a little irritating). A few games such as Temple Run refused to install, as they weren’t supported.
That square screen is also a bit of a bind when playing some games, as many are designed for a long, thin display. You’ll have to hold the One Touch 916 sideways to play a number of titles, an uncomfortable posture due to the keyboard jutting out to the right, and this also throws off the accelerometer in games that use it.
The square design also means that video is generally compressed into a letterbox frame, a less than ideal way of taking in a movie or TV show. However, the screen is surprisingly sharp for a budget display, especially pleasing when checking out photos. It’s also bright enough to be readable in bright sunlight.
Social media fans will be pleased to see Alcatel’s dedicated Facebook support, with a special Facebook button even appearing on the physical keyboard. A tap of this and you’re taken to the Facebook app, where you can see what your buddies are up to. You can also quickly share photos taken with the 3.2-megapixel camera, a perfectly serviceable budget snapper. Interior shots often appear grainy and dim, but you do get a flash to light up proceedings and daylight shots are refreshingly bright and crisp.
Alcatel’s One Touch 916 is a great budget machine for texting, emailing and socialising if you’re keen to bag a physical keyboard but don’t want to commit to BlackBerry. There are some irritating performance issues which see apps freezing or closing prematurely, but the camera and screen are excellent for the price and we love Alcatel’s tweaks to the creaky Gingerbread Android OS.
Review by: Chris Barraclough @ MobileChoiceUK