Affordable phones will always be a compromise, but Google hopes it can make entry-level devices a bit better with something new: Android Go. It's the same Android platform you know and presumably love, but optimized for sub-1GB RAM environments. That way low-end hardware can have its own low-end version of Android, rather than suffering an OEM debate between shoehorning in the latest version to perform terribly, or an older version which won't be secure or feature-filled.

Enter the Alcatel 1X. It's the second Android Go device to hit the US behind the ZTE Tempo Go—and the only one you can actually buy right now—at a mere $100.

So how much does $100 get you? Simultaneously more and less than you'd expect. Alcatel manages to bring the budget space into the future with a TCL-made 18:9 screen, fingerprint reader, and Android Oreo (Go edition)—that's actually the name, I'm not kidding. But entry-level phones are by necessity a compromise, and the low-end panel, MediaTek chipset, and 1GB RAM reflect that.

Specs

Display 5.3" FWVGA 18:9 (480x960) TN panel
SoC MediaTek MT6739 1.3GHz Quad-Core
RAM 1GB
Storage 16GB, MicroSD expandable to additional 32GB
Battery 2460mAh
Software Android Oreo (Go edition) 8.1
Rear Camera 8MP (~f/2.0 based on photo metadata), LED flash, HD video capture
Front Camera 5MP front camera with flash
Connectivity GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 UMTS: B1/2/4/5/8 LTE: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/28 VoLTE (on T-Mobile)
Headphone jack Yes
Charging Micro USB
Size 5.80" x 2.77" x 0.36" (147.3mm x 70.3mm x 9.1mm)

The Good

Cheap $99 is eminently affordable. Above all other considerations, this phone has an incredible price, and for some of us, that's all that matters.
Display Big for the price and not many inexpensive phones have an 18:9 aspect ratio.
Build Quality It feels more durable than I'd expect for a $99 phone, and the lightly textured sandstone-ish plastic "suede" finish is actually quite pleasant.
Fingerprint Scanner It's in the right spot, it works mostly well, and it's a surprise for $99.
Speaker Tinny, but it gets loud.
Headphone jack While flagships are losing this elemental (and entirely essential) feature, I'm glad to see it wasn't removed as a cost-cutting measure here.
Battery Life Good longevity, though perhaps not for the typical reasons. Using this phone is so frustrating, you'll probably spend as little time as possible on it. For example, I was able to pull 3 hours SoT over two days with a couple of hours as a hotspot mixed in, no problem.
Software Runs Android Oreo (Go edition), which is basically a lightweight version of 8.1. The manufacturer ROM/skin has some peculiarities, but it behaves as you'd expect for Android. It also isn't loaded with crapware, as most budget devices usually are.
Expandable storage If the remains of the 16GB not used by the system aren't enough for you, it is microSD-expandable by an additional 32GB.

The Not So Good

Performance It's bad. In daily use, the phone provides an inconsistent experience which requires tremendous patience. I cannot stress enough how frustrating most activities were on this device. It's like using a Nexus 4 with Oreo in 2018.
Display, again TN panel, low resolution, terrible viewing angles, poor brightness, lots of interior reflections. It's like stepping back in time to the early days of Android.
Camera I'd call it "functional." It can take several tries over a minute or two for a photo to even have the exposure you want. Coupled with the terrible screen, you often can't tell if what you grabbed was OK, and the results are not great.
Micro USB I understand the rationalization behind ensuring a budget phone has the widest compatibility with existing chargers and cables, but pulling off the band-aid and switching to USB-C is something Alcatel (and everyone) really should do. Micro USB makes the phone feel even more disposable, in a negative way.
Go Apps The Android system takes up over 3/4 of the 1GB of RAM, so super lightweight apps are absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, many of the Go apps offer too much of a compromise between utility and performance.

Where to buy, what's in the box, accessories, warranty, and more

The Alcatel 1X looks to be an Amazon exclusive in the US, where it's available unlocked for $99. There's only one color/SKU available: Black. Though Alcatel did show off a few other colors at MWC, no additional models have been announced stateside.

The phone comes with more than I expected for the price. Alcatel could have easily skipped on including a charger and headphones—almost everyone has at least a few of those kicking around these days—but the box included both a 5V 1A charger, micro USB cable, and earbud headphones. There's even a PET film-style screen protector thrown in, though you'll have to apply it yourself.

Maximum charging speed I experienced, ~5V 1A.

Third-party accessories are likely going to be limited. In fact, at the time of writing, the only things you can get are more screen protectors and some no-name folio-style cases. I wouldn't expect the selection to expand terribly, either.

The phone comes with a standard one year warranty that Alcatel states is voided by things like rooting, system-level software changes, water damage, physical abuse, or unauthorized service/repairs.

Camera

  • Exposure is frequently incorrect. You can mitigate it slightly by experimenting with which parts of the scene to have it focus on, but it frequently under/overexposes parts of the image even with that adjustment. For a good example, see the last three photos in the gallery above, all taken in nearly the same lighting.
  • The plane of focus is narrow, scene focus is often wrong unless you tap to correct it, and images are frequently very soft, even with adequate lighting.
  • Low-light performance is terrible, which is to be expected.
  • Sharpening isn't as muddy as I expected on a crop, and I'm glad to see such a light touch for this when so many OEMs are heavy-handed.
  • Noise is usually present, even with adequate lighting.
  • Colors are sometimes muted but can come out reasonably accurate—so long as they aren't too bright.

In summary, if you're willing to sit and fiddle with the scene's focus and exposure, you can grab a mediocre photo, though the dynamic range and exposure will almost never be ideal. For $99 it can produce the occasional half-decent result (if you are patient), but for time-sensitive snapshots, it's just bad.

The Alcatel 1X's camera is serviceable and usable, but still poor. Think "can deposit checks" rather than "takes photos."

Should you buy one?

If you have to. I'll be honest, it's not a great phone. Performance is inconsistent at best and objectively poor at worst, probably thanks to the crappy MediaTek SoC and paltry 1GB of RAM. Apps including things like Spotify will easily be pushed out of memory while you're actively listening to music. It's very slow, and many of the stripped-down "Go" apps it ships with to compensate for that have limited functionality—Maps Go being a prime example. Should you replace them with their more feature-filled non-Go versions, performance is even worse.

Every aspect of the phone except the software is a huge compromise. But on the other hand, so is the price, and sometimes all you have to spend is $100.

In countless small ways, the phone is incredibly frustrating in daily use. Touchscreen input is a bit janky at times, with some ghost touches and accuracy issues, as well as frequent problems with haywire scroll inertia. The trigger for landscape/portrait rotation is also way too sensitive, and the build quality is good but can still be creaky at times.

TN panel viewing angles demonstrated.

The screen is also among the worst I've used. Although it was initially pegged as an IPS display, I have confirmed with Alcatel that it is a TN panel. Outside of it being 18:9, I have nothing kind to say about it. Viewing angles are extremely limited, with full inversion happening for some colors past 40-50 degrees up or down. Brightness is poor (~300 nits), and its scaling via the adaptive setting is terrible: It's always either too bright in dim light or too dark in bright light. Interior reflections on the display make it basically unusable outdoors, and the lack of an oleophobic coating plus whatever lamination used to attach the glass to the panel makes the screen look perpetually dirty.

But, the Alcatel 1X is also less than $100. I'm fond of saying there's no such thing as bad products, just bad prices. This is a very good price (in the US) for a phone with Android 8.1, LTE, an 18:9 display, and the security of a fingerprint reader. It won't compare to phones that are more expensive, but if you are on an extremely tight budget and are willing to accept the bare minimum in smartphone functionality with a few modern benefits, this perfectly fills that niche. In an emergency, it will do all the stuff you expect an Android phone to do, just not very well or very quickly.

You might not be happy, but you won't be without the tools you need.

Android Go is pretty decent, even if the skin/ROM has a few strange peculiarities, like some missing or stripped-down functionality. There wasn't much in the way of bloatware, either. Still, Alcatel should probably have gone with more AOSP apps and fewer of its own for things like the calculator and phone. The limited hardware also means you'll have to be careful which supplemental apps you try to install, and games are basically a no-Go.

For the full skinny on Android Oreo (Go edition)—that's seriously the name, and it's hilarious—keep an eye out for our separate review.

I have little doubt that scrounging together an extra $20-$50 dollars for something like the Moto E 4th gen or a low-end Nokia will probably result in a better experience. Although it doesn't sound like a lot, that's also a 20-50% price increase. As a fraction of this phone's cost, that might not be worth it. BLU's many mediocre rebadged models are both cheaper and may have better performance for the same price, but updates and security are a big question—even more than with Alcatel.

Every aspect of the phone except the software is a huge compromise. But on the other hand, so is the price, and sometimes all you have to spend is $100.

Why Buy?

  • Very affordable.
  • Android Oreo (Go edition) 8.1.
  • Modern conveniences like LTE, fingerprint reader, 18:9 screen.
  • Good battery life (mostly because you'll want to use your phone less).

Why Not?

  • Downright terrible performance.
  • Poor camera.
  • Screen would feel at home in 2011.