Today’s smartphones are getting more powerful with every release cycle, and cutting-edge hardware is becoming less expensive as newer components are made available. But not everyone needs cutting-edge hardware. If you’re looking for something that will keep some cash in your pocket, T-Mobile’s least expensive smartphone, the Alcatel One Touch Evolve ($27.99 up front plus $3/month for 24 months or $99.99) is worth a serious look. It doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of T-Mobile’s flagship phone—and our Editors’ Choice—the Samsung Galaxy S4, but it’s also nowhere near as expensive. It does, however, play games, take photos, and have a modern look and feel, making it a good first smartphone for teens and frugal adults.
A svelte, all-black handset, the Evolve measures 4.78 by 2.52 by 0.46 inches (HWD). A chrome band runs around the phone, and it has an angled bottom edge that looks slick and even makes it a little easier to slide the phone in your pocket. The Evolve may be inexpensive, but it doesn’t feel that way. The removable plastic (T-Mobile-branded) back panel has a matte black finish with a cutout for the speaker and a minuscule rim that protects the 5-megapixel camera from scratches. Underneath, there’s a removable 1400mAh battery covering the full-size SIM card and a microSD slot that supports cards up to 64GB.
On the top of the phone to the right is the Power button, next to the headphone jack in the center. On the right side, near the top, is the volume rocker. Opposite the rocker on the right side of the phone is the micro USB port, no doubt there because of the angled bottom. It’s an inconvenient placement if you’re right-handed and use the Evolve in landscape mode, as the cable when plugged into the phone is in the way of your fingers underneath it as they try to naturally handle the phone.
The Evolve’s 4-inch, 480-by-800 TFT LCD is bright enough to be used outdoors, and images looked vibrant and well-saturated. At 233 pixels per inch, the screen serves up easily readable text. Letters look clear and crisp. Compared with Alcatel’s more expensive ($169) T-Mobile phone, the Fierce, its 960-by-540 4.5-inch TFT LCD, and its 244 pixels per inch, the display on the Evolve is a lot sharper and just as bright. The viewing angles aren’t great, however. If you’re watching video with a friend, make sure your heads are close together.
Included with the Evolve is a micro USB cable and a larger-than-usual wall charger.
Connectivity, Call Quality
The One Touch Evolve integrates 802.11 b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi, A-GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, but there’s no LTE. You’ll get 3G speeds with HSPA on the GSM 850/900/1800/1900 and UMTS 850/1900/AWS bands.
In my tests, call quality wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. My voice sounded clear but synthetic, with a light static over everything. Noise cancellation wasn’t particularly effective outside on a busy New York City street. The person on the other end of the call complained about traffic noises interrupting my speech. My call partner’s voice came through loud and clear, but was a little harsh. The speakerphone doesn’t get very loud, and can be difficult to use outside in noisy environments.
T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling lets you make phone calls over Wi-Fi networks when you’re low on minutes, or when T-Mobile cellular service is less than stellar or unavailable.
Battery life was in line with other phones in this price range. In our talk tests the One Touch Evolve lasted 5 hours and 13 minutes. The Fierce, to compare, lasted 7 hours and 55 minutes.
The phone runs on an 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 single-core processor and 512MB of RAM. There’s 4GB of onboard storage, but only 1.03GB is available for the user. More than a couple of apps or music albums will quickly fill that, so a microSD card is strongly recommended.
Though it’s running a not terribly aged Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, many of the icons have been altered by Alcatel, and look a little more childish. There can always be less bloatware, but it’s not horrible here: You get Lookout Security as well as T-Mobile’s Mobile Hotspot, My Account, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail apps, none of which are removable. There’s no word from Alcatel on whether the Evolve with receive any updates OS updates.
The on-screen keyboard defaults to Swype, which allows you to drag your finger across the keyboard, for quicker letter entry. It’s an easy-to-use feature and a nice time saver. Also included is an FM radio app, where you can save your favorite station and even record audio.
The Evolve played almost every media file I could throw at it, including FLAC, OGG, and WAV, but there’s no support for 1080p video. It’s capped at 720p. The rear-mounted speaker sounds tinny and doesn’t provide much volume, but that’s to be expected from a phone of this caliber. My headphones got plenty loud, even on the lowest volume level.
In our graphical performance tests—Nenamark and Taiji—the Evolve scored 23.5 and 9.14 frames per second, respectively. Not great scores, but good enough for an inexpensive phone. Popular games like Temple Run 2 and Fruit Ninja ran smoothly, though I suspect some of the more intense graphical games in the Google Play Store will choke the Evolve. Web browsing was very smooth, and switching between games and other apps was quick and fluid.
The 5-megapixel camera takes decent, but not great photos. Most lack proper exposure and show washed-out colors, and indoor photos are noisy, but they’re not unusable. The camera is fast, though, offering quick continuous shooting when you hold down the shutter button or volume rocker. The lack of flash really limits the low-light photos you can take, and, of course, you can’t use your phone as a flashlight.
The phone records 720p video and is able to keep its frame rate consistent no matter the light levels. Your footage will suffer from the lack of image stabilization, and graininess when shooting indoors, but again, for a budget phone, it’s not bad. The VGA-quality front-facing camera is just that: VGA-quality. You won’t see any detail unless your subject is very well lit.
The Alcatel One Touch Evolve isn’t the best Android phone on T-Mobile. That’s the Galaxy S4. But for $100 total, it’s not a bad deal at all, offering good performance and features for the price.
If you need a physical keyboard you can try the free-on-contract myTouch Q, but it runs an ancient version of Android. For about $70 more, you can grab the Evolve’s 4.5-inch counterpart, the Alcatel One Touch Fierce, which packs a quad-core processor and 1GB or RAM, but still lacks LTE. If you’re on T-Mobile and are looking to enter the Android ecosystem with little investment, the Evolve worth a look. It’s cheap, can run apps like Facebook and Candy Crush Saga, and it looks good doing it.