Alcatel Onyx review: A mixed bag budget smartphone

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Alcatel-Onyx-FI

At the end of the day, the Alcatel Onyx is a decent device. The form factor and the screen size together is great and easy to hold in hand.

8.9/10 rating

Alcatel has been making smartphones for years now, so they know what it’s like to be competing against other smartphone manufacturers. They offer a wide range of Android smartphones from entry-level to mid-tier and the Alcatel Onyx falls under the entry-level budget smartphone option. Even so, it does have some borderline mid-tier specs including a 5.5-inch display, 32GB internal storage that can be expanded, a 3000mAh battery, and a dual-camera setup. There are, of course, more features to the phone so continue reading to find out more in the full review below.

Specifications

  • Display: 5.5-inch TFT LCD with HD+ (720 x 1440) resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio
  • Chipset: MediaTek MT6739ww
  • CPU: Quad-core @ 1.5GHz
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • Storage: 32GB internal storage, expandable up to 128GB
  • Camera
  • Connectivity
    • 4G LTE: Yes
    • WiFi: 802.11b/g/n
    • Bluetooth: 4.2
  • Security: Rear fingerprint scanner, facial recognition
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • Ports: Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • OS: Android 8.1
  • Size: 5.76 x 2.7 x 0.32in
  • Weight: 4.67oz

What’s in the box

  • Alcatel Onyx
  • Micro-USB charging cable
  • Charging block
  • Sim removal tool
  • Quick start guide

Design

Most phones these days are rectangular with rounded corners and the Alcatel Onyx follows this same suit. The front of the device has the earpiece below the top of the screen and the front-facing camera to the right of it. The rest of the display has small bezels and a forehead and chin to keep the device looking sleek and minimal.

Turning the device over, the back has a sandpaper feel to it but Alcatel calls it a suede finish. The textured back is nice but could cause some issues down the road for users who may not use a case and end up scratching the back. Either way, the finish is a really nice touch. Continuing on with the back of the device, there is a dual camera set up with an LED flash, a fingerprint scanner, with Cricket’s logo underneath the fingerprint scanner. Further down near the bottom of the phone is Alcatel’s logo.

Alcatel-Onyx-Back-Bottom
Suede material

The top of the device is home to a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microphone hole, whereas the bottom of the device has two downward-facing speakers and a Micro-USB port. The sides are pretty simple too. The left side is where you’ll find the sim card tray and the right side has the volume rocker and the power/standby button.

It’s nice to see something other than a glass and metal sandwich phone, so Alcatel adding in suede and metal design is great.

Display

For entry to mid-range device these days, you’re looking at either a screen resolution of 720p or 1080p. The Alcatel Onyx comes with a resolution of 720 x 1440 and a screen size of 5.5-inches. The display itself is decent for a phone in this price range. Being spoiled by flagship devices has left me a little biased, but for this type of device, the screen size and resolution fits perfectly.

Alcatel-Onyx-Front
Front of Alcatel Onyx

The viewing angles aren’t bad at all when you have the brightness settings at max. Now, that’s not to say that other brightness levels make the colors dull or washed out but having it a 100% brightness was better looking overall.

Software

The Onyx is running Android 8.1 Oreo but you’re getting Alcatel’s skin overlay on top of Oreo. The skin is pretty vivid and appealing to the eyes with app icons being colorful. For example, the camera app is purple with a lens in the center and the messages application being orange and having a message bubble inside it. It actually reminds me of the messaging app in iOS. Speaking off applications, this phone has 16 apps that are nothing but bloatware but can be uninstalled or disabled whenever you want. The only applications worth keeping that comes preinstalled is Pandora if you use that on a daily basis.

Performance

With this device being a budget device, you’re going to be getting mid-tier specs with it such as a MediaTek MT6739ww SoC and 2GB of RAM.

When booting up the phone, it took about 5 seconds to get to a screen where you enter in your device pin if you set one up. It took about 3 seconds for the keyboard to show up before entering in the pin. After that, the phone goes through another boot up which brings you to the lock screen which asks for the pin code again not allowing you to use your fingerprint or face to unlock the device. The process takes longer to get in the phone than actually trying to use it when you need it most.

After getting through everything, the phone does run pretty well. The fingerprint scanner and the FACE KEY (facial recognition) unlocks the device quickly. Even though the phone comes with 2GB of RAM, there were times it would slow down when you started going from app to app to app. Just playing simple games like Clash Royale caused the phone to slow down a bit. There would be a slight delay during the gameplay to where it would place the character later than the time of placement.

At first, watching videos on YouTube started out terrible no matter the resolution you put it on (360p-720p). It was choppy and kept stopping and lagging behind in sound. Oddly enough, after watching more videos through the time of having the device, I was able to get through videos without having to stop and use a different phone.

Sound

The speaker is at the bottom right of the phone and sounds good. Music or any playback was good and didn’t feel like it was muffled or distorted. Even though it’s one speaker, it can get accidentally covered if you have the phone sideways watching something on YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. It does get plenty loud but once covered it sounds like a tin can is covering the phone. Unfortunately, the sound isn’t redirected to the earpiece at the top of the screen, so you will have to watch where you place your hand on the device.

Camera

The Alcatel Onyx comes with a dual camera set up. The main camera comes in at 13MP and the second camera has a 2MP lens. When taking pictures, they came out as a hit and miss in most cases. Outdoor shots weren’t too bad but did have some noticeable noise whereas indoor photos in low light settings had way too much noise. Indoor shots with good lighting also turned out decent but didn’t show natural colors even with HDR being on by default.

Alcatel-Onyx-Camera
Rear cameras

Portrait mode does come as a feature with the camera software and again, photos came out decent at best. You’re able to control the background blur but the more you tried to blur the background, the worse the photo was. It would end up blurring part of the thing you’re trying to take a picture of in this mode. The sweet spot for taking photos in portrait mode was F16 (default) and F11. Anything lower than that is best to stay away from.

The front-facing camera is 5MP and is also pretty decent. Pictures tended to come with too much noise or if there was too much light, the camera wouldn’t compensate on the light and dim the photo a bit. Tapping the screen doesn’t focus on the subject but takes a picture. That could cause some issues for users who want to be in focus right away when up switch to the front-facing camera.

Call Quality

Since the Alcatel Onyx is being sold at Cricket Wireless, a prepaid AT&T wireless service, the signal in and outside of the area where I live was pretty good. Even when I took it with me to a whole different state, the signal was good. That same signal helps with call quality and all the places where I was at was good when I made and received phone calls.

Each call was clear, so I was able to hear everyone that I talked to whether it was for 10 minutes or an hour. There were a few times where people couldn’t hear me because the signal was breaking up but it wasn’t only for a few seconds and hitting a dead spot is common with any cell phone carriers.

Battery Life

For having a battery life of 3,000mAh, I can say that it did pretty well when I was using it for this review. I’m not a heavy user but I do have my days where I would play games, use the web, play music, and hop on social media and see what’s all going on. Most days, the phone would end up with at least 20% battery life by the time I charged it at night.

While 3,000mAh may not be as big of a battery as flagship phones, it is very decent given the lower power requirements of a budget device.

Price

You’re able to purchase the Alcatel Onyx at full retail from Cricket Wireless, a US carrier, for US$119.99. You can get it for only $29.99 if you port in your phone number, or US$59.99 if you get a new phone number or upgrade to this phone from your current one. Based on the specifications and performance of the phone, the price definitely makes sense.

Wrap Up

At the end of the day, the Alcatel Onyx is a decent device. The form factor and the screen size together is great and easy to hold in hand. The battery life is another plus as it’ll get you through the workday for users and it’ll be great as a backup device or for a child who will be getting their first phone.

Alcatel Onyx

US$119.99
8.9

Design

9.5/10

Display

8.5/10

Software

9.0/10

Performance

8.5/10

Sound

8.0/10

Camera

8.0/10

Call Quality

9.5/10

Battery Life

9.0/10

Price/Value

10.0/10

Nailed it

  • Great design
  • Great call quality
  • Great for kids first smartphone
  • Decent screen for the size
  • Very affordable price point

Needs work

  • Slow bootup times
  • Can slow down after having too many things running
  • Not the greatest camera in a smartphone
  • Running Android 8.1

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