Big phone, low price: the Alcatel A3 XL makes a few compromises, but is nonetheless sure to satisfy those looking for an affordable phablet.
What we love
- Very affordable
- Good camera performance for the price
- Reasonably reliable
What could be improved
- Will be too big for
- Occasional performance hitches
- Delayed software updates
What is it?
Alcatel's A3 XL is a big phone without a big price tag. In fact, it's one of the very few phablets available in Australia under $500. To precise, the A3 XL will set you back $179, but there's almost nothing else comparable in terms of screen size between $200 and $300.
The second cheapest 6-inch or so phone we could find was OPPO's R9s Plus at $648. If you're okay with a slightly smaller screen, Huawei's 5.5-inch Y7 is $299, but can you even call a 5.5-inch phone a phablet anymore? We think not.
Key specifications for the Alcatel A3 XL include a 6-inch 720p display, a MediaTek MT8735B quad-core processor clocked at 1.1GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, and 8MP rear-facing camera, and a 3000mAh battery.
The A3 XL is very plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap. There's a lightly textured back which gives you extra grip, and since it's not removable, there's no flex. You won't be banging out messages on the A3 XL one handed, but despite its large stature, the phone is comfortable to hold with no sharp edges to be found.
The A3 XL's 6-inch display is the star of the show, and while you make some trade-offs, there's no real deal breakers. Firstly, it only runs at 720p, which results in a comparatively low pixel density. If you're holding the screen right up to your face, it can look a touch blurry, but I didn't find this is an issue in day to day usage. Colours can be a little washed out, and viewing angles are a touch more limited than on pricier phones, but the screen is reasonably bright. At the very least, you can use it in direct sunlight with too much of a struggle.
As cheap as it is, the A3 XL does better than you might expect when it comes to photography. It's fairly easy to get good shots during the day; they might not wow you, but the camera is reliable when you're working with good light. Images could use a bit of extra saturation from time to time (which you can always dial up using Instagram or another editing app) and harsh lighting will result in either blow out or a darker photo, but we were impressed by the A3 XL's consistency.
Unsurprisingly, the A3 XL's camera is less reliable in lowlight situations, but it doesn't fall over entirely. While it's more prone to motion blur and picking up noise, you can still take passable photos. It might take a couple of tries to get focus right, especially if there is movement in your shot, but it's nonetheless possible to capture alright shots in all but the darkest of environments.
The A3 XL's 3,000mAh battery is a bit smaller than you'd expect in a 6-inch device (others similar sized smartphones will push as far as 4,000mAh), but it's enough capacity to last the day. Topping up the A3 XL can take quite some time though; charging the phone from empty to flat will require about three hours. Needless to say, don't forget to plug this in at bed time.
There's a fingerprint reader on the back of the A3 XL, and while it's far from the fastest, I found it to be reasonably reliable. If you're looking to increase accuracy, you're always able to enrol the same finger twice.
What's not so good?
As you might have gathered from the spec sheet, the A3 XL isn't the beefiest of the phones. It's not frustratingly slow, but it's not zippy either. Apps can take a few seconds longer than you might expect to open up, and the smaller amount of RAM means you'll be loading apps from scratch more often than you would on a pricier phone.
I ran into an odd hitch where an app would freeze up for a couple of seconds every now and again, but for the most part, the A3 XL ran fine. There's still enough grunt under the hood for a bit of gaming; you might encounter issues with more taxing 3D titles, but you'll be okay if you just want to play games like Super Mario Run, Angry Birds, or Pokémon Go.
The other hardware factor worth noting is storage; the A3 XL has 16GB of memory, 10GB of which is free for you to use outside of the box. This isn't a huge amount, but you're able to top this up with a microSD card.
The A3 XL is a prepaid phone exclusive to Vodafone, which means it's also locked to the Vodafone network. If you're a Vodafone customer, this doesn't matter in the slightest. If you wanted to use the A3 XL on another network, you'll have to pay extra to get the unlocked. Vodafone typically charges $50 to a lock a prepaid phone if you've had it for less than six months, and $25 if you've had it for more.
If you’re hoping to take the A3 XL overseas and use it with a local SIM from your destination country, you'll need to make sure you get it unlocked first.
It's also worth considering that when you're buying a phone this cheap, post purchase support (in the form of software and security updates) can be quite limited. This appears to the case with the A3 XL, which is still running Android 7.0 (as opposed to the newer 7.1.1) and is stuck on the May security update.
An Alcatel representative told us that a major update to the A3 XL will be available in October, which will bring the phone up to dates in terms of security updates. Speaking more broadly, Alcatel says Vodafone should push out security updates to Alcatel devices about every three months, but by the time October hits, the A3 XL will be five months out of date in terms of security.
It's not uncommon to see these kinds of practices on cheaper on Android smartphones, although manufacturers such as Nokia are now promising monthly updates regardless of whether you're buying a flagship or entry level device.
Who's it for?
If you prefer your phones on the larger side, and you also like them cheap, the Alcatel A3 XL is right up your alley. The A3 XL's performance, screen, and camera are all better than the price suggests. You can't expect wonders from a $179 device, but this 6-inch monster is one of kind; there's no other phone this big and this cheap available in Australia.
What else can I buy?
The Moto E4 is another solid sub-$300 smartphone. At $249, it's a little more expensive than the A3 XL, but it's also network unlocked, so you can use it on whatever telco you'd like.
If you're okay with spending a little more, the Nokia 5 is another excellent budget option. It retails for $329 and it runs a completely unmodified version of Android that will receive software and security updates for around two years.
OPPO R9s Plus
If you want a phone with a 6-inch screen, the OPPO R9s Plus is the second cheapest option in Australia. It does however happen to cost over three times as much. It is a pretty good phone though.