Alcatel 1SE 2020 Review
Quick verdict: The Alcatel 1SE 2020 is certainly an inexpensive handset, but it needs to do a little more to really compete even though it's cheap.
- Fingerprint sensor works well
- Poor camera
- Below average battery performance
- Slow processor
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
Alcatel's market position in Australia has been clear for years. The TCL-owned brand sells cheap phones in the budget space, and that's all. In recent years we've seen many good value Alcatel phones, but we've also seen a slew of new competitors from other Chinese makers hit the budget space, including realme, vivo, Nokia/HMD Global and others.
A few years ago, the Alcatel 1SE would have seemed like an exceptional bargain in the budget phone space, but even the low-cost sector has moved on. The Alcatel 1SE never really hits any point where it stands out, making it hard to recommend.
- 6.22-inch display tops out at 720p
- Fingerprint sensor works well
- Plastic build means it's quite light
Alcatel hasn't historically impressed us with fancy designs for its budget phones, more typically delivering solid but unexciting phones. That's the Alcatel 1SE in a nutshell, really. It features a 6.22-inch LCD display with a teardrop-style notch for the front-facing selfie camera. The style of most phones we've seen in 2020 has shifted towards hole-punch cameras, and while the style difference is light, it does make the Alcatel 1SE feel a tad retro in its approach.
That also extends to when you pick it up and realise this is indeed a budget phone in a simple plastic body. However, that's not all bad since it does allow the Alcatel 1SE 2020 to weigh in at just 175 grams. If you find the heft of larger phones an annoyance, that could be a definite plus.
In terms of controls, the Alcatel 1SE features a left-hand side Google Assistant button, not common in phones in this price range, and power and volume controls on the right. It won't take long before you hit the Google Assistant Button when you want to power down the screen or vice versa if my own experiences are any guide.
At the back of the Alcatel 1SE, you'll find its fingerprint sensor, and again the retro design feel jumps to life. There's been a lot of side-mounted fingerprint sensors or sensors located under glass in phones in 2020, but the Alcatel 1SE sticks with a basic round fingerprint sensor located in the upper quarter of the phone's back. If you've got smaller hands, reach may be an issue, but it does work quite well, which is an endorsement of how basic ideas can often be preferable to ones that are technically superior.
Still, if you buy the Alcatel 1SE, you're not going to wow anyone with how it looks. This is a basic phone that's been basically designed, but it's priced accordingly.
- Very simple standard and wide-lens cameras
- Slow to focus
The Alcatel 1SE features a very simple camera array. At the back, you'll find twin lenses, with a primary 13MP f/2.2 sensor paired up with a 5MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens. There's a tertiary 2MP f/2.4 lens that is meant to aid in faster focusing and provide bokeh effects, but its overall effectiveness isn't great.
We've not seen a real powerhouse camera in an Alcatel phone to date, and the Alcatel 1SE certainly isn't bucking that particular trend. With careful use and the right lighting, you can get decent daytime shots, but nothing exciting, and with a relatively sedate focus and a tendency for overexposures, you'll also end up with more than a few mediocre-at-best photos along the way.
That kind of performance is still somewhat par for the course within the true budget space, but we've seen some efforts from competing brands push just that little bit further than the Alcatel 1SE is capable of managing.
- Octa Core Unisoc SC9863A is not powerful
- Low graphics performance
- Android Go might have been a better option with this hardware
Budget phones are rarely the nippiest of creatures, but in recent times we've seen a few handsets that reach above their price category in what they're capable of.
The Alcatel 1SE isn't one of those phones. It runs on a very low spec Unisoc SC9863A chipset with 3GB of onboard RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. That's a combination that's slightly above what we see in many Android Go phones, but having tested out the Alcatel 1SE for a while, I'm struck by the fact that maybe this would have been a better phone with Android Go on board.
Even within the budget space, the Alcatel 1SE struggles to stand out. Here's how its CPU compares against similarly priced handsets using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
And here's how its PowerVR GE8322 / IMG8322 GPU compares using 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme GPU test:
I ran the newer Wild Life 3DMark GPU test over the Alcatel 1SE, not expecting any kind of high score. It would run the test without crashing, but its returned score was, rather surprisingly, zero. Not a crash, but actually nothing.
This is not a powerful phone and while that's fine if your needs are very modest, the reality here is that more powerful devices can be had for around the same price point or less.
- 4,000mAh battery, but poor endurance
- microUSB charging
At a specifications level for under $200, the Alcatel 1SE might seem like a bit of a bargain. It features a 4,000mAh sealed battery, which is on the larger side for phones at this price point. Rather predictably, and a little annoyingly, it uses microUSB connectivity for charging, but that's mostly in line with what we see at this price point.
Battery life is always a function of how you use a phone, and to compare that, we ran the Alcatel 1SE through our standard battery life test. This takes a fully charged phone and streams a YouTube video at the full resolution of the phone – 720p in this case – for an hour with maximum brightness and moderate volume.
What we look for here is at least 90% battery life remaining at the end of that period. Below that, phones may struggle to last through a day's usage. The Alcatel 1SE doesn't have a high-resolution display and at only 6.22 inches and 720p, it shouldn't have a huge power draw for this kind of usage. Still, its performance wasn't encouraging in this test, even for a budget phone.
More anecdotally, if you only need a basic communication device and don't spend that long on your phone each day getting through a working day is certainly feasible. However, you don't have to look too hard to find phones in the same price bracket that perform better in this test.
Should you buy the Alcatel 1SE 2020?
- Buy it if you really like the Alcatel brand.
- Don't buy it if you want the best value at this price range.
Alcatel's whole brand identity is tied up in providing budget devices, and it's done this for many years in Australia with mixed results. Some Alcatel phones have genuinely surprised us with their overall value offering and performance in the budget space.
The Alcatel 1SE isn't one of those devices. Unless you're particularly fond of the brand or can score an Alcatel 1SE at a decent discount, it's not really an advisable handset.
Pricing and availability
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman