The Alcatel 1 (2021) may be a very cheap phone, but even as a value proposition, it’s sorely lacking. It’s literally a phone from a different era, with creaky components that make it unusable for anything but light calls.
- Very cheap
- Very small and light
- Terrible show
- Outdated design
- Terrible camera
- Battery drop warning under load
The Alcatel brand has some claims to fame in the Android ecosystem. The Alcatel 1X was the first Android Go phone released in 2018. February.
I was reminded of this fact when I re-read my review of the successor to this phone, the Alcatel 1 (2018), in preparation for my Alcatel 1 (2021) review. There aren’t many smartphones that sell this far south of £100 anymore, so I thought an upgrade would be worthwhile.
It was more revealing than I expected. It turns out that the Alcatel 1 (2021) is exactly the same phone as the Alcatel 1 (2018), just for less money.
The Alcatel 1 (2021) is available from established retailers for around £40 these days. It’s cheap, but is it a good price?
Design and display
- Exactly the same as Alcatel 1 (2018)
- Removable back and battery
- Poor 5 inch TFT LCD
The Alcatel 1 (2021) is so old that it comes out of the box with the back cover and battery removed. You have to slide the SIM card (thankfully a nano) into the small slot under the cover, just like you used to do with old phones.
It’s a cheaply made phone with a thick plastic body and huge screen bezels. One rare advantage of the latter point is that there is no perforated screen, so the view is completely unobstructed.
Despite these large bezels, it looks like an extremely small phone by today’s standards. Even the Asus Zenfone 9, which is the smallest Android phone I’ve used recently, looks big with it. The closest comparison I can make here is the iPhone SE (though obviously not in terms of quality).
Another blast from the past is the complete absence of biometric authentication. There’s no fingerprint sensor anywhere, so you’ll have to rely on a password to log in. You won’t find NFC here either, so mobile payments are out of the question.
I already mentioned one of the main reasons for this old-school feel: the Alcatel 1 (2021) is actually the Alcatel 1 (2018). Its design and dimensions are exactly the same: 137.6 x 65.7 x 9.8 mm body, weighing 134 g.
This includes the phone’s display, which is the same 5-inch 960 x 480 TFT LCD. In my review of the Alcatel 1 (2018), I called this panel “a small, dull, blurry and overly reflective screen that’s completely impossible to use outdoors in broad daylight.” Can you guess what I think about it in 2023? at the beginning?
Of course, you have to factor in that lower price, but bad is bad. Saving £20 – or even £120 over a regular ‘cheap’ phone – doesn’t change that.
Viewing angles continue to be terrible, making it nearly impossible to see the screen from an angle. Colors are washed out and there is no such thing as “black” here, just a hazy gray.
The only positive thing I can say about the screen on the Alcatel 1 (2021) is that it’s easy to use with one hand, which is a foreign concept to most modern Android phones. It’s also unobstructed by any notch, which is always nice.
- 5MP main camera
- 2MP selfie camera
- Terrible photos in all conditions
The Alcatel 1 (2021) has the same camera setup as before, which means a separate 5MP rear camera and a 2MP selfie camera.
And that’s not a good thing. The main camera takes blurry, blurry shots even in reasonable outdoor conditions and really struggles with large differences in light and shadow. There is no form of HDR compensation.
Lowering the light results in even murkier and noisier results, and shooting at night is a huge no-no. Needless to say, there is no dedicated night mode.
Often times, smaller smartphone cameras offer a kind warning that social media posts are fine, but this time I wouldn’t even make such a damning concession with faint praise. It’s just horrible.
The selfie camera is even worse, producing noisy images with flattened objects and dull skin tones. Yuck.
- An ancient, creaky Mediatek MT6739
- Only 1GB of RAM
- Very poor benchmark results
If it’s bad enough that the Alcatel 1 (2021) retains the poor display of its three-year-old twin, consider that it also packs the exact same Mediatek MT6739 processor.
“It’s another example of a spec that seems to have come from smartphone’s past,” I said from the winter 2018. acorns in 2023 in the beginning, this component is practically a fossil.
No wonder Genshin Impact won’t even install the Alcatel 1 (2021). A bit more surprising, as is Vampire Survivors, a newer but decidedly less technically demanding 2D game.
The Alcatel 1 (2021)’s paltry 1GB of RAM is likely to blame. Nowadays, we don’t usually stick with only 2GB or even 3GB of RAM on a phone, so 1GB is a bit scary.
Needless to say, the performance here is terrible in every way. Apps take ages to load, menus creak and groan, and everything seems to move at a snail’s pace. Don’t expect to jump into a camera app when you see an opportunity to take a photo.
With that in mind, the Alcatel 1 (2021) benchmark results make for ugly reading. With an average Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 165 and a single-core score of 79, the Alcatel 1 (2021) is firmly at the bottom of the smartphone performance table.
You get 16GB of internal storage as standard, which seems almost impossibly small by today’s standards. Even sub-£200 phones have started shipping with 128GB of internal storage.
Android 11 (Go edition) is installed out of the box. This is the main (and perhaps the only) change compared to the Alcatel 1 (2018), which shipped with Android 8.1.
It’s a clean, seriously laid-back take on Google’s OS. You’ll find easy alternatives for the regular price, like the Gallery app instead of Google Photos. It’s clearly an effort to make things move noticeably despite the modest hardware.
It turns out to be a futile gesture, as the Alcatel 1 (2021) is an absolute piece of work. But the plain Android Go OS won’t hurt as it does its best to keep you out of the way.
- The tiny 2000 mAh battery is enough for a little use during the day
- Media playback drains power extremely quickly
- Charging takes hours
Like its predecessor, the Alcatel 1 (2021) only comes with a 2,000 mAh battery. That’s less than half the capacity of most modern Android phones.
Of course, with such an unusually small, dim and low-dot screen, the battery needs a lot less action than usual. Meanwhile, with such limited performance, you won’t want to use the phone for much more than light phone calls. In these conditions, you will survive the whole day without much problem.
But any media will affect it. One hour of Netflix streaming reduced the total charge by 18%, while an hour of YouTube Music streaming reduced the charge by 7%. In comparison, the Moto G22 (a very typical affordable phone) lost 3% and 1% respectively in the same tests.
Continuing the vintage feel of the phone, you’ll need to charge it using the included micro USB charger. Despite the phone’s small battery, it takes an absolute age. I turned it on with 43% left in the tank and it took two hours to get to 93%.
Should you buy it?
You literally have £40 to spend. There are some expensive smartphones that can be bought for as little as £40. This is the whole reason for the existence of the Alcatel 1 (2021).
Love any photos with your phone. The Alcatel 1 (2021) has a truly terrific camera that takes terrific shots in any lighting.
It feels a little strange to turn people away from one of the cheapest phones on the market, especially in these financially challenging times. But while the Alcatel 1 (2021) is incredibly cheap, it’s not one of the best budget phones out there.
The phone’s stuttering performance, alarming battery life under load, and flat, hideous 5-inch screen make it unsuitable for anything but the most basic of tasks. Web browsing, gaming, and media playback are severely disrupted, and the camera fails to deliver acceptable results in almost any lighting condition.
If you absolutely cannot spend more than £40 on a phone and only need the handset for the lightest and rarest of tasks, you can buy the Alcatel 1 (2021). Otherwise, we ask you to save a little more, spend a little more, and achieve a minimum level of total usability.
How we test
We thoroughly test every mobile phone we review. We use industry standard tests to properly compare features and use the phone as the primary device during the review period. We will always tell you what we find and we never accept money to review a product.
Yes, you will find the charger in the box with the phone.
Reliable review test data
Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi-core
1 hour video playback (Netflix, HDR)
1 hour of music streaming (online)
Alcatel 1 (2021)
Alcatel 1 (2021)
65.7 x 137.6 x 9.8 MM
Micro USB, 3.5 mm jack