- Decent gaming performance
- Bright and colourful LED back
- Poor general performance
- Better cameras available at the price
- Mediocre battery life
- Review Price: £169.99/$254.99
- 5-inch 720p IPS LCD screen
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage with microSD
- 25-LED casing
- 8-megapixel rear camera with flash
What is the Alcatel A5 LED?
The Alcatel A5 LED is a budget phone. A quick glance at its specs would suggest that it would be the ideal alternative to the Lenovo Moto G5. But it’s a bit more flashy than that – literally. The Alcatel A5 LED has a disco on its back, making it the sort of phone you can picture in Calvin Harris’ pocket if he were a Nissan Micra driver rather than someone behind the wheel of a McLaren.
However, slow performance in parts and a camera that’s significantly worse than the competition make it a good buy only if you’re in love with the idea of being able to bring out a tiny light show at parties.
Alcatel A5 LED — Design and LED Lights
There’s one reason to buy the Alcatel A5 LED: the LED shell on its rear. It’s actually removable, but to call it a ‘case’ is a real disservice.
Twenty-five multi-colour LEDs produce a light show that turns the Alcatel A5 LED into a programmable mobile disco. When you use the phone as normal, those LEDs are dormant, making the rear look like it has a slim and stylish case attached, thanks in the main to the camera sitting below this shell. A honeycomb-like pattern of light-grey dots form a translucent plastic through which the LEDs shine.
I tend to like my phones fairly plain. The Honor 9 borders on brash, and every now and then I take out the first-gen Moto G to remind myself that a phone lacking any stand-out design features can actually look quite nice. Miserably monotone as my taste may be, I think Alcatel has done well with this device’s rear. The diffusion of the light, those large-but-soft LEDs are signs of a job well done, particularly in a budget phone.
You can customise what the lights do too, using an app called Light Show. The two best uses for the LED cover are for music and notifications.
There’s a handful of presets for music light performances – including ones that ‘emulate’ rain, fireworks and shooting stars – that react to the music played. The Rhythm preset, for example, makes the lights act like an EQ waveform, changing colour constantly too. On receiving a notification, the first letter of the app in question scrolls across the screen on a coloured background.
What’s the point, I hear you ask? If you’re coming to the Alcatel A5 LED looking for utility, you’re missing the point. The LEDs are there for fun.
The Light Show app does have a crack at adding more obvious uses, in the form of a virtual electronic musician-style sample pad that plays instrument clips and corresponding LEDs on the back as you tap. However, it’s pretty poor, and has clearly been made for a means to entertain young kids.
But enough about the light feature. Elsewhere, the Alcatel A5 LED is a solid-but-plain phone. It’s made of plastic, uses light-up soft keys (aside from the drawn-on central one) and, thanks to the case, is heavier than most devices at 170g. By comparison, the Moto G5 weighs 145g.
There’s also no sign here of any of the extra hardware features we’ve seen starting to drip down to cheaper phones. There’s no fingerprint scanner, and the Alcatel A5 LED has a micro-USB socket rather than new newer USB-C. 16GB storage and a microSD slot keep it up with the rest in other respects, though.
Alcatel A5 LED — Screen
The Alcatel A5 LED has a 5-inch 720p IPS LCD screen. It isn’t as sharp as the Moto G5’s display, but this isn’t something that presented as an issue as I continued using the handset.
Colour is rather good for a budget phone and, unlike some models, the image appears right on the surface of the display. Low-rent LCDs can look recessed, which happens when the layers of a screen aren’t sandwiched together tightly enough.
Those who like to play with the look of their phone’s screen will appreciated the MiraVision tool in the Alcatel A5 LED. This lets you alter the colour saturation, contrast and a few other elements. Both the ‘normal’ and ‘vivid’ modes look good as-is, but I did end up tweaking the colour temperature since the phone leans towards the blueish side as standard.
Like any good budget phone, the Alcatel A5 LED has an auto-brightness setting. Top brightness is fair rather than searing, and at certain angles there’s some colour/contrast shift, which signifies that this isn’t a top-drawer panel. Overall, however, the screen is fine.
Alcatel A5 LED — Software
The Alcatel A5 LED runs Android 6.0, a dated version of the OS, and features a custom interface on top. Since the interface changes the look of Android, the main loss of not having the newer software is the use of old-style notifications, with simple Post-it-like blocks instead of the more info-rich kind you get with Android 7.0.
Whether or not this is a great loss will depend on how much of an Android nerd you are. However, it’s worth noting that I’ve been using the Alcatel A5 LED for a while now, and in that time it hasn’t received a single update. To avoid disappointment, assume you won’t be getting a bump up to Android 7.0 any time soon.
The Alcatel A5 LED’s custom interface alters the look of the system, too. Its icons are different to those of standard Android, and while there’s a classic white-backed apps menu as seen in vanilla Android, you have the option here to choose how apps are ordered: by the alphabet, most used or date. Themes available through an app let you quickly change the look of the top layer of the Alcatel A5 LED, too.
I’d prefer vanilla Android, and certainly standard Android 7.0, but the Alcatel A5 LED’s software is mostly inoffensive and looks similar to the standard Google layout.
Alcatel A5 LED — Performance
Perhaps the main issue with this phone is that, despite having perfectly good hardware, the Alcatel A5 LED feels slow. Apps take an age to load, as do web pages, and the keyboard, too, is slow to appear, with key taps taking time to register on-screen.
Unfortunately, this is enough to pull down the experience of using the Alcatel A5 LED by a couple of leagues. And, on examining the specs, there’s no obvious explanation for such mediocre performance.
The Alcatel A5 LED has an octa-core MediaTek MT6753 CPU, which has Cortex-A53 cores. These are identical to those found in the Moto G5, and a host of other budget and mid-range phones.
Benchmarks such as Geekbench 4 show that, in theory, this setup should easily be powerful enough to make a 720p resolution phone run extremely well. It scores 2400 points, close to the Moto G5’s score, yet the Moto G5 doesn’t suffer from such persistent day-to-day performance issues.
Gaming also backs up the MediaTek CPU’s abilities. Asphalt 8 runs very well, even at the highest graphics setting. There’s the occasionally dropped frame rate, but it’s significantly better than cheaper quad-core 720p phones such as the Vodafone Smart N8.
We can’t blame RAM for this poor performance, either: 2GB may be the baseline for Android these days, but it should be enough for solid speed.
It seems more likely that poor memory management or a lack of software optimisation is at fault. This means that these issues could be fixed. But given this phone isn’t sold that widely – it’s far from an Alcatel flagship – I don’t believe that the time and effort will be put into the endeavour.
For more proof the software isn’t well-optimised, I’ve encountered some annoying bugs as well. The Gallery app is prone to crashing almost immediately after you take a photo. High-demand tasks such as gaming also cause quite obvious heating-up of the front of the phone, which is quite unusual.
It’s also very easy to block the speaker when playing a landscape-orientation game, since while you may be under the impression that a stereo speaker array sits on the bottom, only one of the grilles actually fires out sound.
The Alcatel A5 LED speaker is typical entry-level fodder, with only moderate top volume and a fairly thin tone that doesn’t display the bulk and richness of a better phone.
Alcatel A5 LED — Camera
The Alcatel A5 LED features a basic camera array and is an area in which this phone lags behind some others at the price. It has an 8-megapixel rear camera, where others include higher-quality 13-megapixel sensors.
In perfect lighting you can achieve reasonable shots, but they simply can’t compete with those of the Moto G5. The level of detail is lower, contrast is worse and dynamic range less impressive. Colours also tend to look skewed, often appearing cold and a little lifeless. It’s a fair budget phone camera of a few years ago, but is only passable today.
Like other cheaper phones, low-light image quality is poor. Indoor shots become grainy and flat-looking, and the image processing doesn’t have the intelligence to make very dark scenes appear clear.
There’s a separate Night mode, but it’s only moderately effective, and more often than not I forget to use it. Better phone cameras build such night-time optimisation into their standard shooting.
The Alcatel A5 LED camera limitation that has annoyed the most isn’t to do with image quality, though. It’s about speed. The camera is a little slow with standard shooting, but the HDR mode is significantly slower still, and thanks to the limited native dynamic range of the sensor, you need to use it fairly often to get the best shot of a scene.
Once again, shooting lacks the smarts of a more capable camera, with no Auto HDR and no obvious-but-sly dynamic range optimisation when you’re just shooting away in the Auto mode.
Given the so-so hardware and software at the heart of the Alcatel A5 LED camera setup, it’s slightly surprising to find two flashes, one on the back and another next to the selfie camera.
I’ve found it’s actually better to leave them off, unless you’re in a situation where your face is going to look completely unlit without the flash, since a low-range pure white LED flash such as the one included here is unlikely to be flattering for any skin tone.
In good light, it’s possible to see that there’s higher resolution on tap than a basic VGA or 2-megapixel camera, since the Alcatel A5 LED is able to pick apart those fine beard hairs. If you have them.
However, in low indoor lighting it devolves fairly quickly into mush, further confirming that this isn’t a particularly high-quality sensor.
Alcatel A5 LED — Battery Life
The Alcatel A5 LED offers only fair battery life, despite having a fairly large 2800mAh battery. The phone will last reasonably well if carrying out only basic tasks, and holds up well when left sitting around. Start streaming the odd podcast or making good use of the LED case, however, and it will easily drain to empty before the day is over.
Playing Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8, a half-hour of play consumed 10% of the battery, for a fairly typical gaming result of about five hours’ play from a single charge. As with general performance, the Alcatel A5 LED handles gaming better than normal day-to-day tasks.
Charging is rather slow, taking a few hours, with no fast-charge tech on hand to help out.
Should I buy the Alcatel A5 LED?
The main reason to buy the Alcatel A5 LED is no secret. Without the LED light show on the rear of the device, there’s little to recommend here over a phone such as the Lenovo Moto G5. While the A5 LED is about as powerful as the Moto G5, in use it feels far slower and less responsive – and both the camera and screen are worse.
There’s scope for this becoming a decent phone if Alcatel addresses the performance stalls, but right now there’s just too much competition to make the Alcatel A5 LED a good buy. Unless you’ve dreamt of a mobile disco phone since the last century, that is.
The Alcatel A5 LED is certainly different, and while the LED-packed back is eye-catching, there are too many problems at the phone’s core to make this a serious consideration over the Lenovo Moto G5.