It is a little known fact that the current line of Flash Plus phones are not designed by Alcatel anymore but by Flash 3C.
The Flash 3C company was originally a part of Alcatel and has broken off to form a wholly independent studio while still under their parent company TCL. The first Alcatel Flash Plus (designed by Alcatel) was a huge success, largely due to its low price tag and high specifications. However, it was hampered by less than adequate build quality and camera problems, not to mention badly designed UI. When the Flash 3C designed Alcatel Flash Plus 2 (still sometimes branded as an Alcatel or TCL device) was announced, it did so at the low price point of $160.
To put this in perspective, phones containing the aging MTK6752 and MTK6753 were still selling at a strong $160 in April/May 2016, during which the Flash Plus 2 was announced. People were excited, an MTK6755 (Helio P10) processor and Full HD screen for $160? Count me in! Considering the cheapest phone containing the Helio P10 costs at least $200, this is an extremely cheap option. There were some detractors and skeptics who remembered the less than adequate build quality, camera issues, and software of the original Flash Plus, and they had a leg to stand on.
Well, as of August 2016, the time this review was published, this is the cheapest MTK6755 phone available to date. Will it be worth it? Or should you spend a little more? Find out in the full review of the Alcatel/TCL Flash Plus 2. You can buy this device for $160, the 3GB version costs $180. If you use the coupon code “GBAlcatel”, you can bring the price down to $150USD.
Alcatel Flash Plus 2 Build Quality
If I had to describe the Flash Plus 2 in two words, it would be sleek and simple. There are no pronounced edges that attract attention nor are there flashy chamfers. Instead, it’s quite a simple rectangle with moderately curved edges. Simple does not automatically exclude this phone from being sleek, and this is a true testament to the Flash 3C company’s design team. They have created a simple smartphone that holds its own against any flagship out there without resorting to audacious design decisions. However, it does come in a rather flashy and unclassy (in my opinion) gold colour and that was the unit I was provided.
I’m not a gold hater, but the shade and colour of gold used here definitely doesn’t give it a “classy” look. It’s definitely not the most compact phone in the world; it’s of average size compared to other 5.5” phones. But in this world of ever shrinking bezels, I would have liked to see a Flash Plus 2 with a smaller footprint. That being said, small handed me has difficulty using this with one hand. I almost always find myself using both hands to use this phone. However, it is purely the size that is preventing me from using this phone one handed, as it is quite ergonomically designed.
The curve on the backplate belies the 8.5mm thickness and also facilitate quite an easy fit into most pant pockets. There are no sharp edges to dig into your hands and the buttons are all in the correct spots. I do find the front fingerprint scanner a little awkward to use, more on that later. This phone is also not heavy, clocking in at 157g, just a hair lighter than the Oneplus 3. The backplate is what makes this phone feel premium. The brushed aluminum finish on the removable backplate masks the plastic body that this phone is constructed out of. This has the added benefit of keeping the weight down compared to aluminum unibody phones.
The camera module sticks out about 2-3mm from the back. Call this a pet peeve of mine, but I absolutely hate it. I will qualify that this varies from person to person and not everyone hates this. Removing the back cover reveals the sadly non removable battery and a nanoSIM, MicroSIM, and MicroSD card slot. Flash 3C has created a very competitively designed phone, not only at its price point, but even those double and triple its price. While unibody metal phones will most likely feel more premium, the Flash Plus 2 is no less competitive. I do have a bone to pick with this phone though. The 2 capacitive buttons on the bottom have one of the weakest backlights I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. It’s almost like there isn’t a backlight at all. If there’s any sort of ambient sunlight, chances are you probably can’t see the backlighting on those buttons at all. Other than that, the only two things to consider are its size, it’s a full 5.5” phone with bezels to match, and the camera module sticking out like a sore thumb, but that is just my own personal pet peeve.
The 5.5” full HD display impresses. The IPS OGS screen provides decent contrast, with blacks being quite deep for an LCD screen and whites being for the most part, white. You do detect a slightly yellow tinge that doesn’t really affect your experience other than when comparing directly with another screen. The screen itself is crisp and clear. You put it side by side with the Oneplus 3, and in terms of crispness the Flash Plus 2 is slightly behind. However it is still an absolute pleasure to read news in Google Play Newsstand, which in my opinion has one of the most well formatted articles for mobile. The contrast between black words and white background is immediately apparent on the Flash Plus 2, and the pictures pop as well.
Speaking of colour reproduction, even though we saw some incredible colour saturation for an LCD display, it’s still pretty far off from any AMOLED display. Colours are vivid as well and watching nature videos really shows off the capabilities of this display. Brightness is where this display falls short. It tops out at 400 nits of brightness, which is not very bright at all. Even the ancient Nexus 4 maxed out at 450 nits. It is useable in all conditions except for in direct sunlight.
I’m usually ambivalent about using a cell phone on a sunny day (as I usually use it indoors), but with the advent of the buggiest, most mechanically generic, and battery hogging game of all time, I’ve begun using my phone outside a lot. And of course, I’m talking about Pokémon Go. I find it extremely difficult to play this game while riding around on my bike as I need my other hand to shield the screen from the sun. Flash 3C has chosen not to go with Gorilla Glass but has instead chosen to use Asahi Dragontrail glass, Corning’s closest competitor in the mobile device glass protection space. However, Asahi is no stranger to toughened glass as they are a large player in the automobile glass industry; take a look at a window or windshield on your car, chances are it is Asahi Dragontrail glass. Dragontrail glass is for the most part as tough as Gorilla Glass 3 to scratches and scrapes. While good looking displays eventually wear out their welcome after extended use, it will wow you for at least the first month or so before you get used to it. The glaring misstep looking us right in the eye is the low brightness. It’s pretty tough using this phone outside on a sunny day.
When the Flash Plus 2 was first announced, one of its most touted features was the high fidelity (Hi-Fi) audio. For the spec conscious consumer, the Flash Plus 2 uses the AK4375 advanced audio DAC and NX9890 amplifier, high performance 192kHz/32-bit components for smartphones. This should provide users with much better quality audio when using high quality headphones and source material. It should also pump much richer and cleaner sound through the rear firing speakers. Speaking of the rear firing speakers, it almost seems like a step in the wrong direction, cancelling out any gains obtained through the use of a high quality DAC. I would have preferred front firing speakers or even downward firing speakers instead. However, the rear firing speakers do deliver, and it seems that Flash 3C has paired a high quality DAC with an almost comparably high quality speaker. If provided with high enough quality source material, the speakers pump out extremely impressive beats. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the audio that these speakers produce are second only to the HTC line of phones, namely the HTC One M8, M9, and the 10. I haven’t listened to the audio on the Vivo V3 Max or the ZTE Axon 7 (which apparently has better sound than any HTC device), other audio centric devices, so I can’t comment on those. What I do know is that the Flash Plus 2 produced incredibly rich sounds without distortion at max volume and clarity is second to one (well three, but let’s call the HTC line of phones one for now).
Bass drops are actual bass drops; details I’ve never heard before on certain tracks suddenly bring a whole new meaning to a song I’ve been listening to for 12 years without using headphones. Even to a non audiophile like me, the difference in the clarity, richness, and bass is apparent when compared to any non HTC phone. When using headphones, the audio quality from lossless audio is refined. I can pick out each individual instrument in an orchestra, and it’s the closest audio I’ve heard to a live recording (which I did go to). Listening to pop and rap tracks also showcase the quality of the audio as well but they do still sound great. While this phone most probably won’t match dedicated DACs and amplifiers, it outpaces almost every single phone out there in every aspect of audio. If you are looking for the next closest thing to a dedicated DAC, you have few options in today’s market, namely the ZTE Axon 7, the Vivo V3 Max, and the HTC line. However, every one of those devices costs north of $400USD and if you are averse to spending that much, the audio here will not disappoint. If you are not an audiophile and listen to “normal” stuff like Spotify and Apple Music, you will definitely be more than satisfied by the audio in this phone, but it most likely won’t be the selling point as you might not appreciate the increase in audio quality considering most people use the stock earbuds that come with whatever phone they use.
Powered by a 3000mAh battery, the Flash Plus 2 promises to take you through a single day without charging. We are a little skeptical here, since the original Alcatel Flash Plus had a sizeable 3500mAh battery. However, if you need to charge midway through the day (E.g. Pokémon Go), it is also quick charge capable, advertised as charging your phone up to 80% in 50 minutes. As a battery aficionado, most current flagships cannot make it throughout a day with me without charging as I am considered an extra heavy user. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos for 8 hours straight. I don’t think any current flagship can do that and leave me with enough juice to make it for an additional 8 hours of normal use. I’m not expecting great things from this phone, but I sure hope the 3000mAh battery is adequate enough to at least match the battery life of other flagships. I performed two lab tests, first I reloaded a webpage at a constant brightness until the phone died and it died after 7 hours and 34 minutes. I then looped a video until the phone died and it lasted for 10 hours and 30 minutes. These are some very respectable results and exceeded my expectations, slightly. A typical day of use would see me waking up at 6am and going to sleep at 10pm, making for a 16 hour day. I can typically obtain 4—5 hours of screen on time IF I do not play Pokémon Go. This would include about an hour of casual gaming like Clash Royale and the rest consisting of web browsing, Reddit, and Google maps. I also stream podcasts for about 3 hours as well. By the time 9:30pm rolls around, I’m left with a measly 7% battery life left, which means that this phone can take me throughout an entire day of use without charging, but leaves me no wiggle room. However, when playing Pokémon Go, the new battery benchmark due to the rate at which it eats all but the best batteries alive, lasts me three and a half hours. That’s in line with other phones like the Oneplus 3 and HTC 10, but by no means a good score. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge can get up to 5 hours of Pokémon Go time while my venerable Xiaomi Redmi 3 (4000mAh) gets 6 hours. Quick charging is usually a feature reserved for high end devices, and it is a welcome feature in such a cheap phone. While the manufacturer claims an 80% charge in 50 minutes, it was closer to an hour. Still though, it’s nice plugging in the phone for 15 minutes and getting an extra 20-30% battery for the day. My battery use case is much heavier and more intense than 90% of other people out there, and so it is not fair to judge this phone by my standards alone. As an extra heavy user, this phone barely gets me throughout a day, to say nothing of Pokémon Go. However if you use your phone less than me, this phone will last light and medium users a day with ease, while heavy users will have a smaller battery cushion at the end of the day, but will most likely make it through without charging. But it you cannot, a quick 15 minute charge will top you up for the rest of the day.
Software and Performance
Bloatware and custom skins are becoming less and less prevalent, with even the heaviest skins closer to stock Android than ever. Thankfully, the Alcatel Flash Plus 2 does not buck the trend. Android 6.0 is loaded onto the device and it is extremely close to stock. The minor changes made to the UI are on the level of a Moto device or the UMi Super, and that usually is not enough to trigger an internet rage in most people except for the purest of Nexus purists. Preinstalled bloatware is kept to a minimum as well, with the exception of the “Boost” app and other minor apps. While bloatware is considered “unwanted software installed by the manufacturer”, the boost app is actually quite useful. It has a bevy of functions including a cleaner, launch manager, and power saver and I find myself actually using the preinstalled Boost app from time to time. I prefer fingerprint scanners located on the back of phones as they are much easier to reach, but one of the few advantages of having a fingerprint scanner on the front is unlocking it while it is on the table without picking it up. The front mounted fingerprint scanner is moderately fast. In comparison it is almost as fast as the iPhone 6s and a hair slower than the Nexus 6p and Oneplus 3. The accuracy of the fingerprint scanner is up for debate. There will be periods where it never rejects my finger and other times when it does sometimes. In addition, the software does not allow you to register one finger multiple times, something that I’ve become used to doing to enjoy increased accuracy. Overall accuracy would be something along the lines of 80%, and if that is good enough for you, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. The one other thing I do not like about this fingerprint sensor is the inability to just touch the sensor to wake it up; you have to press the button as well. After testing the UMi Super, I’ve gotten so used to touching the fingerprint sensor to turn the phone on that pressing a button to turn it on feels unnatural. In addition, I found having to depress the button in order to turn on the phone quite difficult when holding it normally as it requires a moderate amount of strength to depress. This would leave me feeling like I could drop my phone at any time. You can also use the included software to lock certain apps behind a fingerprint scan, which will definitely be useful to parents who want to lock off certain apps like Google Play from their kids. One impressive feature is assigning an app to a fingerprint, so I could use my pinky to immediately launch into Pokémon Go. The home button can be used as a shortcut as well. Gesture control is also a feature found in the phone, allowing you to double tap on the screen to wake or draw letters on the screen to quick launch into a specific app (with security turned off). I am always fond of these gestures, but it causes the phone to turn on in my pocket unless I place the phone in facing outwards. There is also a notification light and this light can be customized, albeit at a basic level. There are no granular controls for specific apps or even notifications within each app, for complete control over the notification light you will need to download a third party app for that. This phone comes in two variants, the 2GB version and the 3GB version. I’m currently reviewing the 3GB version. This phone glides through almost anything. Swiping between home screens, opening and closing apps was all extremely fluid, very reminiscent of the way the Oneplus 2 handled multitasking. Opening and closing pretty much any app that isn’t classified as a game opened more or less instantly, and with 3GB of RAM, it handled multitasking very well. I maxed out the RAM after opening more than 40 apps and not closing any of them. I don’t think I’ll ever reach that 40 app limit in my every day use, and neither will the majority of people. However, you will max out the 2GB version of the Flash Plus 2 much quicker than you will the 3GB version.
I threw a couple of games at the Alcatel Flash Plus 2, NOVA, Clash Royale, and Pokémon Go. It ran NOVA very well, and did not produce any visible stutter or lag. Less intense games like Clash Royale and Pokémon Go ran perfectly well. I also ran the obligatory Antutu benchmark and the Flash Plus 2 scored a respectable 52,000 points.
The Alcatel Flash Plus 2 comes with quad band GSM, WCDMA, and FDD-LTE. Please check with www.willmyphonework.net to ensure carrier compatibility. I was able to get 3G, HSPA, and 4G/LTE connectivity with ease, and the network speeds were great, as evidenced by the Speedtest results below.
I rarely drop back to 3G unless I’m in a deep basement or a dead zone. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity also performed well, with no issues with either. The GPS cold locked onto my location within 20 seconds, and warm locks were achieved under 5 seconds. GPS performance has been much improved on Mediatek chips, but there are still some issues. While the GPS quickly locked on to my location, it did not manage to stay on that location but rather jumped around in a radius of about 5 meters. While this is not desirable when navigating small, tight city streets, it is desirable while playing Pokémon Go. As long as you’re within 10 meters of a Pokémon, you can catch it, and leaving the game will think that you are walking every time the GPS jumps, so if you leave the game running, you can easily hatch your eggs while doing nothing.
Alcatel Flash Plus 2’s Camera
The original Alcatel Flash Plus was advertised as a camera centric phone, and the same goes for the Flash Plus 2. Thankfully, the cameras do a good enough job. The rear facing 13MP wide angle camera takes good photos in good lighting conditions. More than sufficient detail is captured in each shot, and I would say that under the most ideal conditions, it can take some pretty crispy photos.
Captured colour is also pleasing to the eye; colours are deep and contrasty. I’ve discovered that if you take a photo directly opposite the sun, the camera tends to overcompensate, blowing out the exposure to undarken your face. However, just changing the angle of your shot by a few degrees should fix this.
Low light performance is actually not as bad as I thought. While it’s nowhere near the Galaxy S7, it is competent enough to take casual photos in the dark and the flash helps at close range.
The front facing 5MP camera is also wide angle and takes competent selfies in daylight. However, low light performance is grainy and underexposed. The video quality is a different story. Video filmed at 1080p in good lighting conditions is acceptable. However, the darker it gets, the worse video footage is, with much clearer evidence of grain and oversharpening. While the camera will fulfill the average person’s camera needs, it is a far cry from the picture and video quality that a camera centric phone should achieve.
Verdict of Alcatel Flash Plus 2 review
The newly independent Flash 3C has done it. Their very first smartphone has nailed almost all the important points of a budget smartphone, most importantly the price. If you are reading this review, budget is probably near the top of your list. As of August 2016, this is the cheapest Helio P10 device you can get. Not only does it pack impressive specs at a low price point, it lacks in few areas and impresses in others. A metal backplate hides the plastic body, fooling you (most of the time) into thinking this is a metal unibody device. The full HD 5.5” screen is quite impressive, especially at this price range and the Helio P10 processor provides the user with more than enough power for most things. The weakest aspect of this device is its camera, while more than sufficient for the average user, will come up short against anyone wanting more. On the flipside, someone looking for an audio centric phone without paying top dollar has come to the right place; first class speaker quality and top notch audio delivered to earphones of your choice. You might not even be a budget user but just want a device to listen to your music without having to carry around an extra dedicated DAP. Or maybe you really want to let the world know you’re playing Pokémon Go while walking through the street. Well fear not, the Alcatel Flash Plus 2 has your back. The very loud and high quality speaker will let anyone and everyone know in no uncertain terms that you are out to catch ‘em all. Most importantly, if you are on a tight budget and want to get some serious value for your money, this phone will get you the best specs you can obtain for $160. Just make sure that you are OK with forgoing top notch camera performance.