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 another era, with creaky components that make it unusable for anything other than light calls.
- Very cheap
- Very small and light
- Terrible execution
- Outdated design
- Terrible camera
- Alarming battery discharge under load
Very affordableAlcatel 1 (2021) is one of the cheapest smartphones you can buy in 2023
Small sizesThe compact form factor makes it easy to use with one hand
Android GoThe phone runs a clean, stripped-down version of Android
The Alcatel brand has a claim to prominence in the Android ecosystem. The Alcatel 1X was the very first Android Go phone launched in February 2018.
I was reminded of this fact when I reread my review of the next phone, the Alcatel 1 (2018), in preparation for my Alcatel 1 (2021) review. There aren’t many smartphones selling for under £100 anymore, so I thought the refresh would prove valuable.
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), only sold for even less.
Today, the Alcatel 1 (2021) can be purchased for around £40 at major retailers. It’s cheap, but is it good?
Design and screen
- Just like the Alcatel 1 (2018)
- Removable back and battery
- Poor 5 inch TFT LCD
The Alcatel 1 (2021) is so old school that it comes out of the box with the back cover and battery removed. You have to insert the SIM card (thankfully a nano) into the little slot under the cover, just like you did with the old Nokia feature phones.
It’s a cheap phone with a thick plastic body and huge display bezels. One of the rare advantages of the last point is the absence of a display with holes, which allows you to get an absolutely unobstructed image.
Despite those 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, feels big next to 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 any 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’ve already mentioned one of the main reasons for this old-school feel: the Alcatel 1 (2021) is actually the Alcatel 1 (2018). It has the same design and dimensions: 137.6 x 65.7 x 9.8mm body and 134g weight.
This extends to the phone’s display, which is the same 5-inch 960 x 480 TFT LCD. In my Alcatel 1 (2018) review, I called this panel “a small, dim, blurry and overly reflective screen that’s nearly impossible to use outdoors in broad daylight.” Can you guess what I’m thinking about here in early 2023?
You certainly have to consider this low cost, but bad is bad. Saving £20 – or even £120 over a regular ‘cheap’ phone – doesn’t change that.
Viewing angles are still terrible, making the screen virtually impossible to view at an angle. Colors are washed out, and there is no such thing as “black”, just a murky gray.
About the only positive thing I can say about the Alcatel 1 (2021)’s display is that it’s easy to use with one hand, which is a foreign concept to most Android phones today. There are no obstructions on it either, which is always nice.
- The main camera is 5 MP
- 2 MP selfie camera
- Terrible photos in any conditions
The Alcatel 1 (2021) has the same camera setup as before, which means a single 5MP rear camera and a 2MP selfie camera.
There is nothing good about anything. The main camera takes blurry, blurry shots even in reasonable outdoor conditions and really struggles with any large variations in light and shadow. There is no form of HDR compensation.
No light produces even dimmer and noisier results, and shooting at night is a big no-no. Needless to say, there is no special night mode.
It’s often gracious with lesser smartphone cameras that it’s good for social media posts, but this time I wouldn’t even make that judgmental concession with faint praise. It’s just awful.
The selfie camera is even worse, producing noisy images with flat objects and dull skin tones. ugh.
- An ancient, creaky Mediatek MT6739
- Only 1GB of RAM
- Very poor test results
If the Alcatel 1 (2021) keeps the poor display of its three-year-older twin bad enough, consider the fact that it also packs the exact same Mediatek MT6739 processor.
“This is another example of a spec that seems to come from the smartphone past,” I said from the depths of winter 2018. At the beginning of 2023, this component became practically a fossil.
Unsurprisingly, Genshin Impact doesn’t even install on the Alcatel 1 (2021). It’s a bit more surprising that Vampire Survivors is a more recent, but clearly less technically demanding 2D game.
Alcatel 1 (2021)’s paltry 1GB of RAM is likely to blame. These days, we usually balk when a phone only has 2GB or even 3GB of RAM, so 1GB is a bit intimidating.
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. Also, don’t expect to jump into the camera app when you spot a photo opportunity.
With that in mind, the overall results of the Alcatel 1 (2021) make for ugly reading. Geekbench 5’s average multi-core score of 165 and single-core score of 79 puts the Alcatel 1 (2021) at the bottom of the smartphone performance table.
You get 16GB of internal storage as standard, which seems almost unbelievably small by today’s standards. Even phones costing less than £200 have started to come with 128GB of internal storage.
Android 11 (Go version) installs immediately. This is the main (and perhaps the only) change compared to the Alcatel 1 (2018), which came with Android 8.1.
It’s a clean, seriously dressed-up look at Google’s OS. You’ll find easy alternatives to the usual fare, like the Gallery app instead of Google Photos. Obviously, this is done to keep things moving to a great extent, despite the modest hardware.
As it turns out, it’s a futile gesture because the Alcatel 1 (2021) is an absolute pain to use. But Android Go’s no-frills OS, which does its best to stay away from you, won’t get in the way.
- A small battery with a capacity of 2000 mAh is enough for a day of light use
- Playing media drains power extremely quickly
- Charging takes hours
Like its predecessor, the Alcatel 1 (2021) only comes with a 2,000mAh battery. That’s less than half the capacity of most modern Android phones.
Of course, with such an unusually small, dim and pixel-poor display, this battery needs a lot less action than usual. Meanwhile, with such limited performance, you won’t want to use the phone for anything more than light phone calls. Under these conditions, it will help you live a whole day without any problems.
However, any form of media will hit hard. An hour of Netflix streaming cuts 18% of a full charge, and an hour of YouTube Music streaming cuts 7%. In comparison, Moto G22 (a very typical affordable phone) lost 3% and 1% respectively in the same tests.
Continuing with the look of the old phone, you’ll need to recharge using the included Micro USB charger. Despite the phone’s tiny battery, it takes an absolute age. I put it on charge with 43% left in the tank and it took two hours to get to 93%.
Is it worth buying?
You literally have £40 and no more to spend. There are very few smartphones that can be bought for as little as £40. This is the whole reason for the Alcatel 1 (2021).
You like to take any pictures on your phone. The Alcatel 1 (2021) has a really terrible camera that takes terrible pictures in any lighting.
It’s 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 those best cheap phones.
The phone’s stifled performance, alarming battery life under load, and terrible 5-inch display make it unsuitable for all but the lightest of tasks. Browsing web pages, playing games and playing multimedia are all severely hampered, while the camera does not produce acceptable results in almost any lighting conditions.
If you absolutely can’t spend more than £40 on a phone and only need it for the lightest and most casual of tasks, the Alcatel 1 (2021) could be the way to go. Otherwise, we’d ask you to save a little more, spend a little more, and achieve the bare minimum of all-round use.
How we test
We thoroughly test every mobile phone we review. We use standard industry tests to properly compare features and use the phone as the primary device during the test period. We will always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept payment for a product review.
Photos taken in different lighting conditions
Performance is tested both in real-world conditions and with reference programs
Used as a primary phone for a few days
Yes, you will find the charger in the box with the phone.
Trusted Reviews test data
A set of microcircuits
Alcatel 1 (2021)
65.7 x 137.6 x 9.8 mm
960 x 480
Micro USB, 3.5 mm connector