Alcatel OneTouch

You may not have heard of TCL or it’s mobile handset brand Alcatel but according to Strategy Analytics, TCL-Alcatel became the sixth biggest mobile phone vendor in the world in the third quarter of 2013. Gartner puts it in eighth place for the same quarter.

TCL-Alcatel's global handset shipments are currently growing six times faster than the overall industry average, says Strategy Analytics

Recently, we’ve seen an impressive wave of smartphones in the Alcatel OneTouch Hero and OneTouch Idol lines. The transition from entry-level to mid-range and beyond is starting to pay off. So, what’s next?

Entry-level to mid-range

Alcatel Onetouch Brand Shot closeup

TCL-Alcatel’s success in mobile is rooted in delivering low-cost devices. Strategy Analytics suggests that its average selling price for a wholesale handset in Q3 2013 was just $45. Much of the business is still budget smartphones and feature phones, but we can see a rising desire to produce better quality hardware.

The company is focused on a “step-up” product strategy which has seen it start at the budget end of the handset market. Each year it improves the quality of its phones, looking to step up to the next market bracket.

Alcatel Onetouch Idol Brand AA-1

In 2012, Alcatel under-cut the competition with entry-level releases like the Alcatel OneTouch Shockwave with MetroPCS and in 2013, the OneTouch Fierce and OneTouch Evolve were made available with T-Mobile. Last year, at CES, we saw a serious statement of intent with the super-slim OneTouch Idol Ultra, the Scribe phablets, and the Evo 7 tablets.

Alcatel's new Pop 8 tablet

Alcatel’s new Pop 8 tablet

This year, Alcatel’s mid-range devices the OneTouch Idol and Idol Mini were released with Bell and Virgin Mobile in Canada. It now has the tablet market firmly in its sights with rumors that the POP 7 and POP 8 tablets will be released in North America later this year. TCL-Alcatel wants to challenge the mass market and take on not just Chinese rivals ZTE and Huawei, but LG and Samsung as well. Is it in with a chance?

The Creative Life

TCL the creative life

The TCL Corporation was founded in 1981 and incorporated in 1985 with Hong Kong-based investors. It initially produced consumer electronics for the domestic market, particularly TVs. It manufactured various firsts for the Chinese market, including the first wireless land-line phone, first 28-inch color TV, and the first laptop with a dual-core processor.

By the time the millennium had arrived, TCL encompassed various companies and business wings, including the TCL Mobile Communication Company established in 1999. It was rapidly expanding its business beyond China and in 2001 the company restructured itself dramatically as it sought to ready itself for global expansion, following it being listed on the Shenzen Stock Exchange in 2004.

Expanding beyond China

TCL Ironman CES 2013 710

The path to international success started with a focus on emerging markets, but TCL felt partners were required to help it break into the European and American markets.

It found allies in Europe towards the end of 2003, announcing a partnership with Thomson, a French company. Thomson did a deal with General Electric to sell TVs under the RCA and GE brands in the States. Starting with an output of 18 million TV sets a year, this partnership set TCL on course to become the biggest TV brand in China by 2012, supplying Samsung, amongst others, along the way.

CSOT-110-inch-LCD-Cropped 710

In 2004 there was another important deal in France, this time with Alcatel-Lucent, to create a mobile phone business. TCL took an initial 55 percent stake, but just a year down the line it bought Alcatel-Lucent out. By 2007 TCL was the sixth largest consumer electronics company in China. It announced that TCL (which had never been explained before) stands for The Creative Life, and there was talk of moving away from the Alcatel brand, though this has yet to transpire.

Alcatel’s assault on mobile

 Alcatel One Touch Growth

When TCL bought Alcatel out of the mobile phone business it was actually taking a loss, but it soon managed to turn a profit. The initial expansion saw major gains in emerging markets with low-end hardware, particularly in GPRS feature phones.

Alcatel One Touch Search Growth 2014

With a strong presence at the budget end of the market, it has performed particularly well in Central and South America, where it boasted a 13% market share in Q3 2013. Strangely, the company had just a 1% share of the mobile handset market in China, around 5% in Europe, and about 2% in the United States.

TCL-Alcatel's rapid growth now represents a credible threat to mass-market global brands like Samsung, Nokia, ZTE, Huawei, LG, Lenovo and others

Who’s the thinnest of them all?

One Touch Idol Ultra

To give you an idea of the level we’re talking about, the OneTouch Idol Ultra had a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, a 4.7-inch 720p Super AMOLED display, 1GB of RAM, an 8MP camera, and ran Android 4.1 And, while some might decry thin fanaticism, it was a remarkable feat when it was announced at CES, in January 2013. It was also just 6.45mm thick, making it the thinnest in the world at the time. Later, Huawei’s Ascend P6  would take the title at 6.18mm, and, in case you’re wondering, the current slimmest phone in the world is the Vivo X3 at 5.75mm. Vivo is owned by BBK, which also owns Oppo.

Sadly the Ultra never got a U.S. release, but the less impressive One Touch Idol did land for $300 after an Iron Man 3 product placement. The lack of carrier partners probably didn’t do it any favors as interested consumers could only purchase it direct from the website.

Stepping it up again

We like a company that takes CES seriously and TCL-Alcatel really stepped it up this year. We got our hands on the One Touch Idol X+ and there was also the mid-range Pop C9 phablet, and the distinctly low-end Pop 7 and Pop 8 tablets.

The One Touch Idol X+ is packing a 2GHz MediaTek octa-core processor, a 5-inch 1080p display, 16GB or 32GB of storage, a 13.1MP main camera, a 2MP front camera, and a 2,500 mAh rated battery. It runs Android 4.2 out of the box. It’s not vying for the slim crown, but it’s no chubby either, at 7.9mm.

We were further impressed by the somewhat exceptional OneTouch Hero, which manages to fit a disturbingly large display in a very tight form factor, with good specs to boot. Especially when you consider its price point, it gets all the more impressive.

But again, it’s the price point and specs of these devices that appeals to us, and we’re keen to get our hands on more quality devices at ever aggressive price points. Better tech for less money is a win win for everyone, after all.

Alcatel OneTouch Hero Display Bottom Bezel Thin Hands On Front CES 2014 AA -5

What do you think a phones like the Idol X+ might cost? At first we heard that it would be “under $350”, but the latest reports are suggesting that the price could even go as low as $250. And you thought the Nexus 5 was cheap. Regarding the OneTouch Hero, it’s likely to be had for a sub $300 price point, which is a strategy we’d like to see larger players in the Android space pursue.

What’s the catch?

Alcatel Onetouch Hero-1

The hardware looks absolutely stunning at that price; the main catch is that TCL-Alcatel doesn’t have a lot of strong carrier partnerships. That means you’ll probably have to buy the Idol X+ from the company direct, but at $250 it’s not so much of a stretch.

There was also news at CES this year that the old Idol X and Idol Mini are getting Canadian releases on Virgin Mobile and Bell Mobility, so the company is clearly working on building bridges with carriers. Stateside, we’ve received word that Alcatel will be debuting two devices on two major carriers in the second half of 2014, but that’s unconfirmed for now.

Alcatel OneTouch Idol X+ Hands On Front Rear Side CES 2014 AA -45

The Idol X+ is already available in China and it is all set for a European release next month, there’s no word on the U.S. and Canada just yet. Could it be the breakthrough device that catapults Alcatel into the public consciousness? Aren’t you just a little tempted at that price? There’s no doubt TCL-Alcatel has a ways to go to compete with the likes of LG and Samsung, but this is an impressive step up to kick off 2014. How good can inexpensive devices get? Impressed with what you see? As always, we welcome and appreciate your thoughts.

Simon Hill
Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in game development. He writes for various websites and magazines about the world of tech and entertainment. He uses Android every day and is currently permanently attached to his Galaxy Note 5.
  • RanRu

    Octa-core processor and 1080p screen? I’m curious how long those 2,500 mAh can can carry it.

    On another note, my friend got an Alcatel phone (either the Fierce or Evolve, I don’t recall) and it’s dreadful in almost every way. Phones like that leave a very bad impression for a company. Especially one that doesn’t have enough history that people can dismiss it as a fluke.

    • Eske Rahn

      No wonder Android phones are the same battery killers. Yeah, from now on, octa core is the minimum system requirement for Android. But the question is that can it handle the lag?

    • MasterMuffin

      It’s Cortex A-7 not A-9 or A-15 so it doesn’t kill your battery but still offers performance

      • Precisely right, MasterMuffin. People assume more cores = more battery usage, but that is simply not the case. And the AndroidLag commenter is banned for life, at an IP everything level. Anyway, what we’re looking at here is very simple. A company that is shaking up the space by offering great tech at fantastic price points. What’s not to love? Stock?

        • MasterMuffin

          Well stock would be nice :D

          • Companies could save so much money on development and gain tons of love from consumers if they just adopted a pure Android experience. OEM’s will always be many steps behind the geniuses at Google.

          • MasterMuffin

            I don’t mind options, because some people think that stock is ugly, but nowadays I prefer stock too, because my S3 was so much slower with TW than with any poorly optimized AOSP ROM! I hope that maybe someday Google will put some sort of multiwindow in Android (though I doubt it), immersive mode system wide, option for lock screen notifications and a possibility to block calls (seriously, why is that not there o.O). Also the camera software needs still some work!

            If OEM’s really want to have their own skins, they should at least be open to the dev community like OPPO and make it easy to switch to stock. I also like the idea of modified stock (like what Motorola does), add stuff like your own camera app and few cool festures but nothing too heavy

        • Jayfeather787

          Thanks for getting rid of that fool. Also the more cores that anything has, the more efficient it becomes, and instead of taxing one core very hard, it can spread the load across all the cores to improve battery life. Also, multi-core processors are newer so they have better architecture that also improves efficiency and battery life.

      • Guest
        • MasterMuffin

          Yea it explodes when it sees an idiot like you, I think that’s smart!

          • Sorry MasterMuffin, GSMArena and Android Authority have been dealing a spammer, he has no soul, is misinformed, and keeps switching VPN’s. We are in the process of upgrading our comment system. Thank you for your comments! Let me know if he grows to be too much of a nuisance; let’s keep the conversation going forward. :)

          • MasterMuffin

            Spammers are becoming smarter :O Good that you’ve got him!

          • tocsin

            God he must have no life to go through all that trouble of changing vpns every time. And for what? Attention probably better just to ignore them.

          • People go to great lengths to be disruptive and detract from the debate at large. If he had relevant, intelligent things to add, it would be different, but he was simply toxic, therefore deleted and blocked for life. Can’t we just talk about Android, great mobile technology, and advance the debate and community at large?

          • We’re on it man! Thanks for being part of Android Authority!

          • Ballmer

            Dear Mr. Alexander,

            Please unblock my old account which has hundred comments. I will comment in peace, promise !
            Here is the link of my old disqus account:

      • Guest

        I’m just curious! why does my samsung s4 with professional 8
        cores forced closed even when i opened facebook app? :(

        • MasterMuffin

          Because FC has nothing to do with the amount of cores :)

    • Guest

      my professonal 8 core samsung is lagging, can u hlep me? :(

  • thartist

    I’m sorry but No. These Chinese manufacturers only look like they struggle to complete with cheap devices, old design choices like striving to be the slimmest (welcome 2011), cheap names, no interesting software features, mediocre hardware and no strong update policies. They don’t ring the bells of the the occident, to put it some way, they totally need to revamp their image to something more high profile then that.

    • Luka Mlinar

      Not sure why you got a ton of down votes. Maybe for calling a Franch company Chinese but the rest is more or less on the nose. Alcatel need to step up their game. No doubt there.

      • Guest

        Htc said to samsung: “cheap plastic is not fantastic my
        firend” :)

      • Guest

        My Samsung junk is optimised with only 8 cores for the beta
        forced closing and the lags with scolling stutters

    • Guest

      android has malwarezzz and lagzzzzzz. sold mine alrady coz
      it suckzzzzzz

      • Chris Harris

        If you ended up with malware it’s your own fault. Only a grade A jackass would do anything to their phone to even GET malware.

  • When you think about it, competition that results in better devices for less money is great for consumers. Alcatel, Meizu and Xiaomi are all a part of this; delivering more, for less than ‘others’. Look at the pressure Hyundai has imposed on Mercedes and others, for example. It drives innovation forward, and benefits us all.

  • Luka Mlinar

    I remember back in the day Alcatel had some really good phone. It had a great design, a UI with a lot of features. I just love how all their phones came with a dock. These days you need to look to china for a dock that might or might not fit your phone. After that 300, 500 and 700 line they just disappeared. When Android came they rushed into the low end cheap POS void. I agree, it does look like Alcatel is making a comeback of sorts, but it’s not as simple as putting a Snapdragon 800 in a peace of plastic with a G2 price tag. I am yet to see quality design and materials. I believe this is their biggest obstacle at the moment.

    • Guest

      we android dumb fans said YES to lag and bug. we also ask
      samsung to increase up to 1024 cores to secure the lag fix in the next android
      5.0. :(

  • mikeserafis

    I had an alcatel phone but i won’t buy again . They update the phone to ics for some countries and not mine . I had to root it and put custom roms . That’s the problem with chinese companies and not only . The don’t update their phones

    • Guest

      i thought u found a way to fight the lag in my proffessional
      8 core . sigh :(

  • Masaya Shida

    That pop 8 tablet looks as lame as an iPad =.=

    • Guest

      U decided to waste money with that cheap plastic samssung junk?
      kill urself!

  • Jayfeather787

    The UI looks similar to the one on the new Asus phones. Nothing wrong with it, just pointing it out.

  • ryq24

    I bet 99% of the people who bought an Alcatel phone did not know it is actually a TCL. And I bet if they knew most will not push through with their purchase. But in fairness, alcatel/TCL phones have great design.

    • I fell in love with the OneTouch Hero at first sight, I won’t lie. And then they told me the price and I was even more impressed. It’s going to be a great year for mobile technology lovers. Carriers in the US need to wake up and smell the coffee and get the latest tech out to market faster, despite the potential for them to cannibalize existing offerings. More competition, better tech, lower prices. We will fight for it!

  • CookieCrasher

    The fat cats are going to have to find a new liter box to sh*t in.

  • Luqmaan Mathee

    I just wish that mediatek releases their sources or else I won’t buy their phones because of no ROMs

  • Tyrone_83

    TCL-Alcatel to be a threat to Samsung, Nokia and all the other big time players? I highly doubt that. I have the Alcatel M’pop and it’s not even a month since I got the phone and I had to since it in twice to get it fixed because it reboots at random. Never ever I had a phone I had to get it fixed so fast. Usually 1-1.5 before I start seeing problems but 3 weeks into own a one? Never again. I sent emails and tweets but nobody has got back to me not even once.

  • sgamao

    I’m very late to comment this article but i think TCL/Alcatel should buy HTC and make just one big brand for all consumer electronics. From smartphones to tablets, to smart tvs and wearables, to music players to set top boxes.