How do you make giant phablets more palatable to the masses? Apple and Samsung offer one-handed modes, but Alcatel's answer with the Pop Mega is to give buyers an extra device that slips easily into a pocket and serves up notifications, calls and messages. It sounds a little ridiculous, but the two-device bundle will cost less than $250 in total.
The combo will be available on TracFone's Straight Talk plans via Walmarts nationwide this October. At launch, each Pop Mega will come with the Buddy companion device, while supplies last.
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I got an early look at the devices, and was intrigued by the idea of a separate phone for a phablet. The Buddy is a small 4.4 x 1.7 x 0.36-inch device that features a number pad, four-directional controls, menu, call and reject buttons. It connects to the Mega (and potentially other devices in future) via Bluetooth, so you can receive notifications, messages and calls on its 2-inch display while keeping your large phablet tucked away in your backpack or purse. The Buddy is kind of like a smartwatch.
You'll also be able to make calls and send texts on the Buddy, which carries a 290-mAH battery. Alcatel says it intends to release the Buddy as a standalone product in the future, but has yet to confirm a date or price. I liked the Buddy's build -- it feels more like a smooth, glossy remote control than a primitive feature phone.
The Mega itself features a bright qHD (960 x 540) display that was impressively vibrant during my time with it. I also liked its soft-touch back and rounded edges, which make a device this size easier to grip. The phablet also carries a large 3,400-mAH battery and runs a relatively clean version of Android 4.3 with some small Alcatel tweaks (mostly aesthetic).
I liked Alcatel's fun Expression shutter feature for selfies, which takes four different pictures in a series when it detects a change in expression, then stitches them together.
With a 1.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor backed by 1GB of RAM and 4GB of ROM, the Pop Mega seemed snappy during my hands-on time with it. The camera app loaded quickly, while swiping between home screens was smooth. The rear camera is 8 megapixels while the front one is 2 MP.
It's not the most impressive phone specs-wise, but the appeal of the Pop Mega lies in its value. The Mega's closest competitor is the ZTE ZMAX, a 5.7-inch phablet with a 720p display for $250 unlocked on T-Mobile. While both phablets have the same sized battery and similar guts, only Alcatel gives you two devices for the price of one.
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