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Can LEDs Make Alcatel's Midrange A5 Phone Shine?

For its next U.S.-bound smartphone, Alcatel is turning to a trusted source to put the finishing touches on the phone's design and features — you.

The Alcatel A5 LED features a back panel that you can swap out to add different looks and functionality to the mid-range smartphone. The features Alcatel is touting include a light-up LED cover along with add-ons such as a battery pack and a kickstand-equipped speaker. At its Mobile World Congress press event, Alcatel said the phone would ship in April for €199. A U.S. price and release date hasn't been announced, though an Alcatel rep told us to expect the A5 LED to reach the U.S. at some point this year.

Alcatel A5 LED

Alcatel A5 LED

The ability to swap out back panels sounds a lot like the modular design LG tried to popularize with last year's G5. And maybe the fact that LG has abandoned that design with the G6 announced earlier this week at Mobile World Congress is why Alcatel is using the word "customizable" instead of "modular" to describe the A5's standout feature.

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You may not want to remove that LED back cover anyhow. The back panel is adorned with LEDs that light up in assorted patterns that you can pick out on a companion app. The LED cover can also pulse in time with music that you play on the phone, lighting up to accentuate bass notes. More practically, you can customize the phone to light up in a certain way to alert you of incoming messages or notifications from your favorite social networking apps.

You control the paterns that light up the A5 LED.

You control the paterns that light up the A5 LED.

If you want something even more practical on the back of your phone, the A5 LED lets you remove that panel in favor of other add-ons, like a 3000 mAh battery that snaps onto the back of the A5 to augment the phone's own power pack. The battery snap-on is particularly noteworthy in that it doesn't add a lot of bulk to an otherwise slender 5.2-inch smartphone. At MWC, Alcatel showed off a speaker add-on, too, which includes a kickstand for propping up the A5 as you blast movies or music out of the rear speaker.

We swappeed out the LED cover for a kickstand-equipped speaker.

We swappeed out the LED cover for a kickstand-equipped speaker.

The A5 LED's customizability doesn't end with the phone's exterior. A new version of the Color Catcher app previously found in Alcatel's Pop phones lets you snap pictures of eye-catching colors, converting your phone's wallpaper and theme to match whatever color tone strikes your fancy. During my hands-on time with the phone, I used Color Catcher to shoot a wooden table. The resulting brown color turned the wallpaper on the A5 into a mocha swirl, while the apps took on a darkened hue.

The A5 LED after Color Catcher has its way with the wallpaper and icons.

The A5 LED after Color Catcher has its way with the wallpaper and icons.

These customization features disguise what are some fairly pedestrian specs for the A5 LED. Alcatel promises an octa-core CPU for the phone, along with a modest 2GB of RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage. The A5 will feature an 8-megapixel rear camera along with a 5-MP shooter up front. And the phone will run Android Marshmallow as opposed to the latest version of Google's OS.

That suggests a smartphone that's squarely in the budget range. And the A5's less-than-standout specs will surely be acceptable if the price Alcatel ultimately sets turns out to be as compelling as its add-ons.

Alcatel unveiled two other handsets at Mobile World Congress, though neither one looks likely to land in the U.S. The U5 is an entry-level phone aimed at feature phone users looking to make the leap to smartphones. The 5-inch device features a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. Another 5-inch phone, the A3, puts the emphasis on cameras with a 13-MP rear camera and a 5-MP selfie cam; it also features a fingerprint sensor. As with the A5, Alcatel hasn't announced pricing on either phone yet.

Updated at 4:25 a.m. ET to include European pricing information.

Photo Credits: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide