There's a bit of cognitive dissonance involved when you name your budget smartphone the "Fierce XL." But that's what Alcatel has done with its low-price Windows Phone, which boasts a 5.5-inch 720p display, quad-core processor and 8-megapixel rear camera. Available for $139 through T-Mobile, the Fierce XL is a competent phone for those who want something large and cheap, but there's little else to make it stand out from the crowd.
Design: Oversized sameness
In a world where all smartphones are essentially rectangles with rounded corners, the Fierce XL is notable for its utterly boring sameness. A plastic back and rounded corners make it look like any other Windows Phone.
At almost 6 inches long, 3 inches wide and 0.38 inches thick, the Fierce XL falls on the larger side of phones these days. I had to stretch my thumb to reach the far side of the phone, but it still fit in my hand fairly comfortably.
The Fierce XL has a microUSB port at the bottom; the $129 ZTE Grand X 3 has a USB Type-C port, but I don't imagine the target audience for this phone would care about such a tech-forward connector.
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Display and Audio: Bright colors, hollow sound
The Fierce XL's 5.5-inch, 1280 x 720 display is good for a budget phone; the $99 ZTE Zmax 2 and $129 ZTE Grand X 3 both have screens that are the same size and resolution. The Huawei Honor 5X, which costs $70 more, has a sharper 1080p display.
When watching the Star Trek: Beyond trailer streamed from YouTube, colors — such as the red, yellow and blue of the Starfleet uniforms — were generally strong. However, pixelation was noticeable, especially where there were two contrasting elements, such as a person’s face against a white or black background.
Although it doesn't have the highest resolution, the Fierce XL's screen is certainly bright. At 479 nits, it outshone the Grand X 3 (457 nits) and Zmax 2 (380 nits), but fell short of the Honor 5X's 539-nit display. However, the Fierce could reproduce nearly all of the sRGB color gamut: 99.7 percent.
The lone rear speaker on the Fierce XL produced loud, but hollow audio. The aforementioned Star Trek trailer sounded like it was recorded in a tin can.
Slick Interface, But App Gap Continues
For all its other ills, Windows Phone's live-tile interface is miles better than those of Android and iOS. I love that I can customize the tiles, changing not only their size, but also their transparency, to let more of the background photo show through. I also like that the tiles can provide information at a glance, such as the weather or Facebook updates.
Holding the Windows button on the Fierce XL launches one-handed mode; similar to iOS, this scrunches all the icons down to the lower half of the screen, where they're easier to reach with your thumb.
At the top of the screen, icons let you know at a glance how much charge your battery has, and if you're connected to a network or Wi-Fi. Swipe down, and you get a larger list of quick settings. You can press some icons, such as the one for brightness, to open a larger menu that further adjusts settings.
A persistent bugaboo I have with Windows Phone's app page rears its head with the Fierce XL: It's laid out in one long page. Yes, you can search and there are letter shortcuts, but I wish you could group apps into folders.
Windows Phone has a perpetual app deficit compared to Android and iOS, and that persists with the Fierce XL. While you'll find a lot in common among all three operating systems — Uber, Shazam, Netflix, Amazon and Dropbox are all here — you won't find any native Google apps, such as YouTube, Gmail or Google Drive, on the Fierce XL.
Performance: Snappy enough
Powered by a 1.1-GHz quad core Qualcomm MSM8909 processor, 2GB RAM and 16GB ROM, the Fierce XL was pretty snappy when I was paging through apps and menus, but it's not the most powerful phone.
When I was playing Traffic Rider, the phone was able to keep up as my scooter zipped in amidst cars and trucks. However, when using the camera, it took about 2.5 seconds from the time I pressed the camera icon to when I could start shooting pictures. That said, the camera was fast from shot to shot.
In addition to its 16GB of onboard storage, the Fierce XL also has a microSD card slot — accessible by removing the back cover — which will let you store more photos, videos and music.
Camera: Low-resolution disappointment
The Fierce XL's 8-MP rear camera took decidedly poor photos. An outdoor shot of the Empire State Building was grainy, almost to the point where the building looked out of focus. Indoors, a bouquet of flowers also had a mottled appearance, and there was very little definition in the petals.
The one good shot I got out of the camera was a close-up of a rain-soaked rose. Even then, though, I spotted a bit of blurriness among the petals.
The selfies I took with the front 2-MP camera were good for video chats but not much more. My brown hair was a blob, and while my skin tones were accurate, the alternating blue and green stripes on my shirt all came out looking the same: gray.
I like that I could quickly change settings — such as white balance, ISO, exposure compensation and shutter speed — but the camera app curiously does not let you adjust photo resolution.
The Fierce XL records video at a max of 1280 x 720p at 30 frames per second. My footage of the Flatiron building was good, but not great. While colors, such as a yellow and a lime-green taxicab, were accurate, there was a definite lack of detail in the buildings. There was also a gurgling in the audio, which made it sound like I recorded the clip underwater.
Battery Life: 8 hours, but just barely
T-Mobile says the Fierce XL should last up to 14 hours on talk time. On our Battery Test, which simulates web surfing over LTE with the screen set to 150 nits, the phone lasted 8 hours and 14 minutes. That's about 10 minutes less than the average smartphone, an hour less than the Honor 5X and 3 hours less than the Grand X 3, which lasted nearly 11.5 hours on Cricket's network.
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The Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL is a capable large-screen phone for those who don't want to spend a lot and like what Windows Phone 10 has to offer. While there's no standout feature, the device performs well for a budget phone. Be prepared for a lack of apps compared to Android and iOS (something Windows Phone fans have likely come to grips with) and a poor camera (something they shouldn't have to settle for). If you want to give Windows a whirl, though, the Fierce XL is an inexpensive way to do it.