Alcatel’s Budget Chic Pop 4 Phone Bursts Out in Three Flavors

BARCELONA — While much of attention given to Alcatel at Mobile World Congress 2016 was in response to its new mid-range Idol 4 and 4s flagships, the company isn't ignoring the low-cost market. That’s where the new Pop 4 lineup, Alcatel’s second set of smartphone announcements for MWC, comes in.

Alcatel’s Pop 4 line comes in three variations starting with the standard €129 Pop 4 before moving on to the €149 Pop 4 Plus and finally the €199 Pop 4s. The Pop 4 line aims to give its owners a wide range of options, both in terms of specs when they buy the phone, and a huge amount of stylish back plates for after they take the phone home.

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Alcatel starts with a refined, but still affordable base in the Pop 4, and then adds on features as you move higher in the Pop 4 range. The standard Pop 4 runs Android 6.0 and features a 5-inch 1280 x 720 display, 2,500 mAh battery, 1.1Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage and 32GB of microSD expansion. The Pop 4 also includes a 8-MP camera in back and a 5-MP selfie cam up front.

The next step up is the Pop 4 Plus which features a larger 5.5-inch 1280 x 720 display and bumps up the RAM and onboard storage to 1.5GB and 16GB, respectively; everything else stays the same as the Pop 4. Lastly the Pop 4s sits at the top of the series and features a full 1920 x 1080 display, Mediatek Helio octa-core chip, 2GB of RAM, 13-MP rear cam, expandable storage up to 64GB and a much larger 2,960 mAh battery. The 4s is also the only phone in the series boasting JBL speakers and a fingerprint sensors built into the home button.

But after you bring home your phone from the stores, Alcatel’s job isn’t done yet. The company offers a ton of colorful interchangeable backs across four different styles so you can swap out the rear cover plate as often as you change your clothes or hairstyle. You can choose from styles such as wood, leather, brushed metal and even baby skin.

Luckily, I got a chance to check out all three of the Pop 4 phones during MWC. After playing around with the regular Pop 4 and Pop 4 Plus, I went in depth with the Pop 4s. That’s not to say the less expensive models aren’t good, but I feel like the Pop 4s' balance between price and performance is an example of the kind of value Alcatel has become known for. Like its two other siblings, the Pop 4s felt solid despite its plastic back, although I wish the 4s had found room for its JBL speakers other than on its rear, as they sounded pretty decent, but are less effective while in their current location.

The real advantage the Pop 4s has over the other model is that it just feels peppier when navigating around Android Marshmallow, and its full HD display is nicer to look at too. And with its built-in fingerprint sensor, the Pop 4s compares pretty nicely to phones that cost two or three times as much.

So even though Alcatel’s €450 ($500) Idol 4s has pushed the price of mid-range phones up a bit, its Pop 4 line keeps the company grounded. While US pricing is still to be determined, the Pop 4s looks like the best version of Alcatel’s affordable but still feature-rich bunch when it and the rest of the Pop 4 lineup arrives sometime in late spring/early summer.

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).