Review: Wind Mobile Alcatel Tribe

Wind Mobile has expanded their selection of devices, with their latest Android smartphone, the Alcatel Tribe OT-981. This device sports a 2.8” touchscreen display, with a resolution of 240 x 320 QVGA (no pinch-zoom capabilities), and a slide out, QWERTY keyboard. The Tribe is approximately 112.5mm (tall) by 60.4mm (wide) by 15.9mm (thick) and weighs around 152g.

The Tribe is very light (only 152g), compared to other Android devices on the market, and easily fits into the palm of your hand. The device is covered in a soft, black, plastic bezel with a silver trim, which is resistant to fingerprints and minor cosmetics scratches. The front of the phone sports a 2.8” touchscreen with five hard-key shortcut buttons located underneath (Phone, Options, Home, Back, End/Power). I really enjoyed the shape and size of this device, and was a nice alternative to other larger Android phones currently on the market.
SIDE NOTE: Upon observation, it seems that Alcatel could have offered a bigger screen by lowering these buttons on the face of the device, or even including them as soft touch keys (similar to HTC).

The right side of the device houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rockers, and a microUSB port for charging/computer connectivity. It should be noted that the top, bottom, and left side of the device do not house any features, making the lack of a camera button/shortcut and truly annoying. The back of the phone houses a small 2.0MP camera with video capabilities, as well as a small speaker for speakerphone.
SIDE NOTE: Alcatel has included two cables for the device, an AC charger, and a USB cable to connect to the computer. The AC charger is your typical “old school” charger and not similar to the more recent option of a USB cable with a removable AC-wall adapter component.

The battery door/back panel of the device can be easily removed via the small notch in the top right corner. This is another welcomed alternative to the usual battery door on other smartphones, which require the user to fiddle with interlocking groves. The Tribe comes with a 1150mAh battery, which advertises 360 minutes of talk time, and/or 400 hours of standby time. The Tribe also has a microSD slot, which supports up to 16GB. Wind has included a 2GB microSD card with the purchase of this device.
SIDE NOTE: In order to input/remove a microSD card, the battery door must be removed, since there are no exposed ports on the sides of the device.

The front of the Tribe slides up to reveal a nice, rubber-button, raised QWERTY keyboard. The hinge and sliding movements on this device feels very safe, stable and durable (it requires a violent swing to fling the Tribe shut while holding the sides of the phone). The raised rubber keys on the QWERTY keyboard allow the user to easily type messages and emails with comfort and accuracy. A virtual keyboard is also present for touchscreen use (see PERFORMANCE). It should be noted that the keyboard can be illuminated with a backlight, which automatically turns on when the lights are dimmed.

The Alcatel Tribe comes preloaded with Android 2.1 (Éclair), along with 512MB internal memory, and supports AWS 1700/2100 GSM 1900, 1800, 900, 850 MHz networks. The Tribe advertises network speeds of up to 7.20 Mbps (download) and 5.76 Mbps (upload). The phone is powered by a 1150mAh battery, with up to 360 minutes of talk time, and/or 400 hours of standby time. The Alcatel Tribe supports GPS, +AGPS, and Bluetooth, while housing a WiFi 802.11 b/g card for WiFi support. It should be noted that most new smartphones ship with wireless “N” capability for increased speeds/connectivity and the lack of this support on this device is unsatisfactory.

In order to navigate the device, the user must utilize the touchscreen, which proved to be very unresponsive and inaccurate. I tested the accuracy through gaming and text messaging activities, and I was very disappointed. Playing Mah-jongg proved to be very frustrating as I had trouble selecting the desired tiles. Text messaging or any sort of typing on the virtual keyboard was impossible. The keys were not spaced far enough apart, making it very difficult to type a coherent message after numerous attempts. I even had a friend with smaller fingers test the virtual keyboard, and they also were unable to type properly. However, the physical QWERTY keyboard solved these problems and allowed me to easily type anything I wanted. In the end, I must say that my experience with the touchscreen on the Tribe was lackluster and disappointing, and I hope that Alcatel addresses these issues for any future touchscreen devices. The battery for this phone performed very well, and came close to the advertised specs by Alcatel, with average phone call/messaging use, and light browsing. I was never able to hit anywhere close to the network speeds as advertised by Wind Mobile and Alcatel.

The look and feel of the software on this device seems very cartoony and more user friendly driven. It was very easy to navigate through the various menus and screens of the Tribe and the use of multiple home screens give the user many options for customization. The Tribe does come preloaded with many useful apps for everyday use, including Facebook, AccuWeather, Radio, Games, Documents, Twidroyd, etc. Android 2.1 comes with a Gmail app for IMAP/POP3 email support. The Messages app allows for multi instant messaging, SMS and MMS support, and threaded conversation capabilities.

The browser was able to smoothly load various web pages and the “Windows” function allows the user to open multiple websites at the same time. This functionality greatly enhanced my browsing experience and allowed me to open my email, news, sports, and tech websites all at once, as if I was on my computer. The only thing missing was pinch-zoom integration, which is vital for any touchscreen device.

The Alcatel Tribe is definitely a step in the right direction for Wind Mobile, in order to expand on their Android offerings and increase their attractiveness as a new service provider. This device is geared towards lower end users, looking for an easy to use smartphone, with all the basic features currently being offered (Android OS, touch screen, sleek/compact design, WiFi capability, cost effective etc.). The Alcatel Tribe is the perfect device for any consumer making the jump to a smartphone and anyone looking for a compact phone with slide out keyboard. The Alcatel Tribe OT-981 is currently available with Wind Mobile in Canada, under the following pricing structure:
• $190.00 (outright)
• $40.00 (WINDTab)