Windows phones are an endangered species on most carriers these days. If you aren't an AT&T customer, your chances of finding a Windows 10 Mobile device are slim to none. The Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL ($139.99, full price) is a rarity—not only is it a Windows phone available on T-Mobile, it's also one of the few Windows phablets we've seen. The Fierce XL offers decent performance at an affordable price, but Windows still suffers from a lack of apps compared with iOS and Android. If you aren't a diehard Windows lover, there are plenty of affordable Android alternatives to choose from.
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Design, Display, and Features
The Fierce XL has a blue polycarbonate build that measures 5.98 by 3.06 by 0.37 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.14 ounces. You won't find a comparably sized phone in this price range on T-Mobile, but there are plenty of unlocked options, including the Blu Life One X (5.89 by 2.90 by 0.34 inches; 4.97 ounces) and the Huawei Honor 5X (5.96 by 3.00 by 0.32 inches; 5.57 ounces). Both offer thinner, more premium metal builds than the chunky, plastic Fierce XL. The phone is still usable one-handed despite its thick bezel and somewhat slippery build, but it isn't very comfortable.
There's a plastic power button and volume rocker on the right side of the phone, a 3.5mm audio jack on top, and a micro USB charging port on the bottom. The back is home to a camera sensor, a single LED flash, a narrow speaker grille, and an Alcatel logo. The panel peels off to give you access to a SIM card slot, as well as a microSD card slot that worked with a 200GB SanDisk card.
There's a 5.5-inch, 1,280-by-720 display on the front, with a row of backlit capacitive buttons underneath. It washes out a bit when you're not looking directly at it, and visibility isn't great outdoors, but it's still usable. You get higher-quality 1080p panels on both the Honor 5X and the Life One X, which is really the minimum resolution you should consider on a phablet if you're looking for truly sharp graphics.
Network Performance and Connectivity
The Fierce XL supporting GSM (850/1800/1900MHz), HSDPA (850/1700(AWS)/1900/2100MHz), and LTE (2/4/12) bands, which is the standard range of cellular connectivity for budget phones on T-Mobile. I tested network speeds in midtown Manhattan and found them to be average. Download speeds reached a high of 8Mbps, while uploads peaked at 6.5Mbps. There wasn't much difference in connectivity indoors or outside.
The Fierce XL can make cellular and Wi-Fi calls. Wi-Fi calls were reliable in testing, but had some echo to them. Standard cellular calls were better, with clear voices on both ends and loud earpiece volume.
The phone doesn't have dual-band Wi-Fi or NFC, but it supports Bluetooth.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
The Fierce XL has an entry-level Snapdragon 210 processor clocked at 1.1GHz. AnTuTu benchmark scores—which measure overall system performance—turned out to be surprisingly high given the relatively dated hardware. The Fierce XL scored 27,859, which is a lot higher than other Snapdragon 210 devices like the ZTE Obsidian (17,910), and understandably lower than the Snapdragon 616-powered Honor 5X (35,200).
Unfortunately, that relatively competitive score doesn't always translate into smooth performance. You'll find that switching between apps, swiping to new screens, and launching new apps are all sluggish. Gaming performance is also poor. Asphalt 8 runs at a low resolution, graphics are poorly rendered, and there's significant latency to the controls.
Battery life is solid. The phone lasted 5 hours and 8 minutes while streaming full-screen video over LTE at maximum brightness. That's on par with the Honor 5X (5 hours and 16 minutes), and better than the Life One X (4 hours and 4 minutes). You shouldn't have any trouble getting the Fierce XL to last all day, but the battery isn't removable.
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera does an okay job for the price, but I noticed some issues in post-processing. Outdoors shots are clear, and capture fine detail like leaves and tree branches with without much blur or noise. The problem is that the phone takes these reasonably good images and oversaturates the bright colors like green and red, making them unrealistically bright against an otherwise drab background. It's an odd and distracting effect. Video recording is decent, shooting 720p at 30fps, but it also suffers from the oversaturation issue. Indoor shots are more color-accurate, albeit a bit hazy in low-light conditions. The 2-megapixel front-facing sensor, on the other hand, is poor, taking grainy and out-of-focus images even in well-lit settings.
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Software and Conclusions
The Fierce XL runs the relatively new Windows 10 Mobile, which is fundamentally similar to previous versions of the OS, retaining a home screen full of resizable tiles with information that updates on the fly. Swiping right takes you to a search bar with an alphabetized list of apps. It's the same experience you'll get on flagship phones, like the Lumia 950, but it's missing two key features that make new Windows devices compelling: Continuum and Windows Hello. Continuum allows you to hook your phone up to a monitor and keyboard and use it like a desktop PC, while Windows Hello uses an iris scanner to unlock your phone.
Overall, Windows 10 Mobile is a light software load, leaving 14.6GB free out of the available 16GB. There's no carrier bloatware aside from a T-Mobile Account app and T-Mobile TV. There are a number of Microsoft apps, like Microsoft Edge, OneDrive, Outlook, Skype, and Xbox, which all provide useful functionality and are key parts of Microsoft's ecosystem.
The biggest problem is that Windows 10 Mobile remains the redheaded stepchild of phone operating systems. App developers simply don't see the need to spend the time or money developing apps for an ecosystem that had just 2.7 percent market share earlier this year. This means that apps many people (myself included) use on a day-to-day basis, like Lyft, Snapchat, Google Docs, and Google Photos, are missing from the Windows Store. Others, like Slack, are still in beta, and aren't as well-supported or frequently updated as their Android or iOS counterparts. If you're looking to use the same apps as all your friends, you've come to the wrong platform.
That said, the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL is an otherwise capable phablet, and you won't find a device of a similar size and price in T-Mobile's lineup. But if you're willing to go the unlocked route, both the Blu Life One X and the Huawei Honor 5X offer better builds, faster hardware, nicer displays, and a more comprehensive Android app ecosystem for a similar price. Unless you're a true Windows enthusiast, you're better off picking an Android alternative.