Quirky form factors generally spell trouble when it comes to mobile phones. From split QWERTY keyboards to swivel screens, they always seem built to cover up a multitude of sins committed under the hood.

So, can the square clamshell Alcatel OT-808 really be any good? Or is it a case of looks trumping functionality?

Killer keyboard

Yes, the Alcatel OT-808 looks a bit, well, ridiculous. With a shiny pink finish and a square body, this is hardly a phone made for gadget fanatics to coo over. But put aside the rather irksome colour scheme and you’ll actually find that this budget effort is pretty smart.

Flip it open and you’ll find a full QWERTY panel nestling on the bottom half of the device, with a standard 240x320, 2.4in panel up top.

This is a phone aimed directly at the kids, for whom zipping off messages at lightning speed is key. And that’s where the Alcatel OT-808 really comes into its own. The keyboard is a real winner. Each button has a reassuring heft to it, rounded off to ensure you don’t end up tapping out texts with multiple spelling mistakes.

The space key is sizeable and although our hands felt a tad cramped, it was no more awkward to use than that on a BlackBerry Curve. We’d even go so far as to say that in terms of messaging, the Alcatel OT-808 is better than the Motorola Milestone.

Web wonder

OK, there’s no 3G or Wi-Fi here. And that is a shame, especially as a growing number of affordable phones are starting to come loaded up with HSDPA.

But this phone is still a bit of a web-based wonder, with dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps on board, Opera Mini preloaded and a capable, if not world-beating instant messaging app, which we found decent enough.

Sadly, while the web skills are surprisingly nifty, the camera is not really up to much. At 2MP, it’s fine for quick shots, but we really have come to expect better from cheap blowers. Nokia and HTC have led the way in this field, and Alcatel should be doing more to make its snappers better and easier to use.

It’s easy to dismiss Alcatel as a bargain brand, but the OT-808 does have its plus points. It’s not a phone for the hardcore smartphone fanatic, but it has some neat messaging nous that really makes it every bit as good as its basic rivals. If Nokia’s forthcoming X5 is anything as good, we’ll be surprised.

Stuff says... 

Alcatel OT-808 review

An average phone aside from the unique looks, but more than capable as a texting workhorse