The phone world is full of gimmicky-sounding stuff - but nothing comes close to the Alcatel A5-LED and its illuminated light show.
This is an absolutely mad phone that packs a wedding DJ’s sketchy disco lighting rig onto its back.
That might sound like the phone equivalent of booking a magician for your friend’s 30th Birthday: embarrassing for everyone involved. But in action, the Alcatel’s light show looks far cooler than it has any right to.
It’s a shame, then, that the phone underneath is a bit of a stinker, suffering from serious performance issues and a low-quality camera.
Alcatel A5-LED Design: Super Laser Disco 2000
First off, let’s get to the bottom of how the Alcatel A5’s LED-covered back works. A 4x9 array of multi-colour LEDs sits behind a thin translucent layer of plastic and mock grille pattern built into the back.
Putting these layers between you and the LEDs is why the Alcatel A5 LED looks far less cheesy than it could, as the light is diffused rather than in-your-face. But, yes, it does and always was going to have a whiff of brie hanging around it.
The LEDs fire off when you take the phone out of standby, when you get a call or notification, or when you play music. An app called Light Show even lets you choose exactly which kind of show the A5 LED puts on.
There are virtual fireworks, a virtual fire and a few that fling waves of colour-changing LEDs down the phone’s back, (vaguely) in time with your tunes. For those after a more DJ-like look, one called Rhythm acts like a spectrum analyser, dancing around to the music’s waveforms.
Can’t you picture the 14 year-old Stormzy wannabes waving it about on the bus as the rest of the passengers quietly lose the will to live?
The Alcatel A5 LED isn’t for me. I’m too old and miserable. I have a mortgage. But even I can appreciate Alcatel hasn’t done a bad job here with the main event.
It is a pity the rest of the phone’s design doesn’t have quite the same dynamic sensibility. Coming from using the Sony Xperia XA1, the A5 LED seems tubby.
Apart from the glass on the screen this is an all-plastic phone. But it’s not a hugely expensive one, so you might be able to see past the materials. And while its back is distinctive, the front is not. That said, it’s plain and inoffensive, with some light-up soft keys below the screen. The back also looks pretty good while the LEDs are sleeping.
The A5’s LED back comes off completely too, because it’s actually an optional ‘case’, although aside from the lip around the camera lens it seems just like the phone’s normal rear.
Alcatel A5-LED Screen: Not bad, not the best
Move past the light show on the back, and the rest of the phone is actually pretty pedestrian.
For example, the screen is a meagre 720p IPS LCD panel stretched over 5.2 inches - making it a little bit bigger, but a lot less sharp than the Moto G5’s.
Front-on, though, I like it. The light pixellation isn’t glaringly obvious and the colour tone is pleasant. There’s a utility in the Settings menu that lets you jack up the colour saturation a little more if you like, but I’m happy with how it looks straight from the box.
Peer a little closer and you’ll see this isn’t the best LCD screen going, though. Brightness takes a hit at any angle other than ‘dead on’, and the backlight is only just bright enough to cope with those screen-testing bright-but-cloudy days.
At an extreme angle there’s also some contrast shift visible in the A5’s screen. It’s the sort of angle you’d only look at the phone from if you end up stuck under a fallen bookcase and need to reach the phone to call an ambulance. But it does tell us this isn’t the latest, greatest screen panel going.
Alcatel A5-LED Software: Old Android in a Face Mask
The A5 is hardly cutting-edge when it comes to software, either. It runs Android 6.0 rather than the current 7.0 version, meaning you miss out on Google’s revamped notification system.
Alcatel has also stuck a custom interface on top, but all this does is smear some slightly dodgy styling on the OS, rather than totally changing how it feels. The vertical ‘white page’ apps menu and simple home screens of Android 6.0 are in-tact.
Changes include the option to pick how your apps are arranged in the apps menu (by date, alphabet, or most used) and that the A5 LED goes heavy on themes. Some of the icons really are the design equivalent of the Comic Sans font.
There’s a theme store, like you’d find on a lot of custom Android interfaces, but the theme camera app is more unusual.
Take a picture and the ColorCatcher app makes a theme based on the colours in the image. As neat an idea as it is, it makes 90 per cent of you app icons the same colour, which looks pretty terrible. After a few assaults on the senses, I switched back to the default theme.