The Alcatel OT-355D is a very cute PAYG mobile phone, little bigger than a credit card. Its cutest feature is the price - £20 for a QWERTY keyboard device that can do POP3 and IMAP email, not to mention serves as a very nice MP3 player and FM radio with RDS and 16 station presets!
But it also has a dark side to it. Do a bit of searching and you will find the OT-355 has a keyboard. And no it doesn't. It has a 128 pixel square screen. No it has a 160x128 pixel screen (as seen here). And so on. Yes, believe it or not, Alcatel
(French for "slaphead") have released TWO phones with the model number is OT-355! OK so the first one (with numeric keypad and square screen) is obsolete and dates from 2006, but the WorldWideWeb has a long memory!
When I realised that my phone had a doppelganger, I began to have misgivings. Could this be why the built-in camera offers a VGA option (640x480) but doggedly continues to take CIF (352x288) photos no matter what I do? Could this be why the FM radio won't work when in Flight Mode (despite the fact that it uses the headphone cable as a radio aerial, not the phone antenna)? And why all references to email mysteriously vanish from its menus when in flight mode so you can't even read your existing Inbox (yet you can continue to see your text messages etc!) Maybe the phone itself is confused as to its identity and sometimes reverts to its pre-email ancestor!
Anyhow, to clear up a few confusions I've seen published elsewhere:
This phone does NOT have a 3.5mm headphone jack! :-( It has a proprietary mini-USB headphone for which there appears to be no socket converter or alternative phones available (please tell me if you know otherwise!) (There is a mini-USB to 3.5mm converter for HTC phones but apparently it doesn't work on Alcatels.) The supplied headphones are pretty good but I'd like to be able to plug it into external speakers too, also to get some earplug type phones so I can use it on noisy public transport.
This phone does NOT have Java, at least not in the sense that you can download games or apps for it. I tried downloading one which was supposed to be for this phone, but it just stowed it under the heading "unknown file type". (Again, if you know how to install any apps or games, let me know, as the two built-in games, Panda and Chicken, are a bit crap!)
The Alcatel's camera DOES have an (undocumented) settings menu: whilst in Camera (aka Capture) mode, the softkeys still work as normal despite no legends being visible, ie. Right softkey = BACK, and Left softkey = OPTIONS. The options let you choose quality, colour balance, self-timer, and resolution (except both "VGA" & "CIF" capture at 352x288! Yes it has a 0.1 Mpix camera, not he lofty 0.3 Mpix claimed in the specs!) Anyway you can take decent pics with it — if you like fuzzy pictorialist images like I do (here is an artistic pic of a cat on a windowsill I took earlier using the phone's camera!) Pics can be attached to emails, as indeed can anything stored on the memory card.
This phone CAN surf the web, if you can call 30 seconds to load even a simple page "surfing". More like treading water really! I suspect the claim that it only has a 50MHz processor is probably true, because even GPRS should be able to download a 10KB webpage in 1-2 seconds, so the fact that it takes 30 seconds suggests the CPU is not up to the job. Luckily it does RSS too which is a more realistic proposition. Bear in mind too that the 160x128 pixel screen is REALLY low resolution, you get five lines of text, with about 20 chars per line. It should be able to do better but the phone wastes a lot of space by using a very clunky (and rather ugly) font.
The QWERTY keyboard. Amazingly for a keyboard which is only 50mm wide, it is easy to use in the sense that your fingers hit only one key at a time, and it's also usually the right key (apart from the "S": I keep hitting "D" because that key also has a big digit "5" on it which looks superficially like an "S"!) However there is a downside or two. Firstly the keys have a very firm click action which makes typing a chore, and a recipe for RSI if you do too much texting or emailing! Secondly, there's NO CUT & PASTE! AFAICT, there is no way to select text and copy/paste it either within a message or between messages, e.g. from SMS to email. Given that you want to minimise the amount of typing you do with a device like this, omitting a clipboard facility seems bizarre. However I have found that the SMS and email templates act a bit like little clipboards as their contents are simply pasted into a message at the current cursor position. But you can't copy back into a template, so if there is something you need to type more than once it's best to type it into a template first, then you can paste it into several messages (but unfortunately SMS and emails have different templates). The phone also has a Notes facility but it's kind of useless since you can't paste or import your notes into texts or emails! (Except by adding them to emails as text file attachments).
An ESCAPE key? Someone elsewhere commented that Alcatel have taken Apple's philosophy of making everything slick and easy and simple inverted it, so that every action requires at least 8 keypresses! Well that's a bit of an exageration since some things only require 5 keypresses! But here are a couple of tips. First, you can exit from any depth of submenu by simply tapping the red OFF/Hangup key, instead of pressing BACK repeatedly. Secondly, sometimes when you start a message you find you can't abandon it, you only have the option to SAVE it, as the usual back key has changed into a backspace (clear) key! Well panic not gentle reader, because if you keep pressing it until it has deleted all of the message you want to abandon then it will turn back into a BACK key and let you abandon the message without saving! Weird. (See, Alacatel really have inverted Apple's usability philosophy, Satanist style! It can take up to 160 keypresses to abandon a text message without saving it!) (Left - another pic of the cat taken with the Alcatel OT-355D!)
Finally, for those who claim the phone has no micro-SD slot, yes it does but the slot is on the side of the phone, not under the back cover where the SIM etc lives. It's kind of fiddly but if you tug the little sliver of black rubber enough it hinges right out on a little stalk so you can get the card in without a struggle. The annoying thing is since the phone's mini-USB socket is basically fake (only working with the charger and headphones, not to talk to a computer), the only way to get stuff on and off the card is to physically move the card back and forth between a computer card reader and the phone, which is probably not good for the delicate contacts on such tiny cards.
So yes, the phone does make a nice MP3 player - enough storage for around 900 tracks, and the navi key gives you all the usual controls you'd expect of an MP3 player, and since the keys are quite stiff you don't need to lock the keyboard, so I find I can operate it by feel through my shirt pocket (it's small enough to sit sideways safely at the bottom of my shirt pocket).
In summary, the camera is dodgy, the keyboard is stiff, the screen is ultra low res, and the menus are laborious, but £20 for a cute MP3 player with an FM radio is pretty good, and when you throw in (no matter how badly implemented) email, texting, phone, camera, calendar, RSS feeds, stopwatch, weather forecasts (and even Alcatel admit those
are ropey!) and qwerty keyboard, it's a real steal!