Alcatel A5 LED hands-on – Wait, LEDs? Really?

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Give up your glow sticks, raver crew – Alcatel has turned your phone into an LED light show.

The A5 LED was probably one of the most attention-grabbing phones at Mobile World Congress this year – which is a pretty good effort for a mid-ranger, in a convention centre filled with flagships.

It’s all because of the light-up cover, which is guaranteed to get your attention, no matter what you’re up to when a notification comes through.

Is there more to it than the flashy exterior, though? We went hands-on at Mobile World Congress to find out.

FEATURES: LED-Y, SET, GO

There’s no escaping it – the A5 LED is the phone equivalent of a nightclub light machine, flashing and lighting up in ways that are guaranteed to grab attention.

It’s that removable rear cover that transfixes your gaze, using rows of LED lights to illuminate in time with the music being piped out of the phone’s speakers, or which change colour whenever a notification comes though.

This is essentially a cut-down version of the Moto Z’s Moto Mods, with a magnetic POGO connector pairing case with phone. It’s tricky to say if we’re looking at a new kind of upgradeable phone in the vein of Motorola, or a one-off designed to steal headlines at a trade show, but after seeing it in action, we think Alcatel’s system has real potential.

Back to the lights, though – they’re mesmerising. Play some music and the colours will change automatically, matching the beat like an equaliser. Get a Facebook message and the cover will light up blue, before flashing a big “F” letter so you know exactly what’s just come though. Those lights are bright, too: even face down on a desk, the LEDs will light up and make it look like your phone is floating above whatever it is sitting on.

The LED cover is removable, too. If you don’t want to be the centre of attention, you can swap it out for a standard, metal-effect cover that won’t flash whenever you get a new WhatsApp message.

DESIGN AND DISPLAY

The A5 LED is made from fairly mainstream materials and doesn’t look all that different from the rest of Alcatel’s line-up, but it still fits the bill for a mid-range phone.

You’re stuck with microUSB, too – there’s no USB-C here. That’s kind of disappointing, but also unsurprising given the money – there’s nothing else out there that costs as less as this, but still manages to pack the newer version of USB.

There’s more to the A5 LED than the flashy rear, too. That 5.2in display is more than enough for most people, and the 1080p resolution is exactly what you’d want from a mid-ranger. It’s big and detailed enough to make text look crisp, and to give images the detail you’d expect for the cash, but not too high that it would be a battery drain.

It’s an LCD panel, which means limited viewing angles and fairly average contrast, but otherwise Alcatel does everything you’d expect from a mid-range phone.

PERFORMANCE AND CAMERA

Beyond the LED rear cover, the A5 LED has a fairly respectable spec for the cash. We’re talking 4G connectivity, an octa-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16Gb of built-in storage. There’s microSD card expansion, in case you run out of space, and a 2800mAh battery that should easily get you through a whole day of browsing, camera snaps and WhatsApp messaging.

It’s got Android 6.0 Marshmallow on board, with a very minimal skin running on top – bar one unique little extra.

Colour Picker lets you snap a photo and take the two main colours from it, then apply them to the Home screen to morph the wallpaper and icons into matching hues. It’s a neat little extra, and not something we’ve seen anywhere else. Like to change your phone’s look every other day? Alcatel has got you covered.

At the back, an 8MP camera is paired with a dual-tone LED flash for decent low-light photography. Everything felt snappy enough, given the low price of the phone, but we’ll have to wait until we get one in for review to see how well it holds up away from the MWC show floor.

INITIAL VERDICT

Mobile World Congress is a show filled with high tech phones – so who’d have thought one of the most exciting would be a budget handset blinded up with LEDs?

The A5 LED is undeniably attention-grabbing, and the price is right too. It’s set to arrive in Europe from May onwards for €199, which should mean R2,800 here in SA, give or take some import markup. That’s not bad at all given the spec, and an absolute bargain if you want a unique phone that’s guaranteed to grab attention.

Is the LED cover enough to make it the go-to phone for attention seekers, though? We’ll have to wait for a full review to find out.

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