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Coles is selling a $24 smartphone. But is it worth it?

Alcatel U3. (Image: Alcatel)

Supermarket chain Coles this week is flogging an Alcatel smartphone for just $24. But how good is that deal?

What you get

The phone is an Alcatel U3, which is obviously the bargain basement model in the company’s catalogue. The U3 doesn’t even have a product page on the main international Alcatel site, forcing Yahoo Finance to find the specifications on the European website.

The phone has a 4-inch touchscreen. 2 megapixel camera, GPS, Bluetooth and connects to 3G mobile networks.

For a basement-level handset, these are very acceptable specs. The small screen is still good enough to view pictures and videos while still being comfortable to hold in one hand, the camera is sufficient to send pictures to family and friends, and the GPS will save its owner from getting lost.

The Android operating system that runs the phone is quite old, but perhaps this doesn’t matter for people in the market for a $20-something phone.

Alcatel U3. (Image: Alcatel)

Mobile network

One major downside compared to more expensive phones is that it connects to the 3G network, which is much older and slower than the currently ubiquitous 4G network. But if you’re willing to buy a $24 phone then watching hours of streaming is probably not a high priority.

The Coles deal is sold with the device locked to the Telstra network, which means the phone will not work if you put in a SIM card for other carriers, like Optus and Vodafone.

However, for what it’s worth, Telstra has given the U3 a “Blue Tick” – meaning the telco endorses it for rural customers after lab-testing how good the reception is in various conditions.

Who makes the phone?

Alcatel is a French company that’s been making mobiles since the 1990s and is now owned by another retro brand, Finland’s Nokia.

However, Nokia has licensed the Alcatel name to Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL, meaning the same company that makes the cheap television sets that you see in the shops these days is also behind the bargain phones at Coles.

Alcatel U3 on sale at Coles. (Yahoo Finance screenshot)

How much are others selling it for?

The standard retail price in Australia for the U3 seems to be $69, with Coles claiming the $24 to be better than half-price.

Yahoo Finance has seen Kmart sell the phone for $69 and Mobileciti for $59.

However, Coles has been undercut by Telstra reseller Boost Mobile – it has just put the Alcatel U3 on sale for $19. Boost is a prepaid mobile provider, so there are no hidden or long-term contract charges tied to this price.

The verdict

You can’t expect the world when you’re paying $24 for a phone, and you certainly won’t get it with the Alcatel U3. But the specifications are good enough for low-end budget users.

At least with Telstra’s Blue Tick endorsement, rural customers who take a punt on this phone could have some leverage in taking it back for a refund if it doesn’t live up to expectations with signal reception.

But unfortunately for Coles, just as it put the handset on sale, Boost has undercut it by $5. So it’s probably best to head that way to purchase it instead.

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