Millions of people out there cannot afford to buy the most expensive phones and use cheap Android devices that are not always well optimized and have significant shortage of storage.
That is why Google has worked hard to develop an optimized, stripped down version of Android that will power the world's cheapest devices. This version is called Android Go and it comes with all the major Google apps optimized: YouTube Go for instance is optimized to run with slower connections and all the other apps take up less space. In fact, Google says it has optimized Android down to the kernel level and to the system UI to make it run as best as possible on these super affordable phones.
Well, we've just used the first Android Go phone: the Alcatel 1X (see the full specs here), a 5.3" phone running Android 8.1 Oreo, and... it kind of sucked. In fact, the phone was so slow and sluggish that we don't remember using a slower phone in the past maybe four years or so.
***Update: Alcatel has reached out to clarify that the particular units they showed were running pre-release software, which is to blame for the sluggish performance. The Alcatel 1X units with the latest Android Go software, however, will be on display tomorrow at MWC. So let's not rush to any conclusions and wait one more day. Hopefully, it was just the pre-release software.***
***Update #2: After seeing yet another Alcatel 1X phone with the latest software, we can say that performance is better on the almost broken first unit that we saw. The 1X also has double the on-board memory than other Android Go phones - it has 16GB while most others have 8GB. However, while better, Android Go still lags and stutters noticeably, and despite not feeling downright broken, it's hard to recommend the 1X.***
First, though, a very important disclaimer: this is a dirt cheap phone with a price of less than $100. It costs €100 for the single SIM model, and €110 for the dual SIM version, so you can't have sky high expectations (to make it clear, we certainly did not have any high expectations). Secondly, what Alcatel showed was not a final version of the phone. The release date of the 1X is set for April, so there are still a few months to iron out issues and this might make a difference.
As for the phone body itself, it feels good in the hand. It's made out of plastic and feels like that, but has some slight curves that give it a more streamlined look.
But it's not a phone that we can recommend at all. It was slow to react to even the most basic interactions and it stutters and lags way too much. The screen is bluish to the point where colors blend in one blue palette. The camera is mediocre. And while we could live with a few compromises, it is the really slow and laggy performance that really gets in the way of even most basic usage.
If this phone is to improve and Android Go optimizations are to make a difference in the next couple of months before the phone's actual launch, we just do not understand why Alcatel would show what is basically a broken device to hundreds of journalists. And if nothing changes and the phone launches in its current form, then all those Android Go optimizations were simply just not worth it. Let's wait it out and see.