Inexpensive Android tablets are essentially vehicles for mobile media consumption, and the Alcatel A30 (not to be confused with the phone of the same name) embraces this idea. At $125 it costs a little bit more than similar slates, but offers cellular connectivity on T-Mobile and solid battery life, along with features like dual-band Wi-Fi and an IR blaster. That said, there are no parental controls or curated content for kids, which you often find in this price range, and the back speaker is tinny. It's still a solid bet for the price, but if you don't need cellular connectivity or access to the Google Play store, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a stronger option, and our Editors' Choice.
Design, Display, and Connectivity
The Alcatel A30 is a sturdy slab of black plastic with a textured back panel. Measuring 8.3 by 4.9 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighing 12.7 ounces, it's a bit heftier than the Lenovo Tab3 8 (8.3 by 4.9 by 0.4 inches, 11.6 ounces), but nearly on par with the Fire HD 8 (8.4 by 5.0 by 0.4 inches, 13 ounces). It feels sturdy, even though it's not rugged or rated for official drop resistance. There's no creaking or flex to the body, and if you use a protective case I wouldn't be worried about giving it to a child.
You'll find both a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro USB charging port on top of the tablet, along with an IR blaster that lets you use it as a remote control when using the pre-installed CloserTV app. The right side has a clicky power button and volume rocker, and the left has a flap that gives you access to a SIM and microSD card slot, the latter of which worked fine with a 256GB card.
There's a single mono speaker on the back, in the bottom right corner. It's not very loud and the location makes it very easy to accidentally muffle it with your hand. The Fire HD 8 and Tab3 8 both have better-sounding front-facing stereo speakers.
The A30's 8-inch, 189-pixel-per-inch, 1,280-by-800 IPS display is pretty standard at this price point. It matches the HD 8 and Tab3 8, giving you fairly crisp text and video that's free from pixelation except on close inspection. Colors can seem a little washed out when viewed from the side, but looking straight ahead you won't have an issue. Screen brightness is on the dim side, however, and I had trouble seeing it outside even at maximum brightness.
The tablet has cellular connectivity, a extremely rare feature at this price point. It's available on T-Mobile and supports LTE bands 2/4/12. We tested in midtown Manhattan, where we recorded strong network performance with 19.2Mbps down and an unusually high 23.68Mbps up. Additional connectivity options include Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, as well as Bluetooth 4.1. The A30 worked well connected to the 5GHz router in PC Labs, with good range and reliable double-digit speeds.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
The A30 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor clocked at 1.1GHz. It's a pretty basic chipset that scored 21,363 on the AnTuTu benchmark, a measure of overall system performance. This is a bit less than we saw on the Mediatek-powered Tab3 8 (25,407). We weren't able to run the test on the Fire HD 8, as it isn't available in Amazon's app store. On Geekbench, the A30 did relatively well, scoring 636 single-core and 2,598 multi-core. That's better than the both the HD 8 (629/1,687) and the Tab3 8 (668/1,877) when it comes to multi-core performance.
The tablet benefits from having 2GB of RAM, letting it do a decent amount of multitasking. That said, you'll still encounter a fair bit of stuttering and hangups when switching between apps and opening new ones due to processor constraints. The camera app was particularly prone to freezing up, requiring it to be closed and reopened before it was usable again. Playing demanding games isn't possible.
Battery life is good. The slate lasted for 6 hours, 15 minutes of full-screen video streaming over LTE at maximum screen brightness. That's better than the HD 8 (4 hours, 42 minutes) and the Tab3 8 (5 hours, 47 minutes), both of which we tested over Wi-Fi.
The A30's matching 5-megapixel front and back cameras are decent. They don't capture the sharpest images, but in decent lighting, they're passable for photos and video chat (720p at 30fps). Auto exposure isn't very good, though, and low-light image quality is grainy.
The A30 comes running Android 7.1.1 Nougat, making it a lot more up to date than most tablets in this price range. There are some visual changes to app icons, but they're minor, and the rest of the UI remains the same as stock Android.
There's little in the way of extra features. Aside from the aforementioned IR blaster, you can enable split-screen mode from the notification shade and run two apps simultaneously. One big omission is a children's mode with parental controls, which is a common feature these days. That said, you could always download parental control apps from the Google Play store, something you can't do with Amazon's tablets, as they lack Google Play access. Amazon has its own app store, but it doesn't have quite the same selection you'll get with Google Play.
There's some bloatware, including CloserTV, NextRadio, Messenger, Twitter, Uber, and WPS Office. Of them, only Messenger and WPS Office can be uninstalled. Still, it's not a ton of extra software, and out of 16GB of total storage, 9.7GB is available. It's a decent amount of space for installing apps, and if you need more room you can always use a microSD card.
For $125, the Alcatel A30 is a little pricier than tablets with similar specs, but you get the benefit of cellular connectivity, a feature that isn't common at this price range. Add to that 2GB of RAM, a decent display, an IR blaster, and good battery life, and you have a solid media tablet. The Amazon Fire HD 8 remains our Editors' Choice thanks to its stereo speakers, built-in parental controls, and lower price, but the A30 is a great alternative if you want access to the Google Play store or need cellular connectivity. There's also the 7-inch Amazon Fire 7 for just $50, though performance takes a hit.