Hands-on test: Nuu Mobile A3L budget smartphone
A dual-SIM budget handset that’s a good option if you want something functional without breaking the bank
Search for ‘best budget smartphone’ and what you'll find is round-ups of cute handsets hovering around the £200 mark. Not premium then, but not what we'd call cheap.
The A3L slots into the Nuu Mobile line-up just above the bottom-of-the-range A1, a sub-£50 handset that is pleasantly petite but doesn't have enough battery life to last a day if you're planning to use lots of apps.
The new A3L, however, is both surprisingly affordable at £74.99 and surprisingly well featured. It's a good option if you're on a budget, want an affordable phone for the kids, or if you need a bargain ‘burner’ for a while.
Two SIMs are better than one
An affordable smartphone that isn't tied to a network is ideal if you drop your phone in the loo and still have a few months to go on your contract. But at this time of year, we're mostly thinking of the A3L as the perfect holiday handset.
In fact, one unusual feature makes it perfect for holidaymakers abroad: twin SIM card slots. This means you can use your usual SIM card to receive any important incoming calls from home, but alongside it use a local SIM card for cheap data and domestic calls.
We tested the A3L alongside an HTC 10 (on the left in the picture above) because its look and feel have clearly been designed to ape a higher-end handset. They look superficially similar.
The A3L has lower specs outside as well as in, though. For example, the back cover is plastic not metal, and less curvaceous.
But the A3L has a much higher quality look and feel than its budget sibling, the A1. The A1 is pleasantly petite but feels very plasticy whereas the A3L feels much more like quality.
The back cover of our A3L was a matt dark grey plastic (it's also available in white) with curves in all the right places. The cover can be popped off with a bit of effort but this doesn't happen too easily. The battery fits snugly too. This isn't one of those cheap handsets where all the pieces shoot out in different directions when you drop it on the floor.
Inside you'll find the two SIM card slots. One is a micro-SIM size, the other is a larger full-sized SIM. Plus there's a microSD card slot to expand the phone's memory.
You get what you pay for and the money has rightly been spent inside. Specs are good but obviously can't rival those of pricier handsets like the HTC. So you get a 1.3GHz Quad-Core MediaTek processor that's surprisingly speedy for an affordable phone. And a 2,000mAh battery that will last you a day if you don't cane it.
Memory isn't great though: 1GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in storage is more than enough space for apps, but if you're the kind of person who wants to store a lifetime's music collection in your pocket, not stream it, then you'll need to invest in a microSD memory card – up to 32GB is supported. But again this is affordable, it will only set you back around a tenner.
Anyone frustrated with premium handsets that don't let you expand the storage will find this refreshing. That said, while you can't add a memory card to it, the iPhone 7 ranges in size from 32GB to 256GB so there's potential for much more storage. A maxed out A3L will boast just 40GB of storage but only set you back around £85; at £599 SIM-free, the most affordable 32GB iPhone 7 costs seven times as much.
Most importantly, we were impressed with the A3L's performance. It runs Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) which is one version shy of the latest and greatest (7, Nougat). Tried side-by-side with premium models, apps worked just as well with no discernible lag for streaming or graphics.
The camera was pretty good too: 5 megapixels rear, 2 megapixels front, with nice features like gesture control, where you can flick a peace sign to trigger a shot. Premium smartphones boast more pixels and better optics but 5 megapixels is good enough.
The one weak spot was the 5-inch screen's resolution: at 854x480 it has less than half the pixel count of an iPhone 7 and a fraction of the pixels of smartphones like the HTC. It does the job ok – text is crisp enough to be readable – but if you're used to a better screen then the A3L's looks soft.
In all then, the A3L is easily worth the money and is a fine phone not just for the kids but also for you if you're on a budget or need a burner to eke out your contract or survive a summer holiday.
Nuu Mobile A1
This smaller sibling is one of the few smartphones to undercut the A3L on price. It has a smaller 4-inch screen and a small battery but still boasts two SIM card slots. £46.99 uk.nuumobile.com
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7
A 5.5-inch 1080p screen and long-lasting 2950mAh battery make this a good mid-priced option if you’re with Vodafone. £125 vodafone.co.uk
Lenovo Moto G
Spend a bit more for high-end features like unlocking your phone with fingerprint recognition and an all-metal body. £150 motorola.com