The Alcatel One Touch Hero has both a single- and a dual-SIM version and we're using the dual-SIM one for this review. The phonebook itself looks pretty basic - a list of all contacts complete with photos. An alphabetical list on the right can help you jump to a specific letter or you can just use the search function.
The phonebook app is actually tabbed, this is the default tab. The other two handle Groups and Favorites respectively. The Quick contacts feature is also on board.
Anyway, if a contact comes from the SIM card rather than an online service (Google, Facebook, etc.), a SIM icon will appear on its contact photo. For the dual-SIM version there is a number showing which SIM card too.
Better yet, while browsing the phonebook there will be three toggles in the notification area allowing you to change the dual-SIM settings at any time - SIM1, SIM2 or Always ask. That's probably too much hassle though as you can associate each individual number with a SIM, which will be used for calling and texting that contact.
This works great if someone has multiple numbers too - say two phones on two different carriers. This feature is invaluable and will save you a lot of manual switching between SIMs and wondering which one you should be using.
From here, you can also add individual ringtones for contacts and block incoming calls from them. Other than that, the contact view is pretty standard - name and image, a Favorites star and the list of numbers, emails and groups below.
The phonebook can be customized to show contacts only from one SIM, from Google or other services that can sync your phonebook (e.g. Facebook), only contacts stored locally on the phone or any combination of those. Contacts can be imported and exported too, which is great for backup.
The Alcatel One Touch Hero features a traditional-looking dialer that supports smart dialing (searching both names and numbers). Standard voice calls are supported as are video calls and SIP calls. We had no issues with signal reception and the audio came out loud and clear. It helps that HD Voice is supported too (this needs to be supported by your carrier, of course).
The dialer app is tabbed too, with the Call log and the Contacts being the other two tabs. The call log uses colorful arrows to indicate the type of call (incoming, missed, outgoing). The Contacts tab begins with a grid of your favorite contacts but the full list is available below.
The dialer enables the three toggles in the notification area - SIM1, SIM2, Always Ask - just like the phonebook, but it goes deeper than that. The SIM management tool in the Settings allows you to toggle a SIM on or off individually (good if you need the second line only part-time).
You can also select which SIM is the default for voice calls, video calls, texting and data. Roaming can be enabled for individual SIMs too. As we saw in the phonebook, you can tie individual numbers to a SIM card if that card talks/texts cheaper with that particular number (i.e. both are on the same carrier).
The Messaging app holds no surprises - messages are organized into threads, each thread showing the contact photo and two lines of text from the latest message. On the dual-SIM version a small logo on the bottom of each bubble shows which SIM card received the message.
You also get the SIM toggles in the notification area (just in case you haven't bound the number to a SIM) and you can set up which SIM should be used to store texts (this only matters if you move the SIMs between devices). Additional settings include font size, wallpaper for the app, delivery reports and limiting the number of messages stored (e.g. keep only the latest 500 texts and 50 MMS).
Speaking of MMS, the Messaging app handles those seamlessly. You just need to attach a photo, audio file, video, a contact or calendar appointment. If you like, you can also go into the full-scale editor to create more elaborate MMS messages.
The Alcatel One Touch Hero also comes with Hangouts, which is another way to handle texts. It's not multi-SIM aware though, so you lose some of the finer controls of the Alcatel app but you can still rely on the bindings between contacts and SIMs.
The good thing about the Hangouts app, other than the revamped interface that adds handy swipe gestures, is that it also integrates messages from Google's own IM network (formerly GTalk). Since Google fixed the online status indicator, you know whether it's safe to use IM instead of text messaging, but unlike iMessage you have to manually switch between texts and IMs.
The Gmail app features color coded sender images, based on the first letter of the sender's name. The default app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox.
A cool feature in Gmail is that you can swipe left or right to move between messages in your inbox. The app also automatically sorts out your incoming messages into three inboxes - primary, social, and one for promotional emails. We found it to work like a charm - it makes sorting through email messages much easier.
There is also a generic email app for all your other email accounts and it can handle multiple POP or IMAP inboxes. You have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online, side by side with the standard local ones such as inbox, drafts and sent items.
Unlike its Gmail counterpart, this app supports a combined inbox view. It color codes the inboxes so you can easily tell where each message came from. Unfortunately, there's no moving between messages with sideways swipes here.
The keyboard on the Alcatel One Touch Hero is a courtesy of TouchPal. You can change its size from Smallest to Huge, but the difference between the two extremes is smaller than the names suggest. In either case, it's big and comfortable to type on with a few extra goodies.
For example, you can swipe on the Space key to toggle auto correct, which is great for words you know the autocorrect will mess up. Another nice option reveals arrow keys along with function buttons like select, copy, paste, home, end and so on.
The keyboard has swipe input enabled by default - you just glide over the keys you want without lifting your finger, which makes typing much easier. There's handwriting recognition too, both of which work better with the stylus - it feels more natural and the stylus allows more accuracy (but it may take some getting used to if you hadn't held a pen in a while).
Dictation is also enabled and since this is a Jelly Bean device it will work offline too (as long as you remember to download the language pack beforehand).