AT&T Radiant Core Smartphone (U304AA)

A picture of an AT&T Radiant Core Smartphone with its screen on
This thing still runs on Android 9.0

Long story short: The Huawei P30 Pro I was carrying stopped working on AT&T’s network, and so I was given a free phone to use as a replacement. For some reason, based on the vague details I got (the account is in my wife’s parents’ name, so they get all the correspondence), I expected it to be at least a mid-range Samsung phone, or maybe even a Pixel 4a; I mean, they’ve been on the network for years and have to be about due for an upgrade. Imagine my surprise when I excitedly opened the box...only to discover a generic phone with AT&T branding on it. An AT&T Radiant Core smartphone, complete with 16GB of space (expandable to a whopping 64GB), a sure downgrade from the 256GB contained in my Huawei.

This is actually very similar to the ZTE Maven phone I had about five years ago; so much so, in fact, that I’m pretty sure it’s just that phone rebranded with the AT&T logo. It even runs Android 9 (Go Edition, whatever that means), at a time when 12 is on the horizon. For the cameras, you’re looking at a 5MP rear-facing camera, which should be perfect for taking smudged, worthless photos that you can post...well, nowhere, really. The display is a “crisp” 5.5” Dragontrail display that almost took me back to the days of TracFone and Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go phones. The back has a textured look that’s kind of cool from far away, but it's made of plastic and feels incredibly cheap in hand.

The phone comes pre-loaded with several apps, which take the usable space down under the 10GB range. Thankfully, removing these apps are pretty easy through the “apps” menu in the settings screen. However, even deleting everything only frees it up to around 12GB, leaving you with precious little space to add anything you might actually use. 

And I guess it’s for the best, because even browsing the internet on this phone is a complete hassle, mainly thanks to the whopping 1GB of RAM. I had forgotten my struggles with the Maven so long ago, but was immediately reminded just how terrible that one was the moment I first started trying to send a text with the Radiant Core: it takes several seconds to press the “send” button after drafting a text, and there's also a frequent delay before the characters you type even appear on screen. Speaking of the "screen", this one is so much smaller than what I’m used to that I would frequently exit myself out of apps I was in the midst of using, or submit forms early, thanks to a misplaced finger on the screen...I used this only as an emergency phone for about a month, and it still found ways to frustrate me on the few occasions where I was forced to use it.

Even more frustrating: if you receive a text back while you’re in a conversation with someone, and you're still in the app, the screen refreshes itself to where you have to back out to actually read the new text. I don’t understand it; using a phone in 2021 should not be such a rage-inducing endeavor. 

Back of the AT&T U304AA Radiant Core Smartphone
Doesn't this thing just look cheap?

The phone is so bad that I’ve still been carrying my Huawei with me everywhere, and using that instead...even though the phone was technically removed from service, everything (except for calling and texting) works as long as I’m connected to WiFi. So I can still message my wife through Snapchat, and send memes to her through Instagram...I only bring this phone with me in the car, or when I know I’m going somewhere without a WiFi connection, just so I have a way to text my wife in case of an emergency. It makes me feel like I’m in middle school all over again...and not in a good way.

Honestly, this is the worst phone I’ve ever carried; the fact this is an acceptable phone for AT&T to hand out in 2021 speaks volumes as to the indifference they feel to their consumer base. I’ve never had a problem with their service in the past, but almost everything they do from a business perspective is confusing to me; this is just another blatant example of a company that's too ignorant for its own good.

Now of course, there’s a market for anything; this would make a great no-frills phone for older people, who just want the very basics, or even a great starter phone for pre-teens to get used to the idea of carrying one around. Actually, it would be excellent for the latter, especially for parents who don’t really want their kids to be glued to the screen at such a young age, because it’s so underpowered, doing virtually everything is a chore. I'm tempted to say it would be a good fit for those on a low-income, but I've been seeing lots of ads lately for government-funded cell phone services that give away free phones to those who qualify...and they even included name brand phones like the Google Pixel 3a. That would be a huge leap up from this garbage. 

Digging in a little deeper, I can also find a couple more positives, though that is used in the loosest sense of the term: there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, something that many manufacturers are eliminating even from budget phones; and the 2,500 mAh battery - which is small and drains quickly even with moderate use - can be replaced, an absolute rare feature these days.

It’s just unfortunate that the phone made to last forever, is one you’re going to want to toss in the trash immediately. 

Overall: 1/10. I technically got it for free, after AT&T kicked my Huawei P30 Pro off their network, but that’s still not enough to make this phone worthwhile: it’s awful. Doing every single task is a chore, thanks to the underpowered 1GB of RAM, while the paltry 16GB of disk space leaves you precious little space to add anything you might actually use. And the plastic housing makes it feel every bit as cheap as it is. That being said, it might be a good option for older folk, or a first phone for younger kids, although even the latter group will probably be so frustrated by it that they’d rather just carry nothing. It was enough to get me to switch providers (thus kicking me off the in-laws' "Family Plan" - which they paid for the last 10 years) just so I could continue to use the phone I paid $600 for last year.