Alcatel OneTouch isn’t a brand you’ve probably heard of and if you have, it’s probably been a bit of a horror story from the early 2000’s. Well that’s changed, or at least it’s about to, with Alcatel OneTouch’s Flagship phone for 2015, the Idol 3. Though if I’m honest that’s a bit of a misnomer, there’s actually 2 devices under the Idol 3 moniker. The 4.7” version which will be reviewed at a later date, and the 5.5” version, which we’re reviewing today.
Unboxing & Hardware
Let’s start off with the Hardware and the unboxing. Whilst some may not care, others like to know what comes in the box. The Idol 3 comes in a dark blue box that calls out many of the devices features. If we slide off the top of the box we are greeted with the phone itself. Under that we see a door with the SIM ejector tool hidden in the centre. Beneath that we have the supplied JBL in ear-buds with 2 spare sets of tips (these are amazing headphones by the way) and a MicroUSB cable and in my case a European Wall plug.
Now that’s out of the way we can get on to the actual hardware of the device itself. The Idol 3 5.5 measure in at 152.7mm tall, 75.1mm wide and 7.4mm thin and that’s a uniform thickness, no camera humps etc. It weighs in at a featherweight (for its size) 141g. The Front of the Idol 3 is dominated by the beautiful Technicolor 5.5” 1920x1080p IPS screen (more on that soon) with a white LED notification light to the left of the upper bezel. Next along is the 8mp front facing camera and the ambient light sensor. Above that is one of the front firing stereo speakers. Yes you read that right. The Idol 3 (both versions) have dual 1.2w Stereo speakers on the front. They’re tuned by JBL and they sound very nice to my untrained ears. Turn the phone round and you find the other speaker to form the pair and because this device is so large there is enough distance between the two speakers to have some sort of stereo effect.
Flip the phone round so we are looking at the left spine and up top we have the power and lock switch and initially this bugged me a lot. The fact it’s so damn high up on a huge phone but the advent of double tap to wake (and actually being implemented really rather well) offset this a tad. This meant I only had to worry about it 50% of the time when I was turning the phone screen off. Underneath the Power/lock button we have the dual purpose MicroSIM and MicroSD tray which is ejected using the SIM tray pin provided or an iPhone Pin, or the one from almost every other phone (with the exception being the Nexus 4, 5 and LG G2 Pins which are all freakishly thin). You could even just use a sewing pin, that works just as well. Flipping the device to look at the right spine and we have the solitary button, a volume rocker and nothing else apart from a pattern. It runs the perimeter of the phone as well as across the rear, a type of hairline metal finish. Let this fool you not, it is plastic. On the top we have the 3.5mm audio jack and next to that we have one of the microphones. Going to the bottom of the device we have the MicroUSB port and next to that we have the other microphone. Now you might be asking why the symmetry and the dual mics? Well because one of the headline features of the Idol 3 is the fact that you can pick it up in either orientation and make and take calls, you just pick up and use the device thanks to the speaker and microphone being able to dynamically switch places.
This is a cool novelty but I almost never used it. The one time I did is when I’m listening to music on my phone and only because the headphone jack is on the wrong side (the top is wrong). I’m able to take my phone out of my pocket in one motion have the jack in its proper place, at the bottom, double tap the screen to wake it, do what I need to do, turn it off and then put it back in my pocket without any fussing necessary.
Moving on the to last bit of hardware, the rear of the phone. Up top on the left we have the 13mp Sony IMX214 camera with a single LED flash beneath it. The IMX214 is a pretty solid module used in many devices, most notably is the Moto X 2014, the Nexus 6 and more. Now this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, as those devices where universally panned for their camera’s, but if you take into account the price, you have a pretty solid camera here. The Stock camera app that Alcatel OneTouch have included has some really nifty features, such a decent auto mode, HDR, Panorama, a pretty extensive but not fully featured Manual mode, a really great Time Lapse mode, a Face beauty mode for selfies and lastly a QR code scanner. I don’t know why QR code scanners aren’t default in most camera apps but I know now that Honor, Motorola and now Alcatel OneTouch do it.
Spec’s are kind of getting to the boring point now but I’ll post them below for those interested.
- 5” 1920x1080p IPS screen tuned by Technicolor
- 13mp rear Sony IMX 214 camera,1080p Video Capture
- 8mp Front Facing camera, 1080p Video capture
- Single SIM :16gb storage and 2gb of RAM
- Dual-SIM : 32gb storage and 2gb of RAM
- Snapdragon 615, big.LITTLE 4x 1Ghz A53’s. 4x 1.5Ghz A53’s, Adreno 405 GPU.
- MicroSD card slot supporting 128gb MicroSD cards
- 11a/b/g/n with 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz support
- Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP
- 2910mAh Lithium Ion non-removable battery.
There are but a few omissions in the spec list but honestly I could live without them for the price. I’d like to have some form of QuickCharging but again, it’s a licensing cost which would drive up the cost of the handset. Another would be 4K video recording but this is a limitation of the snapdragon 615 rather than a direct cost saving feature from Alcatel OneTouch.
Software & Use
Moving onto the next piece of important information on the Idol 3, the software. The Idol 3 features a near Stock version of Android 5.0.2. It is unclear if Alcatel OneTouch are working on a 5.1.1 build for the Idol 3, or if they’re considering an Android M update at this point, or indeed if it’s getting any updates at all! (though they have said that a patch for the stagefright exploit is coming later this month). Alcatel OneTouch’s changes largely go in the form of an Icon pack on their app’s and tweaks to make sure that the 180 to flip the screen works properly. Some things haven’t been changed because they don’t need to change.
There is one thing we need to talk about though, and that is bloatware. Out of the Box the Idol 3 comes with:
- 2020: My Country
- AVG Antivirus
- WPS Office
- Boyaa Texas Poker
- XE Currency converter
- Puzzle Pets
- Real Football 2015
- Kingdoms & Lords
- Spider-Man: Ultimate Power
- Cars Racing.
Now that is a lot of Bloat, a lot of bloat actually, more than I’d like. The upside? You are able to uninstall it. You shouldn’t have to but at least it’s an option. I understand that these licensing deals make the prices of the handsets go down and allow a device that is as amazing as this for just £200.
Luckily the software build of Android on the Idol 3 isn’t too horrific. There aren’t any major performance degradations other than what this early version of Android had (a major RAM leak and other performance issues that have since been remedied in a newer version of Android). Alcatel OneTouch’s launcher isn’t too offensive but I much prefer the Google Now Launcher. Luckily as with most, if not all Android phones, just pop over to the Google Play store (or download the .apk file) and swap the launcher over. Popular ones are the Google Now Launcher, Nova and Apex Launcher, which are both stock like replacements that offer far more customisation. Even extending to the just plain awesome end of launchers, Action Launcher 3 by Chris Lacy, Aviate by Yahoo or Blur by Klinker apps (those are the guys that make Talon.).
Day to day use is where I’ll jump to next, because all the highest end spec’s in the world don’t matter if the day to day experience of using the Idol 3 is rubbish. Luckily that’s mostly not the case. I say mostly because there has been some instances when using the Idol 3 that have frustrated me to no end, one of which is completely subjective, namely the size. A 5.5” phone is big and it feels even bigger when the device you’re coming from is the original, 4.5”, Moto G. The Technicolor tuned display on the Idol 3 is just wondrous and better yet, it’s bright, very bright, in some cases far too bright, but man it’s a beautiful display. Sunlight legibility isn’t an issue here,. Glare/reflectance is low in most cases. I can see what I’m supposed to be seeing and I can see the colours I’m meant to be seeing. I cannot say enough nice things about it’s display. The resolution of 1920x1080p might be a notable achievement for many to get at this price but for me, I have a hard time seeing the difference between 720p and 1080p at this size (yes, my eyes are bad). One thing of note, which might put some people off but actually made me like it more, is the colour temperature of the screen. The Idol 3 I have has a blue-ish tint to the white indicating that this is a cooler tuned display. Funnily enough, my Idol 3 4.7″ sample has a noticeably warm display (whites tend to look more yellow-y, I prefer cool tones, what about you?).[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The speakers on the Idol 3 are tuned by JBL and they sound great.[/pullquote]
Next we have Sound. Those cool looking, loud, JBL tweaked stereo speakers. How do they sound? You guessed it, amazing. I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t like the look of HTC’s One Mx series of phones, namely the M7,8,9,mini,mini2,max etc. My biggest gripe with them was their design and most of that was centred around those horrendous looking (but amazing sounding) speakers. Most people got over this. I could not. Sony managed to integrate the two speakers in a great way in the Z2, then tweaked it to an uglier design for the Z3, then brought back the sleeker design with the Z3+/Z4. My point is that whilst I love front firing speakers, it’s very easy to make them look ugly. HTC has been on my radar for this and if I’m honest, Motorola is only just on the good side of that line with the X2014/Nexus 6. However Alcatel OneTouch has done a tremendous job with integrating the speakers into the front of the Idol 3, they look lovely, aren’t intrusive, don’t spoil the design, if anything they add to it and yes, they’re loud. The speakers on the Idol 3 are tuned by JBL and they sound great. Yes they distort on the upper 3 notches of the volume slider but honestly, most of the time I had the slider under 50%. That level was more than loud enough for me, and I could hear everyone’s voices in the podcasts I was listening to, the trumpets in the music, the violins too. I’d be over the moon if speakers that sounded this good came on a device three times it’s price. Alcatel OneTouch, high-five guys!.
Then there are odd performance and graphical glitches, which I’m sure can be patched and fixed by software OTA updates down the line. One game I’m currently playing is a prime example of graphical glitches. Pot Farm: Grass Roots, has severe enough glitches to stop me wanting to play the game (on this device at least, I need to virtually farm my virtual cannabis!). More often than I’m liking, I also see micro stutters and just a few performance hiccups. The most annoying thing about this is that its inconsistent. I could be scrolling through Twitter perfectly fine, open up Chrome and it’s a dog. I could try to replicate it and it be as smooth as anything only to then later on open up Snapchat and have that become a stuttering mess for about 10 seconds. To me this seems like a software bug that could be pretty easily ironed out and I can’t wait for that one to come down the pipeline.
Battery Is one of the very few downers for me. When I looked at the spec and saw a nearly 3000mAh (2910mAh) battery, I was very excited but If I’m being honest, I was slightly disappointed by the Idol 3’s battery. Not because it’s bad but because it was underwhelming. It might just be that my expectations where set a tad high but on some days, after 7 hours off the charger it was down to the 15% low battery mode and that was with barely 3 hours of screen on time. Without the Quick Charging mentioned earlier, getting that 2910mAh filled takes a few hours, which is a shame. If you make it through the day, which I’ve been able to do more often than not, you’ll be fine charging through the night but on the off-chance that you use your phone a bit more heavily that day and happen to have a battery pack with you, expect to be tethered to that battery bank for a while.
Reception and call quality isn’t an area that gets much recognition any more, because really, who makes phone calls these days? Well I do for work reasons, so on the Three network in the South East of the UK, signal quality and retention was stellar. In places where my 1st gen Moto G or Kazam Tornado 348 just refused to get or reliably hold onto signal, the Idol 3 marched on through like a champ. It has 4G LTE on it as standard. All models of the Idol 3 come standard with LTE and when I was in an LTE coverage area (like when I ventured into Eastbourne) I was able to get 43mbps download and 10mbps upload with the signal meter showing I was only halfway full. I cannot fault the Idol 3 in this respect and when I had to make voice calls (both over the network and VoIP) people said I sounded stellar. Particularly Facebook Voice Call and WhatsApp Calling on LTE worked tremendously, with next to no latency, no echo’s and superb audio quality. So kudos to Alcatel OneTouch, Facebook, WhatsApp and Three’s LTE network.
Before wrapping this up I’m going to talk about the camera. I’ve never expected to get a decent camera on an inexpensive device. I remember originally getting my Orange San Francisco back in 2010, which was a cracker of a device for the measly £150 asking price at the time, opening up the camera and being woefully disappointed. It’s OLED screen did wonders but if you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. The same happened with the Nexus 4, and the Moto G (1st gen). It brings me great joy to announce that the cycle has been broken with the Idol 3. Is it the best camera in the world? No, no its not but this is what a flagship camera would have been only 2 years ago, probably better… as long as there is a decent amount of light available. The Idol 3 does some amazing things with the hardware it has. Smooth 1080p 30fps video and awesome time lapse video’s built in to the stock app. A QR code reader that works, is fast and I don’t need to download it. Seriously, why aren’t other OEMs including QR code readers In their camera apps? The Idol 3 defaults to a 10mp 16:9 image, which although photo purists tend to hate, I really quite like due to the preview taking up as much of the screen as possible. When I manually adjusted to 13mp in the settings things became more like a normal camera.
Pictures from the Idol 3 came out amazing in my opinion. Did I take bad photos? Of course, it isn’t a miracle worker but what counts, at least to me, is that it wasn’t a pain to take multiple photos, it was fast to focus, to expose and to capture. So even if it did accidentally over or under expose, or focus a bit too far back, it could be easily rectified. You just have to go back and delete the ones you don’t want.
It comes with an array of shooting modes but there was 3 I used the most. Auto, HDR and Timelapse. Timelapse was a great feature. If you have the ability to mount a smart phone to a tripod like I did (pro tip, if you buy a selfie stick with a removable head, the phone clip is the same mount that lets you attach cameras to tripods) this timelapse feature is great. Over the weekend I was at a county fair type thing and I’d throw the Idol 3 up on the tripod over the stall and leave it to record for 10 minutes. That way I got about 40 seconds of lovely smooth sped up video that isn’t shaky, jittery and motion sickness inducing. HDR is a staple feature now. If you don’t know what HDR is, in the simplest terms, HDR (High Dynamic Range) takes 3 photos, an over exposed photo (too much light comes in) an under exposed photo (it’s a very dark image) and a neutral image. It then blends all of those images in together, and the result (usually) is a beautiful, if often trippy picture that has very vibrant colours, very few bright spots, and very few shadows. The Idol 3’s HDR mode is one of the subtler ones I’ve seen. In actuality it’s more of a good thing. There are some devices, the OnePlus One comes to mind, which has an HDR mode so aggressive that it starts to go the other way and look like an expressionist painting. As I said before, this isn’t the best smartphone camera in the world but it’s one of 2 devices at this price range that I could say provide an experience that is so good it doesn’t make me want to take less photos.
So I’ve said I made one, here it is, here is the Vlog I made on the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 over my weekend at Pestalozzi. Complete with Sunburn, bacon sandwiches,Tractors and timelapses, enjoy.
So here we are at the conclusion, did I like it? Should you buy it? Yes and a qualified Yes. Let’s start with the qualified yes first. The qualifier is, whether or not you can live with the size, something I had a serious issue with. Jumping from an original Moto G to the Idol 3 meant jumping an inch diagonally and whilst the extra screen size is appreciated, neither my hands nor my pockets appreciated the growth. Initially, before receiving these devices, I said for a £40 increase, you’d have to be insane to opt for the smaller Idol 3 and to an extent that’s true, if you can live with the size then the big Idol 3 is better. If you’ve read this far and you’re still unsure whether or not I like this phone, then I’m going to say it outright, I love this Phone, the Idol 3 was the device that I saw this year that prompted me to get back into the mobile tech business, to strive to get PR contacts, to talk to insiders and try to build up a cache of people and expertise, so yes, I like this phone.
At £199 on Amazon for the Single SIM 16gb model I can wholeheartedly recommend this product, it’s one I’m going to keep in my arsenal and it’s probably going to become my second phone, if only as a Wi-Fi device at first, I might even take out a second line or just a data SIM and have a glorified LTE iPod Touch.
So kudos to Alcatel OneTouch for creating my possible daily driver!