Review: Alcatel’s new $250 ‘OneTouch Idol 3’ smartphone

29 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 (Unlocked).

I think we can all agree that being locked into a carrier contract simply to get a halfway affordable price on a smartphone is a lousy system. Alcatel is in the business of producing dirt-cheap smartphones, and has been for years now, but with few exceptions, you get what you paid for—at best cheap, at worst dirt.Back at MWC 2015, we took a look at the 5.5-inch Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 – the budget-friendly, reversible smartphone that packs a punch in both hardware and software.

Moreover, owning the phone that goes along with such an, ahem, bargain can be frustrating later on, even after your contract period has expired and you discover that it isn’t so easy to just up and leave — the damn thing’s been locked to your current carrier! This means that thanks to the dual speakers and mics you can pick it up any way you want and the display and even the front-facing camera will adjust to fit whichever way you are holding the phone.

So it’s no wonder that there has been an increase in the number and quality of smartphones being sold unlocked and contract-free, direct from manufacturers. While Alcatel’s been known for cheap, practical smartphones, they’ve outdone themselves with the Idol 3, which offers many flagship features in a sleek and impressive package. The Alcatel Idol 3 hits some of the major hallmarks that users look for in a flagship device and it does so at a fraction of the price of the competition. Even though it is an all-plastic body, the brushed metal finish back and false metal accents make it seem just like an all-metal phone and at 152.7 x 75.1 x 7.4 mm, it is as slim as a phone can get and weighs only 4.96 ounces. Included in the box are all of the normal add-ons we see with just about every smartphone – a Micro USB cable, wall adaptor and SIM card removal tool.

There’s the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 Octa-Core processor, 2GB of RAM and a whopping 13-megapxiel camera with a Sony sensor that’s got a F/2.0 aperture. Coming to its features, there are two unique functionalities integrated into this phone – an eye-scanning security feature called Eye-D and reversible interface functionality.

The security detail is basically a biometric system that uses the front camera to read the blood vessel patterns in the whites of the user’s eyes for identification to unlock the device. The reversible functionality extends to the whole phone, meaning, the user interface can be flipped completely depending on how the phone is picked up and held. Microphones and speakers embedded in the top and bottom parts of the phone means that the phone can be held “upside down” and still have the ability to make or receive calls. You’ll find two front-facing speakers flanking the 5.5-inch Full HD LCD display, and you’ll soon see that the device has minimal bezel surrounding the screen.

There are only three physical buttons including a volume rocker and a power button, the design is both minimalist and elegant but not necessarily striking. I’ve never been into the big-phone/phablet thing (probably because of my childishly small hands) and have been irked just as much by their weight as by their size. The application drawer, notification shade and settings menus all closely resemble a device running vanilla Android, while the rest of the software experience is bestrewn with Alcatel’s flat and bright design enhancements.

There’s very little in the way of overlays to diminish performance here and even Alcatel’s built-in themes and icons are friction-free in that they don’t get in the way of the experience. Another simple and clever feature is how Alcatel managed to incorporate the SIM Card slot and the microSD card slot into one tray; again it is simple but makes for good design that’s both convenient and economical. “We’ve always differentiated ourselves by challenging the expectations of what consumers experience for their money,” said Steve Cistulli, Senior Vice President & General Manager of North America for Alcatel Onetouch. “With Idol 3, we’ve partnered with top brands like Qualcomm, JBL and Technicolor to bring a truly flagship experience at an accessibly affordable price. A clutter free user interface, full access to Lollipop apps and features as well as a great camera, processor and dual speakers as well as the 1080p HD display will meet and even surpass expectations of users looking for an unlocked and LTE-capable Android phone.

The blacks, while not as inky as on a Samsung Galaxy, are still deep enough that space scenes don’t look like they’ve been passed through an Instagram filter. Alcatel claims that Technicolor (the company that gets the credit at the end of almost every movie) has tuned the screen’s attributes, so maybe this explains it. Speaking of watching movies, if there’s been one complaint I’ve consistently had about almost every phone I’ve tried out — even the ones that boast sound technologies like Beats or Dolby — it’s the sound quality of the built-in speakers. Not “Oh my god I can’t believe it’s a phone!” good, but more like “Y’know, I could totally watch a whole movie and not be totally annoyed by it” good, which is, well, good! Just in case you use your phone for actual phone calls, you’ll appreciate knowing that call quality was very good, and that those dual speakers make for excellent hands-free volume levels.

They won’t necessarily impress audiophiles, but they are a lot better than Apple’s Earpods, substantially better than the pair of Sennheiser CX 300s I have lying around — heck, they even sound better than a custom pair of Sculpted Eers. No, but it’s nice to know that you won’t be throwing these earbuds away at the first opportunity (or if you decide to, LMK — I’ll send you my mailing address). Alcatel touts that it’s made by Sony and has a 13-megapixel resolution, but this is simply more proof that megapixels are irrelevant to photo quality. It’s not a deal-breaker — the Idol 3’s photos are plenty good enough (especially if you’ll be running them through the inevitable filters of Instagram) — but I think it’s safe to say this is one of the components that Alcatel saved some money on.

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