For the past couple of years, we’ve been spoiled when it comes to phones. Each generation has brought huge, tangible improvements over the last. However, as screen size, resolutions, the number of cores, the amount of RAM, battery capacity, camera capabilities and network support continue to increase, we’re starting to reach a point where further increases only net a marginal improvement.
Take for example screen sizes and resolution. Companies could release phones with bigger screens but people may not be ready to handle the increased size. As for resolution, you could raise it but aside from marketing (which is a very important reason), most people won’t notice any change in quality.
We’re rapidly reaching a point where most phones will offer a similar level of capabilities and companies will have to rely on incremental features which have little practical use except to sell more phones. In a way, PC’s reached this point a while ago. They all kind of contain similar ingredients. It’s like you’re all buying the same wine only it comes in different bottles.
This means 2 things; company’s margins are becoming squeezed and we’re going to start seeing more handsets from less well known companies.
Take for example the Alcatel Idol X. Just like the Samsung Galaxy S4/HTC One/LG G2/Sony Xperia Z1 it has a 1080P, 5” class display, quad-core processor, 2GB RAM and a 2000mAh+ battery. No doubt, it’s in a class filled with heavy hitters.
However, unlike the other phones, the Idol X only costs $250. Yup, you could buy 2 Idol X’s and still have money for left over for service for what any of these other phones costs.
So how does it compare?
Google Nexus 5:
Now I’m not going to compare the Idol X with the GS4/One/G2/Z1 due to the large difference in price.
To me, the $250 Idol X’s closest competitor is the Google Nexus 5. The Nexus costs $50 more (on contract) to $125 more (if you buy it unlocked from Google) to $250 more (if you buy it off contract from Bell).
Assuming you buy it from Google, for your extra $125 you get: LTE, more HSPA bands, an image-stabilized camera albeit with a lower resolution camera, 8GB more storage, a more recent version of Android along with quick updates from Google and a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. On the downside, the Nexus 5 lacks a memory card slot which is a bit disappointing if you store a lot of content on your phone.
It’s hard to put a price on LTE support but I’ll explain its benefits. Yeah, LTE can support speeds of 75 - 150Mbps but that’s not really it’s main advantage. After all, the Idol X with it’s HSPA supports speeds of up to 42Mbps which isn’t too shabby.
While you’ll rarely get the theoretical limit on LTE, from my experience, you usually get better download speeds on LTE. LTE also tends to have better latency. When I’m using mapping software, I find that LTE makes the phone feel snappier. However, to me, LTE’s biggest advantage is that its latencies are much lower (better) when there is weak network signal. Even when a phone is about to lose signal, I find LTE still has excellent latency. Note that LTE has no effect on voice calls at this time.
According to Bell’s webpage, the Nexus 5 supports many more HSPA bands than the Idol X. I won’t bore you listing them all but the most important one is AWS; so you can’t use the Idol X on Wind/Mobilicity/T-Mobile. Note, I haven’t tried Wind/Mobilicity/T-Mobile SIM in the Idol X so I can’t confirm if this is true. The inferior HSPA band support also means the Idol X won’t be as useful when you’re roaming though it does support 2100Mhz which is probably the most important band for roaming abroad.
The Idol X camera has 13 megapixels compared to the Nexus 5’s. However, I’d pick the Nexus 5’s camera because it’s more versatile. While I don’t find the Nexus 5’s camera to be class leading (especially the camera software which is garbage), I do find it to be adequate about 60% of the time. I can’t say the same about the Idol X camera. It’s not horrible but a lot of the time I wish the pictures turned out better.
8GB more storage is nice because certain programs won’t install on memory cards so the Nexus 5 has the advantage here. The Nexus is also available with 32GB of built-in storage but it costs more and at that point, is much more expensive than the Idol X. Then again, the Idol X takes MicroSD cards so if you have a lot of media this is a big advantage.
As far as the latest version of Android goes, (currently 4.4 on the Nexus) vs 4.2 on the Idol X, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between the 2 versions. That said, it’s anyone’s guess if the Idol X will receive any more Android updates beyond what it ships with whereas Nexus phones usually get updates for at least another 18 months.
Under the hood there’s a big difference between the Nexus 5 and the Idol X. The Idol X is powered by a 1.5Ghz quad-core MediaTek MT6589 SoC while the Nexus 5 has a 2.3Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 running the show.
If you’re just running browser benchmarks, the difference between these two SoC’s isn’t all that great. Where the Qualcomm really sets itself apart is when it comes to graphics performance.
1920x1080 is a lot pixels to push. While the Qualcomm is definitely up to this task, the MediaTek comes up really short. Actually, you don’t even need benchmarks to notice this. Pretty much everything on the Idol X feels less smooth than the Nexus. While it’s able to run older casual games like Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies, it really struggles on newer ones like Plants vs Zombies 2.
Unfortunately, the Idol X’s Soc, particularly the GPU is completely overwhelmed by it’s 1920x1080 screen. Sometimes more is not more; having too much has its consequences. You can think of the Idol X as a cheese burger. It has all the things you expect like a hamburger patty, slice of cheese, ketchup, lettuce tomatoes but instead of a bun it comes with 2 small crackers. The Idol X definitely brings a knife to a gunfight in this regard.
Of these issues, I’d say the camera and the graphics performance are the real differences. So, if you’re paying full price for the Nexus 5 ($125 more from Google or $249 more from Bell) you have to ask yourself if these differences are worth the price difference. If you’re paying $125 more I’d say it’s a hard decision, at $249 it’s a no brainer, pick the Idol X.
However, if you’re willing to sign a contract though the Nexus 5 is $49 and the Idol X is $0. In the case of a contract I’d dish out the extra 50 bucks and skip the Idol X.
Motorola Moto G:
The Moto G is $50 cheaper than the Idol X. First off, keep in mind that the Moto G is a TELUS/Koodo exclusive while the Idol X is Bell only. Then again, remember that Bell and TELUS share HSPA and LTE networks so from a coverage standpoint, you’re pretty much getting the same thing.
With that out of the way, the Idol X beats the Moto G on paper. It has a bigger higher res screen, more RAM, expandable storage, more megapixels a slightly bigger battery, etc.
Indeed, you’re getting less with the Moto G, however, the Moto G’s lower resolution screen and SoC are a better pairing and provide a more smooth experience. It’s this fact which makes what should be a easy decision a little harder.
Still, graphics aside, if you can swing the extra $50 you should definitely take a look at the Idol X.