If youíre familiar with Alcatel OneTouch, recently their portfolio has had 2 parallel families of devices. The Idol X line had beefier specs like full HD displays but no LTE, plus they utilized MediaTek SoCís. The Idol S line used Qualcomm SoC and some include LTE but theyíre less attractive on paper.
Now we have the Idol 3, which appears to consolidate the 2 lines. It has a full HD display and is the first device Iíve tried with Qualcommís 64bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor.
Looking down the spec sheet, youíll find many features from last yearís flagships like the 5.5Ē FHD display I mentioned, along with a 13 megapixel camera, 2GB of RAM, stereo speakers and a large battery that approaches 3000mAh.
However, one thing thatís decidedly un-flagship about the Idol 3 is the price.
You can pick it up for only $249.99 USD unlocked direct from Alcatel OneTouch. it occupies a part of the market that is currently not very crowded. While there are bunch of less capable phones that cost less than $200 and many flagships that cost $500 and up, $250 is a pretty lonely place.
When I was trying to think of competitors, flagship alternatives like the OnePlus One and Nexus 5 cost a bit more than the Idol 3 while budget stalwarts like the Moto G 2nd Gen and ZTE Grand X Plus are a bit cheaper. I guess right now, the Idol 3 is competing with the the used and refurbished market.
What about the Alcatel OnePlus Idol X+?
Off the top of my head, the only phone I can think of that costs similar money is itís predecessor, the Idol X+.
The X+ has an octa-core Mediatek MT6589 SoC. It has 32bit ARM Cortex A7 cores running at 2Ghz. This allows it to beat the Idol 3 in certain benchmarks. However, its graphics performance is weaker which makes the Idol 3 a more balanced phone.
The Idol 3 also has a much better camera and screen. It also comes with Android 5.0 whereas the X+ is still running 4.4.
Iíll be frank, aside from some benchmarks, the Idol 3 is far better and balanced phone in every aspect.
- 5.5Ē IPS LCD display
- 1920x1080 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC (4 x 1.5Ghz Cortex-A53 cores + 4 x 1Ghz A53 cores)
- Adreno 405
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Storage
- 2910mAh battery
- 13 Megapixel rear facing camera with AF and LED flash
- 8 Megapixel front facing camera
- LTE bands 2/4/5/7/12/17
- HSPA bands: 850/1700/1900/2100
- 152.7 x 75.14 x 7.4mm
- Weight: 140.7g
Iím not sure if all Idol 3ís will come with the same packaging but mine came in a pretty cool box.
In case youíre wondering, the case doesnít actually have a lock on it.
One of the Idolís signature features is that the front has a symmetrical design so it doesnít matter which way youíre holding it. Itís an interesting idea but itís kind of the answer to a question no one asked.
I guess you could argue that you donít need to think as hard when you pick up the Idol but the thing is, the power button isnít in the Ďcorrectí spot if you hold the Idol upside down. Further, the camera isnít in the greatest spot when you hold it upside down so your fingers might be blocking it. The same goes for the front facing one too.
The transition from different orientations is pretty cool. Otherwise, itís telling that this feature is turned off by default. Alcatel must have learned about making a fuss about a new feature but turning off by default from Samsung.
To be honest, the symmetrical front isnít terribly interesting to look at either. I love minimalist design as much as the next person but the Idol is a bit bland looking - too much symmetry is boring - thereís no tension in the design to help draw attention to any of the detailing.
Still, the sides are quite intriguing. The curved chrome bezel blends seamlessly with the grooved finish.
Thereís a brushed metal looking finish on the back.
For some reason, the power button is all the way on the left side near the top. Since the Idol has a large-ish 5.5Ē screen this puts the power button way out of reach for right handers.
The buttons themselves arenít bad. They stick out just enough so that theyíre easy to find and they have a good but not great tactile response.
The bezel is very narrow so using the Idol with one hand is trickier than usual. Itís more of a 2- handed device.
I donít usually mention SIM card trays but the Idolís is a really great idea; thereís room for both the Micro SIM and a MicroSD.
The machined finish around the speaker holes is classy but I found they attracted a lot of dust which was hard to remove without a microfiber cloth. If you look carefully at my pictures I wasnít able to get them completely clean.
If you use a generic charging stand, the MicroUSB port is oriented towards the user like a Samsung phone but itís offset to the side.
If you donít know what Iím talking about, Nexus and HTC devices have a MicroUSB port which is facing away so often times, they face backwards when you put them on a charging stand that wasnít specifically designed for them.
While the details look pretty convincing, when you touch the Idol thereís no doubt its made of plastic. Itís a well finished phone but you wonít mistake it for a flagship because itís not terribly tactile.
That said, reasonably solid phone, thereís very little flexing when you twist it.
I donít see any screws on the body so Iím guessing youíll need to melt a lot of glue if you ever have to change the battery.
You get a 5.5Ē, 1920x1080 IPS LCD display. With a pixel density of over 400PPI, itís plenty sharp. Keen readers will notice that these are the same specs youíll find on the iPhone 6 Plus and OnePlus One. Alcatel OneTouch boasts that the screen has been tuned by Technicolor.
Straight on, the display looks great. Alcatel resisted the temptation to oversaturate it so colour is pleasant and looks reasonably accurate. Blacks are excellent for an LCD display.
Off-angle the display is quite good - thereís some brightness loss but contrast shift is minimal.
Itís very bright and works well outdoors in direct sunlight.
The Idol 3 just might have the best screen for any phone under $500. I canít think of anything cheaper that has a better screen. Itís not just a nice screen for the money, itís a nice screen, period.
The back has a 13 megapixel camera with autofocus and a LED flash. Itís actually a Sony IMX214 imager which can also be found on the Nexus 6 and OnePlus One. In front is a 8 megapixel unit.
Thatís not bad considering that the Nexus 6 and OnePlus One both cost more than the Idol. To be fair, no one buys the Nexus 6 or OnePlus One because they think they have awesome cameras but then again, the 6 and the Oneís are what Iíd consider adequate.
The lens has a fairly wide angle - Iím guessing around 28mm with a somewhat slow aperture of f/2.65.
Compared to the Nexus 6 (I donít have a OnePlus One handy), the Idol lags by quite a bit. The Nexus 6 has a much faster f/2 lens and image stabilization so itís able to use lower ISO values indoors which results in cleaner looking pictures.
This also makes the Idol a bad choice if youíre trying to stop motion like when youíre chasing kids around. Then again, the Nexus is pretty bad at that too.
The result is that the Idol has to use high ISO values, this results in noisy pictures. However, it also uses really strong noise reduction algorithms. The result is that images can sometimes look splotchy.
The splotches also eliminate a lot of fine details from pictures. To be fair, you probably wonít notice this unless you zoom in a little bit. This limits your flexibility because you canít really crop them without losing a lot of detail.
Video is also severely over-processed, so everything has a mild watercolor effect. In addition, there is overly-aggressive digital image stabilization so things get fuzzy whenever the phone detects movement. The microphone picks up very clean audio but it also captures a lot of handling noise.
Given that the same imaging sensor is capable of serviceable photos in the OnePlus One and Nexus 6, I was expecting a little more from the Idolís camera.
If anything, the Idol is a bit of a reminder; having a decent sensor isnít enough, lens, stabilization and tuning play a large role in helping it reach its potential. A good analogy is that of a car, thereís more to it than just the engine.
I donít think the front-facing camera has autofocus (most donít have AF). The lens is a bit wider than normal.
What I didnít like is that the fixed focus lens canít focus on anything closer than 18Ē away. It will give you out of focus images if you hold it close enough that your face fits in the frame. I guess youíre supposed to use the digital zoom if you want to do this so that you can hold it further away.
Otherwise, I got serviceable images from it though, I wish they put a lower resolution sensor thatís more sensitive. Indoors, it uses relatively slow shutter speeds so you have to make sure youíre holding it very still.
Out of the box, the Idol comes with Android Lollipop 5.02. Android is up to version 5.1 now so Iím mildly disappointed that it didnít come with 5.1 but then again, the difference between 5.02 and 5.1 is minor.
I like how you can double tap the screen to turn it on or off. For some reason, this feature is turned off by default.
Alcatel includes their own browser (whatís wrong with Chrome?), music player and image viewer along with the Google mandated versions of those apps. Other extras include:
- AVG Antivirus Pro
- File manager
- Sound Recorder
- Wi-Fi Display
- Wi-Fi Transfer
- WPS Office
Alcatelís Android overlay blends in well with Android L. Itís mostly a few tweaks here and there. This includes some extra shortcuts on the home screen, a close all function on the task switcher, some extra switches on the pull down, etc.
Still, Iím a bit confused as to why thereís only 11GB of storage available. While itís definitely not stock, it doesnít feel particularly bloated either.
Powering the show is a 64bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC.
In case youíre wondering, right now Qualcomm has 3 classes of 64bit SoCís on the market. Thereís the entry to mid-range Snapdragon 410 which has four ARM Cortex A53 cores paired with an Adreno 306 GPU. The Snapdragon 810 occupies the high-end with four Cortex A53ís, four higher performance Cortex A57 cores and an Adreno 430.
The Idol has a Snapdragon 615 which targets mid to upper-midrange phones with eight Cortex A53 cores. Half run at 1Ghz while the other half at 1.5Ghz along with an Adreno 405.
To me, all 3 SoCís provide adequate performance for everyday tasks, the real difference between them lies in how well theyíre able to drive different display resolutions.
The 810 is meant for 1920x1080 and up displays. The 615 handles up to 1920x1080 while the 410 is best at 1280x720 or less.
In that sense, the 615 is well matched with the Idolís 1920x1080 display.
The Idol 3ís predecessor, the Idol X+, has a Mediatek MT6589 SoC which has eight 32bit Arm Cortex-A7 processors clocked at 2Ghz.
Iím also going to compare it to the Moto G 2nd gen (a bit cheaper) and the Nexus 5 (getting hard to find and more expensive). Iíd include the OnePlus One but I donít have one lying around.
Iíll also toss a Samsung Galaxy S5 into the mix since its Snapdragon 801 is something youíd find in many of last yearís flagships.
Here's a comparison of how powerful the cores are in each phone:
The top part are single core scores while the bottom half is how powerful all the cores together are.
Benchmarks slots the Idol between a Snapdragon 800/801 and the 400/410:
It does well in Futuremarkís Peacekeeper browser benchmark running in Chrome.
Like I mentioned earlier, graphics is where the differences in their SoCs really shows up. The gap between the high end and everything else is quite pronounced. Note that I ran the benchmark using each deviceís native resolution.
I didn't include the Idol X+ because it won't run the Manhattan benchmark because it has an older GPU that only supports older versions of OpenGL.
To accommodate the Idol X+ I also included the on-screen T-Rex benchmark. Here you can see the gap between the Idol X+ and Idol 3's GPU.
Here are the Antutu scores.
Subjectively, most of the time the Idol is very smooth but it occasionally stutters a little when youíre switching tasks, more so than a Snapdragon 800 series. Again, Qualcomm has done a good job of differentiating their offerings.
These days, companies have been emphasizing the sound quality of their phoneís speakers. Whether they give it a name like HTCís Boomsound, Sonyís X-Loud or they just install a kick-a$$ pair of front-facing speakers like the Moto G2/X2/Nexus 6 everyoneís been upping their game.
With that in mind, the Idol has a pair of front-facing stereo speakers. Iíll be honest, given the Idolís price point, I was skeptical about how good theyíd sound. Turns out my skepticism was completely misplaced.
Theyíre one of the best pair available on any phone at any price point. Theyíre about as powerful as the Nexus 6ís. They have good range too (for a phone). If Iím going to nit pick, I wish Alcatel reigned in the treble and reverb just a little bit. But overall, theyíre pretty damn impressive.
The headphone amp sounds just fine. While itís not as powerful as some recent flagships, I thought they were more than adequate for my needs.
Included with the Alcatel music player is the ability to scratch your music using an on-screen record. Iím not sure how often anyone is going to use this but I thought it was a fun feature.
While the Idol has 16GB of storage, only around 10GB of it is available for use. Still, considering the Idolís price tag and the fact that it ships with Android L, this is perfectly acceptable. You can add MicroSD cards if you need more space.
As a Phone:
Incoming audio is clean. Maximum earpiece volume is average.
Maximum speakerphone volume is also average.
RF performance is slightly below average.
There is support for LTE bands 2/4/5/7/12/17 along with VoLTE (voice over LTE).
You get a 2910mAh battery which is well sized for a 5.5Ē phone with relatively low power A53 cores. Even power users probably can leave their external batteries at home.
If thatís not enough, I like how you can choose which programs are able to run in the background to save power. This option is in settings -> apps.
All in all, the Alcatel Idol 3 acquits itself well even before you take the affordable price tag into account. The screen, speakers and battery life are all top notch plus you get LTE. The Idol 3 proves you donít need to break the bank or sign a contract to get a solid phone.
That said, not everything is perfect, the body and build arenít very inspiring, the camera needs a lot of work and the RF is slightly below average but the affordable price tag assuages these shortcomings.
4 Howies out of 5.
- Lot of phone for the money
- Good looking display
- Powerful speakers
- Battery life
- MicroSD slot
- 16GB of storage (good considering the price point)
- Camera needs work
- Oddly placed power button
- Below average RF performance