- HD screen
- Crapware overload
We review the Alcatel One Touch Idol S, an affordable 4G phone rocking an 8-megapixel camera and 4.7-inch HD screen.
Fancy a bit of 4G but proper skint? Well, happy news time! We’re all of a sudden buried under an avalanche of cheapy 4G smartphones, from Motorola’s new LTE version of the Moto G, to EE’s upcoming Kestrel mobile.
French company Alcatel has also leapt into action, releasing the Alcatel One Touch Idol S. This 4G Android phone will set you back just £130 here in the UK, a mite cheaper than Motorola’s Moto G 4G, despite packing an 8-megapixel camera and a spacious 4.7-inch screen. But can it beat the other cheap 4G phones for value for money?
Alcatel One Touch Idol S design: Slim n light
After unwrapping the Alcatel One Touch Idol S, we were left suitably impressed. This is one smart-looking phone, and more importantly it feels great to handle. The 4.7-inch screen stretches almost edge-to-edge, to help with one-handed operation (we rarely had to resort to two mitts), and the phone is both slender (7.4mm) and very light (110g) for comfortable wielding.
Flip the Idol S over and you’ll find a pleasantly soft rear, which sticks to your palm. The dark grey cover looks neat rather than corporate (something the Alcatel 50 Helium 4G didn’t quite pull off), and the bright pink version is really fun and stand-out, if you can bear eye-catchingly vibrant tech.
The smartphone’s back is fixed into place, with a flap on the side for plugging in your SIM card and a microSD memory card. We’re always a little worried by flaps on budget phones, but this one locked firmly into place, rather than flapping (no pun intended) about.
Alcatel One Touch Idol S screen and media: HD goodness
Most phones around this price pack a screen that’s barely bigger than 4-inches, but Alcatel has gone all out for the Idol S with a 4.7-inch IPS screen. The 720×1280 pixel resolution makes for some sharp HD images, giving a 312ppi pixel density. We tested out a few HD movies and they looked fantastic, no hint of graininess or other issues.
One of the best mid-range screens around right now is the Motorola Moto G’s, which packs a similar HD resolution. We stuck the two phones side-by-side and the results were almost identical. There’s a slight difference in colour warmth, but we found neither was superior to the other, and media fans should enjoy the Idol S’ movie experience just as much.
Alcatel One Touch Idol S performance and battery life: Crash, bang, whallop
A dual-core 1.2GHz processor gives reliable performance as you whizz around Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and handles all of the basics well for the most part. However, we did have the unpleasant experience of the occasional app crash, mostly Google apps – Gmail, Chrome, YouTube and so on. We also saw the occasional shudder when we tried to close down an app, or our fingers were moving a little too fast for the processor to keep up with.
Battery life is another sour note sadly, and one of the Idol S’s major weaknesses. We only managed a full day of use between charges if we were extremely stringent with our playtime – the occasional email check and quick browse of the web. Start using the camera or playing with apps and the Idol S will be dead well before the day is done. If you stream video non-stop, you’ll get no more than three and a half hours of entertainment before the phone dies.
Alcatel One Touch Idol S features: Fast 4G
The major selling point of the Alcatel One Touch Idol S is its 4G support, although as we mentioned, this is becoming an increasingly common feature on sub-£150 handsets. We had no problems connecting to LTE networks, and in supported areas we found web browsing was as quick as you’d hope.
Alcatel has thrown tons of other apps onto the Idol S, which some may enjoy, and most will find annoying. You get everything from anti-virus apps to messenger and social media suites, although many of them require payment to fully unlock. There’s a handful of games already installed too, including an old Asphalt and Wonder Zoo, which allows you to build your own animal park and mistreat a bunch of cartoon zebra.
One little bonus addition we really didn’t appreciate was the way Alcatel regularly popped up requests to access our Facebook info – contacts, personal information, photos and so on. These spam requests often appeared without warning, even when we were nowhere near the Facebook app, and proved tricky to get rid of, as they often re-appeared immediately after tapping ‘decline’. The only apparent way to stop them is to get rid of Facebook, or accept and give them full access.
Alcatel One Touch Idol S camera: Respectable snapper
At this price point you don’t see too many 8-megapixel cameras, but the Alcatel One Touch Idol S is proudly rocking just that. It’s an easy-to-use snapper, with a joyously simple and well-laid-out interface. You have flash settings, a basic mode selection (HDR, Panorama, Burst shot and Smile), and the ability to switch to a front-facing camera for the all-important selfie shot.
Picture quality is decent when you’re outside with reasonable lighting conditions. Detail levels are good and there’s only a little motion blur when capturing moving subjects, while the HDR mode works well when the sun is messing up your shots. Indoors, we had more mixed results. Up-close shots in particular were grainy, dark and often out-of-focus.
However, for the price this is a capable camera, providing you don’t want anything fancy, and the video mode does a respectable job of capturing simple home movies, adapting well to changes in lighting conditions and switching focus on the fly automatically.
Alcatel One Touch Idol S verdict
The Alcatel One Touch Idol S is a damn infuriating smartphone. We wanted so badly to love it, with its slim, light and attractive design, HD screen and 4G support, all for a good price.
But then there’s the flip side. The occasional stuttery performance and crashes. The terrible battery life that’ll barely see you through the day. An abundance of crapware, and the irritating Facebook messages. For all its good intentions, the Idol S can be pretty damn irritating.
Of course, the real problem is that the likes of the Motorola Moto G 4G and EE’s Kestrel phone mean that soon you can easily pick up a 4G phone for £150 and under. With that kind of hot competition, it’s even harder to recommend the Idol S.