Hands-on with the new Alcatel One Touch Idol 3
It’s tough competing with the likes of Sony, Samsung, HTC and even the mighty OnePlus One. With the One Touch Idol 3, French mobile maker Alacatel appears to have done a much better job of marrying good design with a strong set of features, and has thrown in some nice little surprises to help its flagship phone grab a little more attention.
It comes in 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models, with 3G or 4G LTE support and the option of single or dual SIM, so there’s plenty of variety on offer. If you want the 5.5-inch Idol 3, it’s going to cost €279 (about £200) or €199-200 (about £150) for the 4.7-inch version.
SEE ALSO: HTC One M9 hands-on
Whether you grab the big or the small handset, both remind me of the Samsung Galaxy S5 with their gently curved corners. The bigger 5.5-inch Idol 3 doesn’t feel gigantic to hold in your hand and despite having a predominantly plastic design, it’s actually a good-looking handset. Alcatel has done some interesting things from a design perspective like the brushed finish on the back and the two-tone trim that masks the cheaper quality materials on show here.
Both are light to hold, with the 4.7-inch model weighing in at 110g and the 5.5-inch in at 141g. They’re both slim, measuring in below 7.5mm thick, so it’s not a chunky phone in either size.
Up front the screen bezel is nice and slim down the sides, while above and below the screen is where you’ll find the front-facing speakers. Ports and connections are well separated around the edges of the body with the micro SIM just below the standby button. There’s a dual microphones as is standard on most phones, but Alcatel has added dual receiver, which supports the ability to take calls whichever way you are holding the phone up to the side of your face and get the same call quality.
The back is not removable so you can’t get to the modest 2,000 mAh (4.7-inch) or slightly bigger 2,010mAh battery inside the 5.5-inch model. There’s no micro SD storage either to expand beyond the 16GB or 32GB internal storage options.
The IPS LCD screens is where the two phones part in terms of quality. The smaller screen has a 720p HD screen while the 5.5-inch model packs a Full HD screen. Either way, you are getting what I’d expect to see from phones at these price points. The 5.5-inch Idol 3 impresses more for brightness with Alcatel claiming it’s cranked up the luminosity to 650nits in comparison to the 600nits on the 4.7-inch Idol 3, which is up there with most high end phones. Both offer strong viewing angles and impressive levels of sharpness, while Alcatel has partnered up with Technicolour to integrate its Colour Enhance technology to improve colour and contrast performance.
One of the biggest pushes with the Idol 3 comes in the sound department. Alcatel has added a DAC amp to improve audio quality and add more power. There’s also two smart power amps all of which combined help provide the 1.2 watts of power from the new front-facing speakers. Alcatel has also worked with JBL and uses the company’s Clari-Fi technology to recover quality for compressed audio files. While I wouldn’t say these are anywhere near as warm or powerful as HTC’s One M8 or One Mini 2’s speakers, they offer better clarity and stability at loud volumes than you’d see from similarly priced phones.
Along with the screen and sound quality, Alcatel is focusing on improving camera performance. There’s a 13-megapixel Sony IMEX 214 main camera sensor with a f/2.0 aperture lens to aid low-light shooting. Camera modes include HDR and something Alcatel calls ‘Fast Face Focus’. This promises to snap to focus on faces in just 0.26 seconds. Up front is 5-megapixel sensor for the 4.7-inch Idol 3 and either a 5 or an 8-megapixel one depending on your territory.
The Idol 3 runs on mostly untouched Android 5.0 Lollipop delivering features like the new lock screen and notification panel. Alcatel has added its own app storefront and revamped some of its native applications. The music app deserves a special mention because not only does it works like a standard music player where you can browse and queue up tracks, DJ software creators MixVibes have built in a mixing functionality. So when you flip the app into landscape, you’ll have two decks with some basic functionality like matching BPM cues, scratching and the ability to record mixes.
Powering the smaller Idol 3 is a quad-core Snapdragon 615 SoC (System on Chip), while the bigger model packs an octa-core variant of the same chipset with 1GB of RAM and Qualcomm’s Adreno 405 CPU taking care of gaming. Qualcomm’s new 64-bit CPU architecture does not use all of the cores at the same time and by doing that is able to improve overall performance like delivering high-quality video streaming more efficiently.
I like the One Touch Idol 3 – especially the bigger model. It looks good and focuses on the areas that really matter, such as screen quality, camera and sound performance. It’ll be interesting to see how the battery life fares, though. The problem Alcatel has here is that for a little more money, you can buy something like the OnePlus One (£229), and have a phone that can really compete with the big boys and is a known quantity. I look forward to spending more time with the Idol 3 when it launches in April, but I’m not convinced that enough people will know about it in the UK to want one.