Alcatel Idol 4S review
Alcatel’s Idol 4S smartphone tries to sell itself on the inclusion of VR, but there are better reasons to opt for this mid-range smartphone.
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The Idol 4S is a perfectly acceptable mid-range device given its specifications and overall performance, and worthy of consideration in what is a very crowded market segment.
- Large display
- Boom Key
- Good battery performance
- Good mid-range processor
Could be better
- VR is badly undercooked
- Very ordinary camera
- Budget design
Alcatel, the brand formerly known as Alcatel OneTouch, has its DNA firmly in the budget phone space. It’s a position that sees the manufacturer claim a third place in Australian smartphone sales, despite not offering a phone in the "premium" price space. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a higher-end device. Last year the best of its phone offerings was the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3, and this year at MWC it unveiled the Idol 4 and Idol 4S. They’re not premium priced devices, keeping with that affordable positioning that Alcatel pursues, but are they any good? Alcatel produces the Idol 4 in two distinct variants; the Idol 4 and Idol 4S. The latter comes with a 5.5 inch display and faster processor, but the key idea behind both is that they’re the best phones Alcatel will produce in 2016, meant to offer a premium-style experience at a distinctly mid-range price point. The Idol 4 will cost $399 while the higher end Idol 4S, which is what we’ve reviewed here, will cost $599 when they go on sale in Australia in September.
|Alcatel||Idol 4||Idol 4S|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 617||Qualcomm Snapdragon 652|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080||2560×1440|
Upsides: Why you’d want the Alcatel Idol 4S
- Large display: Budget and mid-range phones tend to cut cost corners by keeping their display screen small and low resolution, and sometimes both at once. That’s something that Alcatel has avoided with the Idol 4S, which features a 5.5in 2560×1440 pixel AMOLED display. It’s a quality screen that looks good even in direct sunlight.
- Boom Key: Yes, it’s got a silly name, but depending on your usage the Boom Key found on the right hand side of the Idol 4S could be very useful. When the screen is locked it can be tapped once to switch the screen on, or twice to take an immediate photo. While on it can be configured to launch the camera, apps, or a limited number of "boom" functions, such as audio output or claimed in-game performance boosts.
- Good battery performance: Larger screens usually mean more battery drain, and in the mid-range space the Idol 4S’ overall battery time in Geekbench’s battery life test of 8:14:20 might seem a little ordinary, especially when you consider that the much cheaper Alcatel Pop 4 managed more than an hour extra on top of that. However, the Idol 4S managed that score with a larger and more vibrant display, and with a battery score higher than that of any mid-range phone we’ve tested yet. What that means in practical terms is that it did more data processing in the same period as comparable handsets.
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Samsung Galaxy J2 10:05:20 2689 Motorola Moto 4G Plus 9:44:10 3977 Alcatel Pop 4 9:20:30 2490 Alcatel Idol 4S 8:14:20 4943 LG Stylus DAB+ 8:11:40 3278 Alcatel Go Play 7:21:10 2941 Google Nexus 5X 7:14:20 4062 HTC One X9 7:03:10 3971 Oppo R7s 7:00:00 2800 Oppo R9 6:41:50 4018 Telstra Signature Premium 5:48:50 3260 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 5:42:00 2276 Huawei P8 Lite 4:39:40 2768
- Good mid-range processor: The Alcatel Idol 4S Snapdragon 652 processor isn’t precisely cutting edge, but for the asking price it’s a decent inclusion. This is borne out with the Idol 4S’ general benchmark performance, which sits well above many competing mid-range and budget handsets.
Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better) Alcatel Idol 4S 1536 4928 HTC One X9 892 4558 Oppo R9 867 3303 Google Nexus 5X 1188 3198 Telstra Signature Premium 745 3116 Motorola Moto G4 Plus 715 3042 Oppo R7s 696 2980 LG Stylus DAB+ 470 1418 Alcatel Go Play 453 1368 Samsung Galaxy J2 315 1044 Alcatel Pop 4 289 945
The same is true for general gaming performance. Here’s how the Idol 4S stacks up against its immediate competition in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result Alcatel IDOL 4S 18186 HTC One X9 16877 Sony Xperia XA 11173 Oppo R9 11053 Motorola Moto G4 Plus 9757 Telstra Signature Premium 9559 Oppo R7s 8390 LG Stylus DAB+ 4321 Alcatel Pop 4 3863 Samsung Galaxy J2 3469
Downsides: Why you might not want the Alcatel Idol 4S
- VR is badly undercooked: Unlike competing VR headsets such as Samsung’s Gear VR, the software offering with the Idol 4S is extremely limited. If you’re producing a lot of your own VR content to watch through the headset it’s reasonable enough, but the app offering is meagre and the experience feels cheap. You’re best off viewing the Idol 4S’ VR headset as a fun free novelty with the phone, rather than a standout reason to buy it.
- Very ordinary camera: In theory, using the Boom Key to quickly take a photo should be a lifesaver, but the reality is that the Idol 4S’ camera simply isn’t up to the task. All too often we ended up with dark, blurry photos even in reasonable light. The Idol 4S’ camera is a little better when you carefully frame, but it’s still only acceptable at best, rather than being a standout function.
- Budget design: The Idol 4S is meant to be the "best" of Alcatel’s design, and it’s certainly not priced against the real premium players. Still, we were left with the distinct impression of it having somewhat cheap design. It feels a little light and unsubstantial in the hand given its size, while the boom key, like the similar button found on some Sony handsets such as the Xperia X also juts out just a little. The included speakers work well, but their thin placement at each end of the Idol 4S just looks odd. The overall effect is of a phone that’s had some,but perhaps not enough design work put into it.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
When Alcatel unveiled the Idol 4 and Idol 4S, it was all about the VR hype. To be fair, a lot of technology hype this year has been about VR, so it’s not a bad bandwagon to hitch onto. The issue there is that the Idol 4S’ VR is only passable at best, and even then only really if you’re keen on loading your own VR-ready content onto your phone. Having the VR headset as the case is a cute gimmick, but it’s still just a gimmick. That aside, the Idol 4S is a perfectly acceptable mid-range device given its specifications and overall performance, and worthy of consideration in what is a very crowded market segment. If you’re after a large screen device with decent specifications, you could also consider the LG Stylus DAB+, Oppo R7s or Motorola's Moto G4 Plus.
Where can I get it?
Alcatel has stated that the Idol 4S will sell for $599 outright when it goes on sale in Australia in September, while the smaller Idol 4 will cost $399. There’s no word as yet as to whether any contract options will be available for the Idol 4S, although previous Alcatel phones have been made available through carriers; the Idol 3 was a Dodo exclusive, whereas the much cheaper Alcatel Pop 4 is sold through Optus as an outright prepaid phone.
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