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Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 REVIEW: Is this your next budget phone?

by Mark Burstiner | September 13, 2015September 13, 2015 3:00 pm PDT


Disclaimer: Alcatel sent us these devices and we used them for 8 days for the purpose of this review

As the budget market continues to grow is there any room for an above average budget entry? The Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 aims to be a player in this market. The Idol 3 comes in two models, 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models. The build quality is the same in the devices, but the specs vary.

The smaller model is sports:

  • 4.7-inches IPS LCD display
  • 1280 x 720
  • 312 ppi
  • Snapdragon 410
  • Adreno 306
  • 1.5 GB RAM

The bigger handset has:

  • 5.5-inches IPS LCD display
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 401 ppi
  • Snapdragon 615
  • Adreno 405
  • 2 GB RAM

Both contain 16 GB onboard, SD expandable to 128 GB.

Hardware

The build on both devices is excellent. Most of it is plastic, but the metal trim gives it a semi premium feel. Remember again, this is budget device. If the specs on this device were more robust, I’d still be very happy with the build quality of these devices. I think the best way to describe them is svelte. They feel slim, strong, and comfortable. The design isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s inoffensive. My only major complaint is the power button is awkwardly placed too high, but this is mitigated by a feature we’ll cover shortly.

The displays on these devices are good for what they are, but the display on the 5.5-inch model performs better than the 4.7-inch entry. The color on the 4.7-inch model’s display washes out and the contrast is murky at best, the screen is sharp enough for the size, and the viewing angles are good. The 5.5-inch, however, has a much more pleasant pixel density, color temp, and contrast. Unfortunately, though, both touch panels on these devices aren’t the most responsive at times, and you will notice it.

Performance was passable, but certainly nothing to write home about. I did notice non-trivial amounts of lag and between that and the responsiveness of the touch panel in question, I can’t really say the Idol offered a truly pleasant experience, though it certainly wasn’t the worst. It can handle the basics, but don’t expect too much more than that. Just loading up Adventure Time Puzzle Quest was a 3-minute affair and that was on the higher-end model.

If you’ve noticed, I don’t usually talk too much about the speakers unless they’re above average. That’s certainly the case here. While they aren’t boomsound, the speakers sound better than they have any right to. They’re front-facing and have a crisp clear sound to them. These speakers really are about the best you can get for a budget device and can easily go head to head with value devices also sporting front facing speakers.

The battery life was a big swing between these two. Both models have a pretty small battery reserve, and neither support quick fast charging, so do expect them to need a bit of TLC. Both devices had a bit of a hard time making it overnight in standby mode after a day of usage.

Software

The software had a ton of pleasant little tweaks. Nothing here is particularly offensive. The launcher is skinned, but it’s fine. The handful of apps preloaded aren’t obtrusive, and are easy enough to disregard. Alcatel adds a few touches that make it clear it is making an effort to differentiate wherever possible, despite how silly it may seem. One of the marquee features of the Idols is the ‘fully reversible’ nature of the devices. Sure, this is just screen orientation, but until now we’ve only seen this on a tablet. Think about it: how often do you pick up your phone when it’s turned off and realize you need to flip it in order to use it? It happens to me all the time, but with these devices, it doesn’t matter. More than once, I picked up the phone, double tapped to wake it, then went about using it. It wasn’t until I went to lock it that I realized it was upside down. It’s a small thing, but it made a big difference. I wish this were standard in Android.

Conclusion

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3-7

Review score: 6.5

While I had an overall positive experience with these devices, I’m struggling to figure out exactly where they fit. If you’re in the market for a cheap phone, you could certainly do much worse than the 4.7-inch Idol 3. It’s tiny, the battery life is fine, the camera is fine, and the software is inoffensive. If someone came up to me and told me they need a phone for less than $200, this is where I’d point them, but then I’d remember the Moto G is the same price point at $180 and arguably offers more bang for your buck.

Then we get to the 5.5-inch model. At $270, I wonder if your money isn’t better spent getting a Zenfone 2 at $300. I think the amount of compromises you make in terms of performance at that price point are a bit too much to justify making this purchase, especially when you take into account the state of flux this market is in right now.

Bottom line: While these are decent devices for the price point, they don’t do anything big enough to really merit my attention with other more serious contenders in the same price range.


Mark Burstiner

Mark is a former entrepreneur from New York by way of Chicago. He's a tech enthusiast and heavy gamer. If it's bleeding edge, he wants it. If it's...

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