Alcatel Idol 4S review: A flagship phone in mid-range clothes

alcatel_idol_4s_running_marshmallow_angled_TA

Alcatel.

That’s not a name you hear everyday when it comes to smartphones. They make smartphones, and fairly good ones, but are considered an underdog since all you ever hear about are the big names, such as Samsung, LG, Apple, HTC and now Google with the Pixel. But, even without the prestige or reputation of those higher level companies, Alcatel is still able to, without fail, put out a great phone.

The Idol 3 from last year was fantastic. And now Alcatel is back with the Idol 4 and Idol 4S, but this time, we’re focusing on the Idol 4S, essentially Alcatel’s flagship for the year. Find out more after the break.

Subscribe on YouTube!

Design

alcatel_idol_4s_review_back_angled_fingerprint_scanner_ta

The Idol 4S, made by Alcatel, is without a doubt a beautiful phone. It doesn’t seem to stray too far from the Idol 3’s lovely design, but does improve upon it. Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about the Idol 4S after using it for a week now. In the hand, the phone feels comfortable and natural, at least until you want to use some of the buttons. It has a metal frame, but the front and back are made out of glass. That usually brings an attractive design to the phone, and it does, but it’s quite slippery without a case.

alcatel_idol_4s_left_TA

Where Alcatel really missed the mark with the Idol 4S is the button placement — it’s confusing and frustrating. Around the back of the phone is a fingerprint scanner, but that’s all it is. It doesn’t serve as a home button as you might find on many phones opting for the fingerprint scanner. Instead, you have a home button, which has some odd placement. Placed on the left side of the phone, but near the top, it’s difficult and most certainly not comfortable to get to. The other frustrating thing is the new “Boom Key.”

alcatel_idol_4s_right_TA

The placement is just so strange. We’ll get more into its actual functionality later, but when you’re normally holding the phone, it’s simply difficult and uncomfortable to access, which I think would discourage usage substantially.

alcatel_idol_4s_review_front_angled_box_ta

The Idol 4S also comes with a virtual reality viewer. Alcatel actually did some ingenious design work here, and made it so that it was sort-of the packaging for the Idol 4S. With it, there’s not a whole lot to see here — it’s your standard VR viewer, only this one doesn’t have a dongle for you to plug your phone into. It’s simply a viewer — the Idol 4S runs the whole of the virtual reality software.

alcatel_idol_4s_review_vr_headset_ta

alcatel_idol_4s_review_logo_on_box_ta

alcatel_idol_4s_review_vr_headset_inside_ta

In that sense, you can look at it as a glorified Google Cardboard viewer. You launch the VR software on the phone, snap it in place on the viewer and you’re good to go. There’s a couple buttons on the bottom of the viewer for easy navigation. Aside from that, it’s quite comfortable and the straps on it never proved to be bothersome.

Hardware

 Alcatel Idol 4S
AnnouncedFebruary 20, 2016
ReleaseJuly 2016
Display5.5-inch Quad HD (2560x1440) AMOLED
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 652
RAM3GB
Storage32GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera16MP with dual-LED, phase detection autofocus
Front Camera8MP with LED flash
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
Chargingmicro-USB with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0
SoundFront-facing and back-facing stereo speakers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, compass, gyro, fingerprint
Measurements153.9 x 75.4 x 7mm
Weight149g
ColorsGold, Dark Gray, Rose Gold, Metal Silver

Performance

alcatel_idol_4s_review_to_the_left_front_ta

The phone has a 5.5-inch AMOLED display, and it’s easily the best thing about this phone. It’s clear this is where Alcatel invested a lot of time and money because it looks better than many expensive phones on the market. Putting the LG V20 and Alcatel Idol 4S side-by-side, Alcatel’s phone feels more vibrant, bright and colorful. One of the reasons for such a beautiful Quad HD display is because Alcatel is trying to be unique by including its own virtual reality headset with the phone, and generally, you need a great display for VR. Viewing angles are great and the phone is even readable under direct sunlight.

alcatel_idol_4s_back_top_TA

Now, this phone doesn’t have top-of-the-line hardware by any means. No, you don’t get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 found in many flagships today. Instead, you get a more humble Snapdragon 652 paired with 3GB of RAM. That might disappoint some people, but truth be told, this phone has made me feel like all of those high-end specs are simply marketing material. Even with the Snapdragon 652, the Idol 4S flies. There was no sluggishness whatsoever — everything was quick, snappy and responsive.

Under the “Recent Apps” tab, I can jump through apps without a hitch. In capturing 4K video, there’s no sluggishness or lag, it just does it without a problem. So, either Alcatel has done some insanely good optimization here or, in the real world, fancy specifications don’t matter aside from on paper. You just can’t tell a difference between the Snapdragon 652 in the Idol 4S and the Snapdragon 820 in the LG V20. In real, day-to-day use, there’s no difference.

Alcatel has really outdone themselves here.

Battery

alcatel_idol_4s_home_screen_top_closeup_TA

And, of course, all of this translates into better battery life. The Idol 4S has a 3,000mAh battery, just a little less, if not the same, that many top flagships have. On top of that, you have the Snapdragon 652 processor, which doesn’t draw as much power as the Snapdragon 820, so you do get some battery savings there.

In the real world, I can get a little more than a day out of this smartphone. I’ll pull it off the charger at around 7:00 a.m. and have plenty of juice left over at the end of the day. Now, I’m not an extreme smartphone user. The most I go on it for is calls, text, email and the occasional browsing to look something up. That said, your mileage may vary.

Now, if you are low and are in a pinch, the Idol 4S has quick charging functionality. That said, you can get a decent charge in just 10 minutes on the wire and be on your way.

Software

alcatel_idol_4s_app_drawer_TA

With the software, the Idol 4S shines in a lot of ways. Thanks to the display, the colors are bright and vibrant, but that’s how many of the stock icons are designed, too. There’s not a whole lot of bloatware on here. There’s very little, actually. Alcatel preloads some of the most commonly used apps that you’re almost guaranteed to use, such as Facebook and Twitter as well as the standard Google suite. Besides that, the only real additions you’ll see are all VR-related.

Loaded on this phone is Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The company has plans to make Android 7.0 Nougat available, but we’re not quite sure when those plans will take place. The Idol 3 only got Marshmallow in June, so we could be looking at the same time-frame for the Idol 4S next year.

The other intriguing piece of software is the Boom Key. You can program it to do a number of things, such as opening an app quickly or taking a screenshot of whatever page your on. In certain apps, It can enable Boom effects. This generally increases the volume of music or enables a sort-of fake surround sound experience when watching video. Truth be told, it’s weird and out of place. I mostly used it for turning on the home screen, since it was more comfortable than reaching for the oddly placed power button.

As far as the virtual reality software goes, it’s disappointing. There’s not a whole lot of content available for it, to be honest. Now, included is a handful of 360-degree videos and a couple of not-so-entertaining games, but that’s about it. There’s a store where you can find more content, but I found it to be extremely lacking. It’s neat to play around with for the first few minutes, but it’s nowhere near as polished as the Gear VR. And having used the Gear VR quite a bit, my expectations were just too high for Alcatel’s virtual reality experience.

Camera

alcatel-idol-4s-camera

The camera is a mixed bag of things. You get a 16-megapixel rear sensor, which can take some decent photos in the proper lighting scenario. But, even then, photos aren’t as detailed as you’d like them to be. That’s a major complaint to have about the camera, particularly when that’s one of the major features consumers consider when buying a phone. But, what might be worse is the saturation effect.

Alcatel doesn’t seem to try and get photos as close to real life as possible. Instead, colors are extremely saturated. We’re used to a little bit of this from companies like Samsung in the Galaxy S7, but it’s not nearly as bad as the Idol 4S. You can see what I’m talking about with the images below.

alcatel-idol-4s-camera-shot-4

alcatel-idol-4s-camera-shot-5

alcatel-idol-4s-camera-shot-3

alcatel-idol-4s-camera-shot-2

Beyond that, Alcatel offers a great number of camera features — panorama, manual, slo-mo and more. There’s also the standard flash setting, HDR mode, a timer and even a night mode. It’s able to take 4K video, too, but it faces that same saturation problem with the photos.

Closing

I think Alcatel really missed the mark with the Idol 4S. There were a few button placement complaints, which are very minor. It had a lot going for it — the screen, the snappiness and even the software. As unfortunate as it is, the camera is really what makes or breaks a phone. If you don’t have a good camera, no one is going to buy it. And that’s where I feel Alcatel has really missed the mark. If it did have a good camera, Alcatel could have had a high-end device that could easily compete with the likes of the Galaxy S7, even without the flagship level specs on paper.

Maybe next year.

Buy it now: Amazon


About the Author: Brad Ward

Brad is a tech enthusiast, writing and tinkering with all things technology since 2011. He currently bounces between the LG G3 and his beloved Moto X! His interests include reading, entrepreneurship, the gym, and of course, queso.


  • Cunk

    WTF? Why is yesterday’s date on this article from months ago? Seems like a cheap ploy to generate traffic from the recent release of the Windows version of this phone.

    • Justin_Herrick

      This is our first and only time publishing the review of the Alcatel Idol 4S. We’ve had the phone since summer but ran into a little hiccup with the original writer who had the phone; therefore, we had to wait to get the Idol 4S into Brad’s hands.

      It’s a mere coincidence that our review is published when the Windows version arrived.