There has been a trend over the last four years: people preferring large devices and manufacturers acting quickly to grant their wishes. As a result, it’s been a race to see who can make the largest devices and market them better. So much that what was once ridiculous, like smartphones over 5 inches, is now an accepted standard.
Everyone from the big smartphone brands like Apple that for quite some time still held on to the belief that big was not always better have also crossed over and even newer brands like Infinix, have joined the fray.
The line between smartphones and tablets faded long time ago. User habits have also changed. Previously, phones were mainly taken for what they were, phones. Devices one would only turn to for just communication. Today, they’ve evolved to become everything. They are the most personal devices. Statistics show that more and more people are reading eBooks on their smartphones than on specialized devices meant just for that like eReaders. TV shows and movies and other video content are now, more than ever before, being consumed right from the smartphone. That is what has fueled the race to make bigger smartphones.
Amidst all that, there are still a handful of smartphones that don’t aspire to be tablets or close to that. They are just smartphones. You can pick them up with one hand, reply to a text message using just one hand and when walking, your hand will still cover them whole and you’re not at risk of having them snatched. Those smartphones include the Compact series of smartphones from Sony like the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. The only problem with the Z3 Compact? It’s a bit dear. Is there an alternative?
Enter the 4.7 inch Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. Small, light, well-designed and packing all the power you’ll need as a modern-day smartphone user. We spent some time with the Idol 3 and it managed to convince us that it may just be the one.
- Size and weight: 134.6 x 65.9 x 7.6 mm, 110g
- Display: 4.7 inch HD IPS 1280 x 720 pixels (312ppi)
- Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 clocked at 1.2 GHz
- Memory: 16 GB internal memory; 1.5 GB RAM
- Camera: 13 megapixels rear sensor; 5-megapixels front-facing sensor
- Operating System: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
- Battery: 2,000mAh
- Network: 3G, 4G LTE
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
- Others: Dual-SIM, FM radio
Thin, light, sleek and well thought out. That’s my overall assessment of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3’s design.
The device is all plastic with subtle chrome accents breaking the monotony to give an attractive finish.
The non-removable back of the device is brushed to provide even better grip if the Idol 3’s already small frame wasn’t enough for you. The end result is a striking beauty. So much that if you are in our position and have had the opportunity to play around/use other smartphones in its price range then you’ll start questioning the design decisions that went into the making of those devices, your knowledge of the subject notwithstanding. What we’re saying, in a few words, is that the Idol 3 is one hell of a beauty. It doesn’t even struggle to stand out.
The front of the device is occupied by the 4.7 inch HD IPS display and two front-facing speakers at the top and at the bottom.
The top right corner of the back of the device is home to the 13-megapixel camera.
If you’re keen enough then you may notice the front-facing camera’s sensor on the front of the display. This is important because unless you turn over the device, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the top from the bottom. That is done deliberately. The Idol 3 is meant to make it convenient for you to use it without having to care which way you’re holding it. There are microphones on both ends of the device while the two front-firing speakers also double up as earpieces making it a non-issue which way you hold the phone when either playing games, music or answering phone calls.
As already noted, the Idol 3 packs a 4.7 inch HD IPS display. On a smartphone, the display is front and centre of everything. It is where all the action takes place. On the Idol 3, the display not only dazzles you with its bright and vivid colour reproduction but is also largely responsible for the overall size of the device which is its main attraction. Being a small display, the pixels are packed and you’ll struggle to find any fault in it.
The 13-megapixel Sony sensor on the Idol 3 is at par with what you’d expect from a device of its price and even more. You won’t get out of this world performance (which is what, coincidentally, we’ve had to say of the Idol 3’s biggest rival as well) but you’ll be able to get just good enough snaps. Detailed. The same goes with the 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Snaps in darkly-lit areas have too much noise while selfies when basking in the sun or anywhere else where there’s sufficient lighting will more than guarantee you hearts on Instagram and “likes” elsewhere.
There is little interference with the overall stock Android experience save for the way icons appear and a few pre-loaded applications. It is not your average cluttered Android experience. It is clean with only an icon pack applied for the sake of differentiation and curving out an identity unique to the Alcatel OneTouch brand.
One of the things one is likely to notice is that besides a few add-on applications, there’s little effort to over-customize the device and the user is not overwhelmed with features they’ll never need. Swiftkey keyboard is the default keyboard and if you’re already a user from your old device then that’s one less application you have to bother installing. Thankfully, for all the other applications that you are likely not to have much use for like Boyaa Texas Poker then you are at liberty to dump them. There are no restrictions.
The Idol 3’s lock screen is one of the few areas where you can see the device’s software customization at play and it brings front and centre shortcuts to apps like the camera, music and others that you’ll mostly find yourself accessing more often. Normally, the best users get on other devices by default is just quick access to the dialer and the camera.
The only smartphone we’ve reviewed here at Techweez with the Snapdragon 410 processor, the Samsung Galaxy J5, faired just well and so does the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. It will take with grace almost anything reasonable you throw at it with your only worry having to be the battery life. The device does get quite hot when you do things like play NFS No Limits or some other graphics-intensive game.
Since there’s very little interference with the general user interface, there are no signs of lag whatsoever, quite a feat for such a device.
Under normal use i.e. casual texting, a few calls, a selfie or two, some social media activity and light web browsing, the Idol 3 will last you from the time you leave the house in the morning to the time you get back in the evening. Anything out of the ordinary and you’ll need to carry the charger with you. The battery is not one of the phone’s greatest strengths if you are going to push it to its limits.
The Idol 3 has one of the best-sounding speakers one can find on any smartphone in the market at the moment. They are not necessarily very loud but the quality of the sound you get is unmatched among its peers and puts to shame some notable smartphones higher up the food chain. This is thanks to JBL’s audio enhancements which bring music to life when played on the Idol 3. When Adele sings “Hello, it’s me” you may turn around thinking she’s actually by your side breathing down your neck. Yes, they’re that good. The speakers are complemented by a pair of JBL headsets that you get in the box but those are a quarter the story. The speakers on the device, coupled with their placement on the front, are the real deal.
One of the things you may not immediately notice is the incorporation of some gestures in the device. Double-tap to wake works just fine.
4G network reception is good as is the call quality.
What we liked about the Idol 3
- Well-designed. The Idol 3 is probably one of the few smartphones in its class whose plastic construction you’re likely to approve of.
- One-handed use. When was the last time you comfortably used a smartphone on one hand? It doesn’t get better than the Idol 3. Handling is easier thanks to its small profile.
- Crispy display. It’s too good. While others almost trample over themselves over who can make the most bogus HD display, that’s not the case here. It pops, it’s vivid and makes reading text and watching video a pleasurable experience. I guess this is one of those smartphones where you actually appreciate 720p displays and don’t feel the need to remind yourself that the world has since moved from them.
- It doesn’t matter which way you hold the device; it will just work. It’s awkward handling any other device upside down. That’s not the case with the Idol 3. You’ll only limit yourself.
- The best-sounding speakers on any mid-range smartphone. There’s no argument on this one. You need to test them to know what I’m talking about.
What needs work
- Battery life could be better. Since the Idol 3 is a small device and to be able to maintain that thin profile and remain light, the much that could be squeezed in was a 2,000mAh battery unit and that is probably the phone’s main undoing. Yes, it will get you through the day if you’re a “lite” user but it could do better if it was a bit beefier. Sadly, that’s not the case.
- Depending on which model you pick, you may or may not have the ability to expand memory. The review unit we had (model number 6039K) did not have a microSD card slot. While some have learned to live without them, to some of us, they are essential moreso when at least 5 GB of the 16 GB internal storage is not accessible by the user.
The beauty of the mobile phone market today is that you are spoilt for choice regardless of the amount of money you intend to spend on a device. The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 brings the much-needed choices to the mid-range smartphone segment in the Kenyan market.
Not only does its pricing make sense but its feature set is impressive. Bright, crispy display, best handling, bearable software, best-sounding speakers and 4G LTE capability are all worth the Kshs 25,000 price tag.
TCL, the makers of the device will need to speed up the rate at which they update the software on their devices if they are to make a lasting impression on users. While its rivals at that price have Android 5.1.1, the Idol 3 is still stuck on Android 5.0.2. Being one of the most high profile Alcatel OneTouch devices, our guess (and hope) is that updates will start arriving in the new year.