Hands On: Alcatel’s Intriguing New Premium Idol 4, 4S – PC Magazine
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BARCELONA—The Alcatel brand is commonly associated with midrange and budget smartphones and tablets, but that’s set to change with the Idol 4 series—just announced here at MWC 2016.
Alcatel is dropping the Onetouch from its name, simplifying the brand, and changing its logo. The Alcatel Idol 4 and Idol 4S are the two main representatives of this brand revamp, and both are unaplogetically premium. They boast metal-and-glass builds, with dual front- and rear-facing JBL speakers, and Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Their internals aren’t necessarily up to par with anticipated flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or LG G5; the hardware is more similar to devices like the Huawei Honor 5X. But the Idol 4 and 4S are two of the most intriguing phones we’ve seen at MWC so far, offering solid hardware, with a great design, and a number of innovative features that boost audio, camera performance, and integrate a VR experience.
There’s a lot to sink into in terms of features, so lets start with the nitty grittty.
Idol 4 Design and Hardware
The Idol 4 is the smaller and more modest of the two devices announced today, though that doesn’t mean there’s any compromise in the build quality. It has an attractive metal frame, holding together two contoured pieces of glass on its front and back.
The design is reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and OnePlus X in aesthetics and feel. The glass is slick, though not slippery and a bit prone to picking up fingerprints. That said, it is very light and thin at 0.27 inches.
It has a crisp 5.2-inch, Full HD (1,920-by-1,080) InPlane Switching display with good viewing angles, Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, 3GB of RAM, and a 2,610mAh battery. I didn’t get to test out its performance or battery much (there were about 5 million people backed in behind me), but the display seems to have good color reproduction.
The camera is a respectable 13-megapixel rearfacing sensor with 1080p video at 30fps—the standard midrange offering. The front-facing camera is an 8-megapixel shooter with front flash.
The device ships with 16GB of internal storage; Alcatel claims that 10GB should be available. There’s a microSD card slot capable of taking a card up to 512GB. There’s also some nice bells and whistles you wouldn’t normally expect from a device like this, including dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, quick charging (one hour to full), and Bluetooth 4.2. The device comes unlocked, with LTE bands 1/3/7/8/20/29/38/40.
Idol 4S Design and Hardware
The larger, more powerful Alcatel offering is the Idol 4S. The design isn’t fundamentally different from the Idol 4, except when it comes to size. It has a 5.5-inch Quad HD (2,560-by-1,440) AMOLED display that looked quite rich in the dimly lit showroom. It has a Snapdragon 652 octa-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz, 3GB of RAM, and a 3,000mAh battery. Again, it wasn’t really possible to test any of these in the showroom, so we’ll reserve judgment until our full review.
The camera seems to be no slouch; there’s a 16-megapixel rear-facing sensor, an 8-megapixel front-facing sensor with front flash and a wide angle lens. From the brief moments I had with it, it did well in low-light settings and took some crisp shots, but a more thorough analysis in our photo studio will give us a better idea of how it performs.
The device is capable of 2K video capture at 30fps and 1080p video at 60fps. It comes with 32GB of internal storage, which should leave 25GB available, and supports a microSD card up to 512GB. Like the Idol 4, the 4S also has dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, and quick charging (a little over 1.5 hours). It will come unlocked, supporting LTE bands 1/3/7/8/20/28.
For starters, the 4 and 4S have dual front- and rear-facing speakers. Stereo sound is reversible left to right, and so is the display, meaning you can use the phone upside down and the interface quickly rights itself. Camera and audio performance have gotten a heavier focus, the devices have ultra-fast autofocus, better low-light shooting and 360-degree photo and selfie capability. The speakers are 3.6 watts and Hi-Fi surround sound is supported for headsets (JBL audio earphones are included with the Idol 4 and Idol 4S).
Alcatel is also getting into VR, by having the packaging of the Idol 4 and 4S transform into a pair of Google Cardboard-style VR goggles. The Idol 4 and 4S will include a VR launcher and various pre-loaded VR games and apps. Hopefully that doesn’t mean bloatware, but I did see a few more pre-installed apps than the Idol 3.
More interesting is the addition of a hardware key called “Boom Key,” which offers a range of photo, video, and music functionality. Essentially, it’s a context-aware, physical button that performs different tasks depending on what you are doing on the phone at the time. If you are in the camera is will take an instant shot, doubling as a shutter button. If you are in a phone call, it will boost call volume. If you are listening to music, it will boost audio and bass. If you are playing Asphalt 8, it will give you a literal in-game nitrous boost. If you use the included VR headset, then you can use it to take you from standby mode straight to VR.
This is by far one of the most innovative implementations of a hardware button I’ve seen, and serves to show that a phone doesn’t necessarily have to check off all the spec boxes if it has an intriguing selling point. The inclusion of touchless interaction, with a 3D dynamic homescreen that modifies itself as your finger approaches and withdraws seems like icing on the cake, though how functional it is outside of demos will be the real test.
Release Date, Launch, and Availability
Alcatel plans to launch the Idol 4 is 50 countries over the next three months and ship as early as April as it eyes more market share in the U.S., Western Europe, Korea, and Japan. Fifty retail, carrier, and online partners have signed up to launch the Idol 4. Both the Idol 4 and 4S will be available with Gold, Dark Gray, Rose Gold, and Metal Silver-colored metal frames.
The company plans to offer four different configurations globally, including all color variants. Price is expected to range between 279 euros to 449 euros. North American price isn’t known yet and we advise against directly converting from euros since there are a lot of different factors that can affect phone pricing in different market.
Overall, Alcatel sought to distinguish itself at MWC with a thorough rebrand and my preliminary thoughts are that it really succeeded in that. I’ve never seen this much interest, let alone excitement in an Alcatel device. Alcatel hopes to become the fifth-largest smartphone and tablet manufacturer in market this year, and how well the Idol 4 and 4S do will determine that. Stay tuned for our full review of both devices.
Hands On: Alcatel’s Intriguing New Premium Idol 4, 4S – PC Magazine