Hands-On: Alcatel Hero, OneTouch Alpha, and Idol Mini
The Alpha is not the first smartphone to bring flashing lights to the market, but it is perhaps one of the most attractive.
Alcatel Chief Marketing Officer Dan Dery explained that the company wanted to make a premium product that was unique and different from the boring sea of black slabs. The Alpha is encased in an aluminum frame that is wrapped around the outer exterior. The frame has a beautiful shape to it, with nice chamfers that join it with the glass on the front of the phone. It has black cuts in the side, similar to the iPhone, and also forms the antennas for the phone. The back panel is not made of metal, but it has the same metallic finish that the aluminum frame does. The mixture of metal and glass is a pleasing one. I really like the look and feel of the Alpha a lot.
It is a mid-sized device, perhaps a bit smaller than the Galaxy S4 or HTC One. It is slim and easy to hold, but somewhat heavy thanks in part to the materials used. The screen is quite nice. The Idol Alpha includes a 4.7-inch 720p HD display with Dragontail glass. The slightly smaller size offsets the lower resolution a little bit. The wallpapers that Alcatel had running on the phone looked brilliant on the screen.
The Alpha is end-capped by two translucent bars. These are where the LEDs are. According to Alcatel's Dery, the Alpha will only have white lights. He said he didn't want to release a product that looked like a "Christmas tree." The LEDs themselves are very hard to see. They are invisible in the top bar, but can be seen in the bottom translucent bar as they double for the Back, Menu, and Home buttons. Even though they light up when being used for the menu functions, the light is faint enough that I had a hard time seeing them in the bright conference room. Alcatel might need to tweak how much power is going to the LEDs. Speaking of which, Alcatel said the LEDs can each offer 12 different brightness levels, rather than just on or off. This lets the notification patterns take on a much smoother look.
The patterns themselves weren't quite ready for primetime. In fact, the only working prototype on hand had stopped functioning by the time we got to it. The LEDs light and and can be set to show a number of different patterns depending on the type of notification. Incoming calls have one pattern, while text messages have another. There are controls in the settings menu that manages which alert gets which pattern.
Beyond this, the rest of the device has a lot of appeal. The high-end materials look and feel great. As with the Hero, Alcatel said it wasn't sure when the device would reach the market. The prototypes on hand were exceptionally buggy and obviously not mass-produced.