Review: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3
With the Idol 3, beauty is only skin deep, quite literally. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, but uses Alcatel's icons and fonts on the home screen and within the app menu. Alcatel has some really neat animations built into the skin. For example, when opening folders on the home screen panels, the folders unfold like you're opening an old-timey letter. Cute. Aside from this very, very mild overlay, the Idol 3 runs stock Lollipop. The notification tray, settings menu, home screen management tools, widgets, fonts, colors, and everything else are naked Lollipop.
The lock screen supports the usual set of passwords and other protections, as well as shortcuts to the phone and camera apps. You can also choose to turn on some other shortcuts made by Alcatel. Alcatel calls these shortcuts "Func" and they are either on or off. When on, you'll get shortcuts to a calculator, the media player, the camera, the gallery, and a QR code reader. (What? Who puts a QR reader on their lock screen?) This could be useful for those times when you want to scan an item in a store for quick price comparisons.
There are minimal home screens active out of the box, and they aren't littered with widgets and shortcuts. It takes only a few moments to customize the panels to suit your own needs. Google Now is off by default, but you can turn it on. If you do, Google Now becomes the leftmost home screen panel, which will surface cards with personalized information culled from your email, calendar, and search history. The app menu is laid out in a clean grid on a white background. Apps are listed alphabetically, but you can drop them into folders if you want. There's no list view option.
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The settings menu offers green text on a white background, which you can blame on Lollipop's Material Design. The individual settings are clumped together under categories such as "wireless and networks", "system", and so on. It's a simple and straightforward tool for managing the Idol 3.
The notification shade offers a list of your notifications, which can be dismissed en masse or individually, and access to the Quick Settings menu with a second downward swipe. The Quick Settings screen has been modified in Android 5.0, but the controls are all easy to use.
Performance is one area where the Idol 3 lags (literally!) the competition. Alcatel chose Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor. The 615 falls between the high-end 800 series and the mid-range 400 series processors from Qualcomm. As such, I was expecting Idol 3 and its Snapdragon 615 do much better than phones with the Snapdragon 400 on board. It didn't. I found the phone stuttered quite regularly and apps were slow to open at times. I also ran into a few app crashes here and there. When asked, Alcatel couldn't say if the company has any performance updates on the horizon. Hopefully it refines the code a bit before the device ships in mid May.
The Idol 3 relies on the stock Android 5.0 phone application. I wish it were a bit easier to use, but it gets the job done. The app has a search bar and your most recent call perched at the top of the screen. Below these two items are three tabs for accessing your favorite contacts, your call history, or all your contacts. The call log provides some information about calls (time, duration) in addition to shortcuts for redialing or sending a text message to those numbers. You need to press the circular dialpad button at the bottom of the screen to call up the number pad for dialing new numbers.
Though built into the phone app, your contacts can be accessed and managed through a stand-alone app. The contact app has two basic views: your favorites, and all of your contacts. Searching through your family, friends, and colleagues is a breeze thanks to the search tool. The app automatically syncs with your Google account if you use Gmail, but also supports Exchange and IMAP. As always, you can place direct dial and direct message shortcuts on the home screen panels if you wish.
Thanks to the stock operating system, there are but a few messaging tools aboard the handset. The newest version of Gmail is quite good and supports multiple email inboxes and services (including Exchange, etc.). Alcatel included the older, generic email app for good measure, but it's redundant.
The Idol 3 includes both the newer Google Messenger and Google Hangouts apps for sending text and IM messages. The Messenger app handles only SMS/MMS, while Hangouts handles SMS, MMS, and IM. Messenger is easier to use, but it's nice to have everything in one app within Hangouts. I find Hangouts to be a bit messy, but it works. You can download an alternative SMS app from the Play Store if you want.
Alcatel preloaded the Idol 3 with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
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