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Hands-On: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

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Mar 1, 2015, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

Alcatel's new flagship Android smartphones impress with their features, build quality, and cost. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions of these mid-market killers.

source: Alcatel OneTouch

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Alcatel came out swinging at Mobile World Congress today with a pair of handsets that should cause Samsung and other players to worry about their lineup. The OneTouch Idol 3 comes in two sizes — much like Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus — with a 4.7-inch model and a 5.5-inch model. They share most features, with the exception of a few specs under the hood.

Alcatel did a great job designing these phones. The are simple, conservative, and timeless. The selection of colors and tones may not be playful, but the black, gray, and silver accents lend the Idol 3 series a much-deserved boost in raw sex appeal. The Idol 3 completely out-classes anything Alcatel has done before. The materials may all be plastics, but they look and feel much better than they have any right to. The phones are thin, light, and have a really nice in-the-hand quality to them. The polycarbonate frame has been treated with a paint job that makes the edge look as if they're chamfered aluminum. They aren't, but they look great.

The phones are on par with Apple's devices in terms of size and feel, though I don't think it's quite fair to compare Alcatel's efforts to Apple's. They are playing in different ballparks, so please understand I'm using the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus merely as reference points. The 4.7-inch model is sized perfectly. My thumb was able to reach the entire display with no trouble. It's incredibly light and is incredibly easy to hold and use thanks to the compact form and weight. You can easily stick it in any pocket. The 5.5-inch model is significantly bigger and is aimed at the phablet-loving crowd. You have to like using bigs phones if you want the larger Idol 3. Even so, the weight and build quality are excellent.

Idol 3  

Alcatel didn't spare any expense with the sound. The Idol 3 devices both have stereo speakers. There are grills on the top and bottom where the glass of the display meets the plastic outer frame. Alcatel tapped JBL to provide the 1.2W amplifiers and included JBL's Clarify sound processing to make sure music is at its peak. In the brief demo we received, the sound was certainly impressive in terms of quality and volume.

The front faces are symmetrical, which means they look the same when held right side up or upside down. Alcatel took advantage of this and created a rotating user interface. No matter which way you hold the phone, the UI — and controlling buttons — are always facing the right direction. This is possible, in part, because there are no physical buttons on the front; Alcatel is relying on Android's come-and-go-as-needed controls.

4.7  

Both the 4.7 and 5.5 have great screens. Alcatel tapped Technicolor to fine-tune the screens so they are at their best. The 4.7-inch model has 720p HD resolution and the 5.5-inch model has 1080p HD resolution. I think both look really, really good. Other differences include the cameras, batterie, and processor/memory configurations. Both have 13-megapixel main cameras, but the 4.7 has a 5-megapixel user-facing camera while the 5.5 has an 8-megapixel user-facing camera. The 4.7's battery measures 2,000mAh, while the 5.5's measures 2,910mAh. The 4.7 has a quad-core Snapdragon 400, while the 5.5 has an octa-core Snapdragon 615.

5.5  

Buttons and controls are kept to a minimum, which helps with keep the design simple. There screen lock button is on the left edge and the volume toggle is on the right edge. Both have reasonably good profiles and solid travel and feedback. I do with the volume toggle were a bit larger. Also, it may take many users a while to get used to the screen lock button's location on the left edge rather than the top or right edges (which is more common). As expected, there's a headphone jack on top and a microUSB port on the bottom.

Alcatel doesn't do much when it comes to customizing the user interface. Sure, the home screen icons have a different shape and there are different colors throughout, but the overall UI is close to stock Android 5.0 Lollipop.

UI  

In sum, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 and 5.5 are impressive devices — especially when one considers their $199 and $249 price points. That's what they'll cost without contracts or subsidies. The company plans to sell them unlocked directly to US consumers during the second quarter.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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