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Featured Review: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

May 2, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

How many of you have heard of Alcatel before? Probably not too many of you. I hadn’t really heard of them until about a year ago. Alcatel OneTouch is owned by TCL, and they make some great mid-range and low-end smartphones. Mostly available unlocked or on T-Mobile’s network. Alcatel OneTouch announced a smartwatch back at CES which became really popular especially amongst the media. Primarily because it works with both iOS and Android, and until that point the only other smartwatch that did that was the Pebble. Fast forward about 6 weeks later, and we have Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Where Alcatel OneTouch took the wraps off of a couple of phones actually. But we’re here to talk about the Idol 3. Which is their flagship device, which is going to be shipping in Mid-May for $249. That’s unlocked and off contract.

Alcatel OneTouch has what looks to be a pretty fantastic smartphone here, with a Snapdragon 615 inside, 2GB of RAM, 5.5-inch 1080p IPS display, front-facing speakers powered by JBL, and a pretty hefty 2910mAh battery inside. But it is it worth it? Is it enough to be your next smartphone? That’s what we’ll be answering throughout this review.

Hardware

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The minute I took the Idol 3 out of the box, I wondered if the battery was inside. Because it is just that light. Then again, I have been using smartphones like the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 before that. So I could just be used to heavier devices. The Idol 3 is definitely a looker. While it’s not made of an all metal body, or a glass back, it does look quite nice. It also does fit in your hand quite nicely, although the power and volume buttons are a bit higher up than I’d prefer. But that’s not too hard to get used too. Looking at the front of the device, it kind of reminds me of the OnePlus One. Because at the top and bottom the display is raised a bit. Now for the Idol 3, that is because of the front-facing speakers that are on either side. While it’s not as visible as the OnePlus One, I do like that style.

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We have the 3.5mm headphone jack up top on the Idol 3 which is a great place to have it. And the micro USB port is on the bottom of the device. It is made of plastic, but the back does have that brushed metal look. Which looks really classy. While we’re talking about the back, there’s a 13MP camera back there with the flash. Which we’ll touch on a bit further down in the review.

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One of the features of the Idol 3 that Alcatel OneTouch was most proud of was the speakers. As we mentioned above, Alcatel OneTouch worked with JBL on these speakers (in fact you even get earbuds from JBL with the Idol 3). While it’s no Boomsound from HTC, it’s pretty close. It’s really hard to describe, but the sound from these front-facing speakers just sounds amazing. JBL is well known for their audio through their speakers and headphones, so if you like their products, you’re going to love these speakers here.

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The display is actually really great. It is an IPS panel, and it’s only 1920×1080. I say “only” because just about everyone else is going QHD at 2560×1440 resolution now. Alcatel OneTouch teamed up with the guys at Technicolor to make sure the color accuracy on this panel was as close to perfect as they could possibly get. And I think they got pretty darn close. It won’t outperform a QHD display, but as far as FHD displays go, it’s a pretty good competitor. I actually don’t mind sticking with a 1080p display, if this is what I get.

Performance

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Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the Snapdragon 810, and how it’s overheating. Well we aren’t here to deny that. Just to say that Alcatel OneTouch really dodged a bullet by going with the Snapdragon 615. While it doesn’t feel as snappy or speedy as the Snapdragon 800-series processors. It is definitely enough power to get your everyday tasks done. I’ve been using the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 for nearly a week, and haven’t really had any complaints with the performance of the device at all. It also has 2GB of RAM, which is still plenty of RAM to get pretty much anything done. Remember, Android can work with as little as 512MB of RAM, so 2GB is plenty.

Battery Life

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So we have a 2910mAh battery powering this 5.5-inch 1920×1080 resolution display. Should be enough juice right? Correct. I’ve been able to get through a full day every day that I’ve been using the Idol 3. Even on days where I was using T-Mobile LTE most of the day. You can see the battery cycles down below. While the Idol 3 won’t win any awards for battery life, it’s good enough to get you through your day and back home tonight.

Software

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I actually like what Alcatel OneTouch has done with software here. I like to call this the “Motorola Approach”. Basically taking stock Android or AOSP and adding in features to it, instead of slapping your own UI on top like Optimus UI, EMUI, Sense, or Touchwiz. What they’ve done is added a few new features to Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, and themed some of the icons. Which is great, especially for those that love AOSP.

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On the lock screen, you’ll notice 5 icons. One for the calculator, music, camera, contacts, and QR code reader. Just double tap on any of those icons and it’ll open up to that app. For the QR Code, it’ll obviously open the camera. They are nice additions to AOSP, and something that doesn’t really get in the way. And if you don’t like them, you can simply flip the switch and turn them off in Settings. The overall fluidity of the software on the Idol 3 is really great. I haven’t really seen any hiccups. Although I have seen Inbox give me a few Force Closes, but that happens on just about every device – gotta love bugs right?

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A feature that really stood out to me was the fact that you can flip the phone and use it upside down. Alcatel OneTouch has added a pretty sweet animation for when you do that. And holding the phone upside down feels the same as holding it right side up. In fact, half the time I’m holding it upside down and don’t even notice until I go to press the power or volume buttons. Speaking of power, Alcatel OneTouch has also added the double-tap to wake. Which is a great feature, but I actually don’t use that much on the Idol 3. And that’s probably the first phone that I’ve done that on.

Camera

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There’s a 13MP camera around the back of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. In a world of 20MP cameras from the likes of Sony, Motorola and HTC, how does Alcatel’s offering stack up? Quite well. I have to say I was pretty impressed with just about every aspect of the camera.As far as modes go, we have auto, HDR, Pano, Manual Mode, Time-Lapse, Scanner and Face Beauty. With manual mode you can change the ISO, the shutter, white balance and aperture. Which is pretty neat, especially for photographers. We took a bunch of pictures with the Idol 3. You can find them all down below.

Final Thoughts

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In a world where we have a OnePlus One that just ditched its invite system after a year, and it’s going for $349. Along with a Moto G at $179. I think the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 sits right in the middle. Not quite in the low-end of the mid-range as the Moto G, but not quite in the high-end range of where the OnePlus One was and still is. Which is why I think Alcatel OneTouch did a great job of pricing this at $249 when it goes on sale next month.

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 may not be as speedy as the Samsung Galaxy S6, it may not take as great of pictures as the Sony Xperia Z3, and it may not have the battery life of the Motorola Droid Turbo. But what it does, it does well. And unlike some other offerings on the market right now, it doesn’t overheat with the Snapdragon 615 powering it.