Another smartphone goes by and Alcatel One Touch reminds the world that it's not going anywhere. After the winning blow that was the Idol X, the brand released the Idol S. Technically a step down from the X, it nonetheless has one rare feature for a phone its price: 4G compatibility.
However, that's not to say the Idol S has a lot to be modest about: it sports a 4.7-inch HD IPS screen, a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core processor, an Adreno 305 GPU, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of storage with a microSD card slot for up to 32 GB extra, an 8-Megapixel rear camera, a 1.3-Megapixel front camera, a 2,000 mAh non-removable battery and the usual wireless fare (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0) in addition to 4G. All of this fits in a body that measures 133.5 x 66.8 x 7.4 mm and weighs 110 g.
The Idol S is currently available for £130 SIM-free from EE and £160 from Argos, or for free with a £10.5 per month plan at Orange.
DESIGN & HANDLING
If there's one thing that can set Alcatel apart from the competition, it's design. We were pleasantly surprised with the Idol X's thin build (6.9 mm) and stylish look. The Idol S has all the same advantages, plus a few more: the back is made entirely of plastic, but this time it's soft and vaguely rubbery, a characteristic that not only feels nice, but also stops fingerprints from piling up on the back. Add to that a light weight and thin frame, and you have a phone that handles remarkably well.
The side buttons are conveniently positioned where your fingers naturally sit when holding the phone and the touch-sensitive buttons below the screen are perfectly responsive. The microSD and micro-SIM card slots are located along the right edge.
4G compatibility may be the primary selling point here, but it's not all the Idol S has: Alcatel pulled out the big guns for the touchscreen, giving it an IPS panel with HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels). The display passed our screen tests with flying colours. Between a Delta E of 3.6 that gives it nearly perfectly accurate tones, a super-high contrast ratio of 1,078:1, brightness of up to 473 cd/m² and excellent colour temperature of 6,497 K, this is practically a flawless display.
The only downside is a somewhat slow touch response time of 130 milliseconds, but this still falls within average and never posed any problems for us while using the phone.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
On top of Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean is the same user interface as the Idol X. It follows the same basic precepts that Google established when creating Android (i.e. customisable home screens for icons and widgets, plus an app menu). Alcatel's overlay is mostly an aesthetic addition that injects larger icons and warmer, livelier tones than Google's otherwise cold colour scheme. It's a nice interface to look at, and fun to use. Like the Idol X, the Idol S comes with a slew of extra apps, such as Gameloft games, productivity tools and SwiftKey Keyboard, which you normally would have to pay for on Google Play.
Mid-range smartphone brands often use MediaTek quad-core chipsets so they can optimise their cost effectiveness, but in order to offer 4G compatibility Alcatel had to go with a dual-core from Qualcomm. Luckily, it doesn't make the slightest difference on the phone's performance—a performance that isn't particularly exceptional, but that falls in line with the price range. By this we mean that in the great majority of cases, everything stays relatively fluid and responsive and processor-intensive games like Dead Trigger 2 and Riptide 2 run without a hitch. Only the most demanding users will find the odd lag bothersome.
To get the most out of the beautiful screen, Alcatel gave the Idol S support for all the most popular video file formats and codecs. It read every single movie we tried on it. Well, at least as far as the image is concerned—for some reason, the sound was erratically decoded on MKV files. Same goes for subtitles, which sometimes work correctly, sometimes not. But for absolute compatibility, you're still better off downloading a third-party app like MX Player.
The sound quality, however, is just average for a smartphone. It's clean through the headphone output, for the most part, and more or less dynamic, but it has low maximum volume. The speaker has satisfactory power and minimal saturation.
The 8-Megapixel camera isn't a catastrophe, but it's, let's say... anticlimactic. Whites come out slightly grey, there's less detail than advertised and the autofocus is slow and not always effective. In good lighting, shots can be acceptable at best, but the image becomes seriously degraded in low lighting. Videos turn out a tad better. Work could be done on the colours and detail, but at least they're fluid and in Full HD.
2,000 mAh batteries have become rather common on mid-range smartphones. Here, however, it provides very little use, obtaining a score of just over 18,000 in Battery Benchmark. If you're an intensive user, you'll have trouble getting the Idol S to last all day. And no matter what your usage, daily charging is a must.