Alcatel Idol 4S review – CNET

Haven’t considered buying an Alcatel phone before? The unlocked Idol 4S — made of metal, glass and moxie — will work its butt off to change your mind. The phone boasts a large screen and excellent audio quality; a 16-megapixel camera and an 8-megapixel camera with front-facing flash; a convenience key to quickly launch apps; a fingerprint scanner; and a screen layout that orients itself as “up” no matter which way you pick up the phone. With competitive pricing (see below) and a list of impressive specs (full list also below), the Idol 4S is aggressively taking on the excellent OnePlus 3, a CNET editor’s choice phone. (Note that there’s an Idol 4, too. See those specs, you know, below.)

Let’s just make one thing absolutely crystal clear. I’ve been playing around with hardware and software on a prefinal Idol 4S meant for the US, which means there could be slight changes between this model and the completely finished, boxed-up unit. Since this version of the phone isn’t identical to one you’d be able to buy yourself, I’m holding off on a rated review for now and focus on my general impressions here. When I get the final version, the full court press — with my recommendations on whether or not you should buy the phone — is on.

In the US, the Idol 4S goes on sale July 15 for $ 350 presale or $ 400 outright. It comes bundled with a case, glass screen protector and Alcatel’s VR headset.

The most important thing you need to know is that the Idol 4S is all about throwing you everything that Alcatel thinks a buyer wants in a phone, plus extras like a case, screen protector and possibly VR headset — for the same price of a midrange flagship phone (that doesn’t come with those extras). You may not want the VR headset that Alcatel will bundle in the box for US buyers, but the tempered glass screen protector and Incipio case do come in handy.

The second most-important thing to know is that it’s an unlocked phone that runs on the GSM network. In the US, that means you’ll have to buy a SIM card that works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless or MetroPCS.

Using the Idol 4S

These dual speakers can crank out sound.

Josh Miller/CNET

Here’s what I noticed about the phone’s biggest features during this week — remember, this is prefinal-everything, so my impressions are subject to change when I get the real thing.

Boom key (convenience key): You can program this to open apps, like the camera, which is a shortcut. I love this in theory, but in practice, I kept accidentally taking unintended photos. Either it needs some finessing handling it, or I do.

Cameras: Overall, photos looked bright and colorful — so far I’ve mostly taken them of food, friends and flowers. Focus on the 16-megapixel camera seems a little relaxed, but a last-minute software update could very well enhance and sharpen the focus. We’ve seen this happen many times before. The flash on the 8-megapixel front-facing camera can be extremely useful, and harsh at times. Generally, I like having this as an option.

Fingerprint scanner: Located on the back beneath the camera lens, the fingerprint reader is small and not terrifically accurate. It helps to register multiple fingers, so if you don’t have a case on you can kind of drag them along the back. If you do, you’ll have to hit your target, but in a way that the case also helps position your finger. There is NFC, so you can use Android Pay for mobile payments as well as for unlocking your phone.

The fingerprint reader feels smaller than some.

Josh Miller/CNET

Reversible layout design: There’s technically an “up”, and the Reversible OS, which is entirely optional, is meant to help you use the phone right away no matter if you pick it up rightside up or upside down. What I noticed is that if you have the fingerprint reader turned on, it very much matters which way is “up” — you can only unlock the phone from a single orientation. And it’s confusing to think about the location of the Boom key if you want to use it.

Built-in JBL speakers: Audio is loud and rich for a smartphone. This is a great little extra if you play videos and music for others.

Worth watching

So yes, with its hardware and software so far, the Idol 4S is one to keep an eye on when our final review unit comes in. Alcatel’s huge value play is also unignorable for people who are interested in a high-performing midprice phone, one that could be a true contender against the OnePlus 3.

Idol 4S versus Idol 4: What’s the difference?

Alcatel Idol 4S Alcatel Idol 4
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Custom software Reversible OS Reversible OS
Screen resolution 5.5-inch 2,560×1,440-pixel AMOLED screen 5.2-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel IPS
Camera 16-megapixel camera 13-megapixel camera
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel camera with flash 8-megapixel camera with flash
Processor 1.8GHz + 1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 1.7GHz + 1.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Speakers 3.6 watt JBL dual speakers for front and back 3.6 watt JBL dual speakers for front and back
Storage 32GB storage, 3GB RAM, up to 512GB Micro-SD card slot 16GB and 2GB RAM, up to 512GB Micro-SD card slot
Battery 3,000mAh battery (quick charge) 2,610mAh battery with quick charge
Connector Standard Micro-USB port Standard Micro-USB port
Dual SIM-capable? Yes Yes
Price $ 400 (or $ 350 presale). ~450 euros, converts to £385, AU$ 780 ~280 euros, converts to $ 310, £215, AU$ 435

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