Alcatel OneTouch: it’s not a name people tend to get excited about as much as they do for Samsung or Apple, is it? The company's latest handset has almost certainly never been a topic of discussion when you've been down the pub.
But maybe it will be one day, because over the last year or so Alcatel OneTouch has been pushing on and attempting to claw a little plot of smartphone real estate to call its own.
There have been some odd decisions along the way (the Alpha did without a headphone jack - utter madness), but with the Idol 3 Alcatel OneTouch is making a solid case for itself.
At around £210-ish, this is a phone that hits the bullseye on most of the fundamentals that determine whether a phone is fun to use or a right old pain. It's 95 per cent joy, with just that pesky last five per cent holding it back from being one of the finest small phones money can buy.
You might immediately point to what you could consider a real negative - the plastic design. While the back looks like lightly brushed metal and the sides are chrome-y, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 is actually all-plastic apart from the glass atop the screen.
But the design is actually strong. It’s not as if Alcatel OneTouch tried and failed to use metal: it chose not to. After five minutes you get used to the plastic feel, and what takes over is quite how unusually small and light the phone is. It’s just 7.6mm thick and 110g: almost the same as the iPhone 5S.
In a world where humungous phones no longer cost a bomb there aren’t all that many diddy phones left. And even fewer good ones. The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 is a good one.
Unusually, it doesn’t position the power button so it sits right under your thumb, though. Instead, it’s over on the other side of the phone. Presumably Alcatel OneTouch thought the phone was small enough not to need careful button placement. It kinda is.
This is also just about the only phone that can also be used upside down, the idea being that if you take it out of your pocket the wrong way around, it won’t matter. For those quick checks of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 it’s useful, although you wouldn’t want to actually use the phone this way for too long. After all, it doesn’t move the buttons or headphone socket. It ain’t magic.
If that sounds like a gimmick too far, this Reversible feature can also be switched off.
Freshly ironed lines
Aiming for symmetry has also made the front of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 look pretty smart, with neat-looking indents above and below the screen where the speakers live. The speakers are also a real key feature.
These are some of the loudest speakers ever to feature on a phone. They’re significantly louder than the HTC One M9’s BoomSound speakers, and sound quality is well above average too.
At this sort of price I usually find phones tend to struggle to compete with a mere kitchen extractor fan, but the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 can cut through such noise without even maxing-out its volume. Even when using them to listen to a mid-picnic podcast out in London’s Bushey park, I didn’t go over 50 per cent so as not to annoy people 20m away.
While the HTC BoomSound speakers offer a richer sound, these are pretty much the best phone speakers you can get at the price. And all without drawing too much attention or thickening-up the phone at all.
With units both above and below the screen, the speakers are also used for phone calls, resulting in quite unusual sound quality during calls. A loud-ish speaker playing quietly just sounds different to ones only designed for call-like volumes. But calls are perfectly clear, again trumping what you usually get for this kind of cash.
At first the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 may seem like quite a bit more expensive than something like the Motorola Moto G while being in sort-of the same class, but there are reasons. One other slightly higher-end spec is the storage. You get a decent 16GB, and the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 accepts two SIM cards in the one pop-out tray, both nano-size.
After making a few phones that have skewed priorities and glaringly odd design decisions, Alcatel OneTouch has come up with something eminently tasteful. All the specific choices here are ones you appreciate on a daily basis.
How many Ps?
What’s sure to earn the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 a bit of criticism, though, is that it only has a 720p screen. Phones of a similar price such as the Honor 6 get you full 1080p, so is it enough?
I find the Idol 3 sharp enough that you don’t notice the difference in daily use, because it’s that bit smaller than a 5in phone, which is where the difference between 720p and 1080p really becomes quite obvious. It’s also clear than the display is a cut above some of the entry-level 720p phone screens.
Colours are good: bold but natural-looking, and outdoors visibility is very solid. It uses a better anti- reflective coating than most £150-odd phones. But this phone costs more than £150, right? Yes, I’m just trying to get across that the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 does have respectable reasons for asking for a bit more cash than most of its even cheaper rivals.
If you really can’t do without Full HD, be sure to check out the 5.5in version of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7. It has a 1080p screen, and costs a reasonable £270, and we'll have a full review of it up on the site in the next few days.
The one bit I would change about the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 screen is the kind of glass used. It features Dragontrail glass rather than the more popular Gorilla Glass, and judging by the light scratches I’ve picked up using the phone for a couple of weeks, it’s just not as hardy as Corning’s Gorilla Glass.
The deep cut
Still, this is probably the best Alcatel OneTouch phone we’ve seen yet. There is one more serious issue, though.
While performance is generally sound, it isn’t perfect. Quite often there’s a gap when typing as the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 catches up with your key-presses. This is a classic sign of a phone with slightly compromised insides or under-optimised software, and it gets annoying.
It’s an oddly specific kind of lag I noticed, as gaming performance is just fine, thanks to the lower-res screen, and there’s no general interface jerk-o-vision you get with some lower-end phones. Hopefully Alcatel will be able to squish it with a software update: I’ve seen plenty of phones using the old 32-bit version of this chipset (the Snapdragon 410) without keyboard lag.
The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 has a Snapdragon 410 1.2GHz quad-core processor, an entry-level chipset, paired with 1.5GB RAM.
So the software is probably playing a part in the the sluggish moments, but the custom UI is overall light years ahead of what Alcatel OneTouch was trotting out last year.
First, it’s based on Android Lollipop, the current version, and where the old Alcatel OneTouch UI seemed to be inspired by the shades of cartoony vomit, this one is far more neutral. It’s just a mild tweak of standard Lollipop, offering a near-default take on the apps menu, drop-down notifications style and lock screen, complete with post-it-like notifications.
The icon style is slightly different and there are app shortcuts on the lock screen, but nothing too adventurous bar something called OneTouch Stream.
This is a custom home screen that sits to the left of your normal home screens and provides a feed of bonus info. It’s where HTC puts the BlinkFeed news stream, and where Samsung puts its take on the same sort of info feed idea. It’s not original, it’s non-removable and it’s not really much cop, but it is at least easy to ignore.
At the moment it just gives you the weather, your calendar schedule, some suggested apps and, for reasons unknown, some wallpaper previews. Without an actual news stream, it seems a bit pointless. But perhaps Alcatel OneTouch will improve it with a future software update.
All your megapixel are belong to us
The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 also features what’s becoming the standard for high-end entry- level and mid-range phones: a 13-megapixel camera. Not all that long ago this used to be the spec of top-end models but these days a low-cost Sony sensor has brought these wares down to the little guys.
This is a decent, if not exceptional, camera. 13 megapixels mean you can get loads of detail from your pics in daylight, and the Auto mode is pretty snappy in decent light, making it fun to use. It’s a little bit prone to overexposure in both darker and lighter scenes, but not catastrophically so.
In a similar vein, the HDR mode is on the slow side, needing to pause for a bit of thinking time after each exposure. However, it’s pretty effective so worth using when it’ll improve your photos.
The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 also has electronic image stabilisation to help out with video, but this is not the same as the optical stabilisation that can really make low-light images quite special. I've found low-light performance to be quite patchy and inconsistent. A lot of the time shots are very noisy, and there’s not the kind of ultra-aggressive low-light compensation you get with some top-end phones that makes very dark scenes appear clear.
I've got a few decent low-light shots out of the phone. But not many. It’s no wonder when it uses a pretty slow f/2.65 lens.
One element that doesn’t disappoint, though, is battery life. Despite having a 2000Ah battery, which doesn’t seem all that hot these days, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 skips merrily through a day’s use even if you hit it pretty hard.
With light-to-moderate use you should get into the afternoon of the second day without too much worry. I'm also pretty impressed by how cool the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 stays. Any extra heat from a phone is energy wasted, and this one seems to have its efficiency tactics nailed down.
Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 verdict
The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 is a phone that scores tremendously well on the tilt factor. It’s not super-powered, doesn’t have the highest-spec screen in the world and doesn’t offer features we haven’t seen before, bar the incredibly loud speaker.
On paper, it may not blow you away, especially when 720p phones can be had for around the £100 mark these days. However, just about every aspect of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7 is a cut above those models. The storage, the screen, the speakers and the software are all pretty great.
Some performance issues and that we’d really like to see it dip below £200 mean it’s just short of being a revelation. But if you want a quality phone that’s petite, be sure to consider the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 4.7.