Virtual reality looks set to be inescapable Mobile World Congress 2016, and Alcatel has jumped on the bandwagon first with its Idol 4S.
A flagship that’s been built the same affordable vein as Huawei’s P series and the Google Nexus 6P, this handset packs some alluring smartphone specs into a well-priced package. And it comes with an extra twist.
The Idol 4S will be packaged with a free pair of VR goggles. Yep, there’s no need to buy a pair separately - unlike Samsung’s own Gear VR.
Still, you might be wondering if the Idol 4S is a decent phone. Let alone a good enough handset to offer an immersive virtual reality experience. We got hands-on with the Alcatel Idol 4S to find out.
Idol 4S vs Idol 4 - the ’s’ is for superior
Alcatel launched its Idol 4S alongside another cheaper handset, the Idol 4, which costs €299. If you want to get a reasonable VR experience, you’ll want to spend a little extra on its superior big brother.
Priced at a still-good-value €449, the Idol 4S has a larger 5.5-inch AMOLED screen with a 2K resolution of 1440 x 2560. That’s compared to 1080 x 1920 on the 5.2in Idol 4. If you know VR, you’ll realise that this bump in screen resolution is important because your eyes won’t notice so many pixels when you’ve got a screen shoved up against them.
And when you actually want to use an Idol 4S like a normal smartphone? Well, you’ll be able to see accurate colours and plenty of detail in images and video. That’s unsurprising since the 4S shares the same screen resolution as last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6.
Need for speed?
The Idol 4S isn’t quite as fast as that handset though. Featuring a Snapdragon 652 processor and 3GB RAM. It should still have enough speed to handle the latest Asphalt game or however you choose to waste time with your smartphone. You’ll get a good amount of play from the Idol 4S too.
A 3000mAh battery means it has the same capacity as the LG G4 and a bigger battery than the 2550mAh Galaxy S6. This should get you through a day’s use without the need to recharge.
With 32GB storage, there’s ample room for your favourite apps and music, and any episodes of Game of Thrones you’ve illegally acquired. Still wanting for extra space? Bung a microSD card into the Idol 4S and you can expand its storage by up to 512GB.
About that headset
So is the Idol 4S any good as a VR phone? Well, straps for its case are sold separately, so you have to hold the thing to your face to use it. Think of the headset as a fancy Google Cardboard, rather than a fully blown alternative to Samsung’s Gear VR. You clip your Idol 4S into the casing in the same manner, but beyond that the experience is pretty different.
Unlike Samsung's Gear VR, the Idol’s complimentary headset isn’t powered by Oculus. That means you’re relying on preloaded content by Alcatel, as well as Google Cardboard experiences, to get the most out of your headset.
Navigating your way through virtual reality using the goggles is simple enough. There are two left-right touch controls on the button of the headset, which worked fine when selecting content. Still, the Idol 4S seems best used for short trips into the digital ether.
Away from its VR capabilities, the Idol 4S is a well-built smartphone. It shares the same ‘reversible’ design as its predecessor, the Idol 3, with speakers both on the phone’s front and rear. These seem to have been prioritised ahead of a fingerprint scanner but, other than this omission, there’s not much missing from the handset on first impressions. Certainly, it’s impressively lightweight in your hand.
With a 16-megapixel front-facing camera, the Idol 4S is capable of taking some good photos too. Although the phone runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Alcatel has tweaked it with its own skins and features and this is particularly the case when it comes to its camera app. There’s a panoramic 360 photo mode and a list of noises you can play from your phone to get someone’s attention. The goat one is particularly grating, but it’ll probably work well on absent minded children.
In terms of selfies, the Idol 4S packs in a 8-megapixel front-facing camera with flash, which should prove popular with late night selfie fiends.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Boom!
So that’s pretty much all you need to know about Alcatel’s 4S, although its ‘Boom Key’ is worth a mention. A small button on the side of the phone, this gimmicky widget allows you to access all manner of features, like a burst camera mode. At the less useful end of the smartphone spectrum, the Boom Key will ‘artistically reshuffle’ your photo gallery. Whatever that means.
Nevertheless, the Idol 4S is an intriguing proposition. A clear step up from Alacatel’s past handsets, it sees the manufacturer enter the flagship smartphone arena with a good handset and some neat ideas of its own. We’re looking forward to getting hold of an Idol 4S when it’s released in May.