There’s no shortage of affordable Android smartphones on the market, but Alcatel has hit on a winning formula with its latest handsets: it’s made them appealing for more than just their price tags.
The Alcatel IDOL 4 and IDOL 4S come with a level of features and specifications designed to take them into the realm of the truly desirable. To find out more, we caught up with William Paterson, UK and Ireland country director, and Jack Joseph Puig, Director of Creative Innovation at Waves – the world’s leading developers of professional signal processors and audio plugins, and a key player in the development of the phones’ ear-pleasing audio performance.
No IDOL slouch
“I think the IDOL 4 sits in front of any product from our competition,” says Paterson. “It has a fantastic camera, a fantastic display and it has functions that are far more engaging than other devices, such as the Boom key, which is an experience booster. And it has VR.”
We’ll come to the Boom key later, but looking at the features he mentions, it’s difficult to argue with his assertions. On the camera front, the IDOL 4 and IDOL 4S each boasts an 8MP front-facing camera to deliver clearer selfies, while the phones’ rear cameras sport what Paterson describes as “the fastest autofocus on the market”: a mere 0.17 seconds.
Display-wise, there’s a choice between the IDOL 4’s 5.2in 1080 x 1920 TFT screen and the IDOL 4S’s 5.5in 1440 x 2560 AMOLED screen – the latter of which isn’t bettered on paper by any other smartphone available.
And then there’s VR. Alcatel is serious about pushing virtual reality, so much so that every IDOL 4 and IDOL 4S will come with a VR headset in the box. And we don’t mean a cardboard one – these goggles are made from tough polycarbonate.
Things that make you go Boom
On the subject of build quality, the IDOL 4 and IDOL 4S boast the sort of industrial design that you’d expect from a flagship phone (metal frame, glass screen, stereo speakers) and something unique – the Boom key. It’s a physical button on the side designed to “boost” any experience when using the phone.
“The whole thing started with the Boom key,” says Paterson. “It’s the centre of the product. So, whatever you’re doing with the device, you want to push that key! Just a simple example: you’re doing nothing with the device, just looking at it, but you push the key and that makes your home screen animate in a different way. You push the button to activate the VR goggles. If you’re listening to music, and you push the Boom key, the sound surrounds you; it gives you more bass.”
Making sound waves (with help from Waves)
In order to achieve that enhanced sound, Alcatel teamed up with Waves, a music software company with 25 years’ experience working in professional film, TV and concert audio.
“What we’ve done is taken the idea [of the Boom key] and helped Alcatel realise it from a software perspective,” Jack Joseph Puig tells us. “The phone has Waves’ tools and many different kinds of enhancements. So when you push that button it enhances specific parts of the sound even more and makes it more exciting than their natural tuning. There are times that it needs to be a bit quieter and there are times that you think, ‘I really want to go’ – and that is what this button does. Inside the phone is software, a level equaliser, compression. What this does is turns up the volume in each and every one of those, with a push of one button.”
And the IDOL 4’s stereo speakers mean it’s an impressive sonic performer, even without headphones plugged in. The speakers are tuned by ear – a process that takes a lot of work.
“It’s because we’re so picky,” explains Puig. “All of us that tune or work on these phones are professional mixers or professional master engineers. What we tune for is not sound – it is emotion or feeling. There’s the right sound and there’s the wrong sound. With any kind of device, they spend a lot of time [working on] how it looks, how it feels in the hand. How I look at the sound has to be the same way. How does it make me feel?”
Puig would know better than most, having bagged 11 Grammy awards for sound engineering and working with the likes of U2, Lady Gaga and Florence + The Machine.
For Paterson, making a winning smartphone isn’t just about putting the best spec numbers on paper – it’s about delivering features and experiences that consumers will appreciate. “The IDOL 4 is a flashy product, but it’s tailor-made for consumers, for real people. We want to deliver the best thing without them having to overspend.”