This is the era of the cheap phone that would just a couple of years ago been thought of as a superphone. Top phones for peanuts are the order of the day, and the latest in this style are the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 twins.

You can get the Idol 3 as a 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch phone, and both are primed for those who don’t want to be tied down to a long, expensive contract.

Twins

While a 4.7-inch phone is naturally going to feel quite different to a 5.5-inch one, these are clearly brothers. They’re plastic, but with a metal effect finish that’d fool plenty from a distance.

What really strikes you, though, is quite how slim and light the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 phones are. They make the 5-inch Moto G look like a chunky beast, and they don’t cost all that much more either.

In Europe you’ll pay 199 Euro for the 4.7-inch version or 249 Euro for the 5.5-inch beast. Don’t expect those figures to drop too much just because there are tenners in your pocket rather than Euro notes. 

You spin me right round

Despite just a slight difference in price, there’s quite a big difference in screen technology. They both use IPS LCD screens — a good thing — but where the 4.7-inch version has a 720p screen like the Moto G, the 5.5-inch one gets the upgrade to 1080p. This is a good job as 720p really stars bursting at the seams when pushed beyond five inches.

Each has what it needs, but that bump up does make the 5.5-inch version seem like a bit more of a bargain.

They share plenty of other traits, though. One of the big calling cards of the Idol 3 is pretty unusual. The phone is designed so that you can use it for pretty much everything whether it’s upside-down or not. So that means there are microphones and speakers at each end of the phone, and that the interface automatically flips when upturned. 

Speaking in stereo

Gimmick? Maybe, but we love it when phones use front-facing speakers like these. It’s also quite remarkable that Alcatel Onetouch has managed to fit a pair of front drivers into such a slim, affordable phone.

We got to hear them in a demo, and they are indeed a good deal louder than your average phone. They have separate 1.2W amps a piece, really pushing those little drivers to their limits. They are JBL-branded, showing you some bonus effort and expense has been put in. 

Ohhhhhhh Snap

The software of the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 phones is a pleasant surprise too. They run Android 5.0 Lollipop and Alcatel Onetouch seems to have toned down its style intrusions a bit for 2015.

There was not a sign of the lurid wallpapers or stuffy-looking apps menu layout we saw many times last year from the company’s phones. fingers crossed this won’t be reversed by the time the phones come out.

Still, other elements of the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 show a reassuring level of taste and restraint. Take the CPU: the mid-range octo-core Snapdragon 615 used in the 5.5-inch model is about as powerful as last year’s top models, and easily enough to get you a near-lag-free experience from our quick go with the phones, but helps bring that price down.

The smaller 4.7-inch version uses the Snapdragon 410 chipset. Alcatel Onetouch told us that part of this decision was down to the differing screen resolution. Rendering games at 1080p requires a bit more power.

The Idol 3 range also takes advantage of the way that phones really have a bit more spec power than we need in a lot of areas. It’s the same story with the camera. 

Megapixel fiend

These phones have a 13-megapixel main camera. That’s a whole lot of megapixel fun for this money. Alcatel also talked-up a new approach to focusing too.

It uses a very active kind of face detection that looks how far apart eyes are from mouths and so on to work out roughly how far away you are from your subject, letting it zip to the right focus area before finishing things off with a bit of trusty contrast detection (what every phone uses).

The Idol 3 camera may go a bit haywire if it spots a giant billboard of Ryan Gosling in the distance, but who wouldn’t? In all seriousness, we’ll check this one out at review.

Alcatel Onetouch says it’s looking to sell 10 million units of the Idol 3 twins, and is willing to put serious dollar behind it too. Do they have the chops to really sell big? With the right deals from networks, they’re certainly budget picks to watch out for.