Alcatel Idol 4s Review: In Depth

Alcatel Idol 4s Review with VR headset: French mobile giant Alcatel is back in the UK with a premium and pretty bloody massive flagship phone, the Idol 4s. This mighty 5.5-inch handset packs a 16-megapixel camera and super-sharp Quad HD screen and comes bundled with a funky VR headset to rival Samsung’s own Gear VR. But is it worth the £400 asking price?

Trouble is, £400 bags you an awful lot of phone these days, including the excellent OnePlus 3 and the rather brilliant Honor 8, both of which boast super-smooth performance and brilliant features. But the Idol 4s stands out somewhat with its bundled VR headset – making this a more-or-less affordable way to hurtle onto the virtual reality bandwagon. After all, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and its own Gear VR headset will cost you at least a couple of hundred quid more.

Read next: How to get started with VR on your mobile phone

So, is the Idol 4s a worthy purchase for anyone excited by virtual reality? Here’s our full review.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Design

The Idol 4s sports a hand-filling frame that’s almost the same size and weight as the S7 Edge, Samsung’s big blower from earlier this year. It’s an attractive handset thanks to some tidy curvature around the corners and edges, while the metal banding and glossy rear mimic Samsung’s own design. We definitely approve of the look and feel of the phone, and that glass surface doesn’t attract grease too badly.

Of course, at this size the Idol 4s isn’t easy to use one-handed. We couldn’t find any kind of one handed mode buried in Alcatel’s settings menu either, to help out.

There’s no kind of water resistance, so you’ll want to keep the phone well clear of sinks, baths and the rest. And I’ve also noticed a few light scratches on the front of the Idol 4s after a couple of weeks of use, so I’d recommend investing in a screen protector.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Screen and media

One of the definite highlights of the Idol 4s is that gorgeous 5.5-inch AMOLED screen. Not only is it seriously sharp thanks to the Quad HD resolution, which means insanely detailed images, but photos and videos are really brought to life with vibrant, in-your-face colours.

Viewing angles are pretty much perfect and on top brightness you’ll be able to read your emails even on a beach in Barbados.

We even like the stereo speakers, positioned above and below the screen like the HTC 10’s BoomSound blowers. They pump out some ridiculously powerful audio and it doesn’t sound too tinny either, which is pretty rare for the built-in speakers on a mobile phone.

Don’t want to stream all of your media? No worries, as the 32GB of built-in storage is expandable via a microSD memory card, for up to 256GB of extra space.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Features

Alcatel has added quite a lot of bonus features and shortcuts to Android Marshmallow, without changing the look and feel of Google’s OS too drastically.

So for instance, there’s plenty of gesture support built into the Idol 4s. You can double-tap the screen to wake it, flip it over to get rid of any unwanted calls, and even sketch specific letters or icons on the hibernating display to open straight to an app.

The lock screen also has some space for what Alcatel dubs ‘Func Shortcuts’. These instantly launch a specific task, such as composing a message, opening a search window or even asking Shazam what the song is that’s playing right now. Quite a handy time saver.

On the right edge of the phone you even get a physical shortcut key, dubbed the Boom Key. This can be fully configured inside the Idol’s settings menu, to power up the device when pushed and launch a preferred app. You can choose from basically any app on your phone, even those you’ve installed yourself, which is nice.

You also get support for two SIM cards, with full control over which card is used for data, calls and so on. Good news if you have a separate personal and work SIM.

However, one important physical feature that the Idol 4s is missing is a fingerprint sensor. Every rival handset at this price point sports a digit scanner, so you can quickly and securely unlock to your desktops without inputting the same PIN or password each time. Not having that option is tiresome, although at least Google’s Smart Unlock feature bypasses the PIN when you’re in a trusted place or connected to a specific Bluetooth device.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: VR headset

A major deciding factor in whether you stump up for the Alcatel Idol 4s is likely to be the bundled VR headset. If you have no interest whatsoever in virtual reality, then you’re essentially paying extra for something that’s gonna sit up in your attic for a few years. But if you’re intrigued about the possibility of playing VR games and enjoying VR experiences at home, then this definitely adds some value to the package.

Read next: Weirdest, most cringe-worthy VR experiences so far

The headset you get is good quality, comparable to Samsung’s own Gear VR. It’s a chunky plastic shell which basically sits on your face, but it’s lightweight enough to make for comfortable viewing, even for extended periods. Just slip the phone into position and strap the thing to your bonce and you’re good to go.

Glasses wearers need not worry either, as there’s plenty of space inside the padded viewing area for your specs.

Alcatel’s VR app starts up automatically once the phone is in place, or you can back out and start up any other VR app that you’ve downloaded – there’s a solid selection on Google Play already. With two buttons beneath the chassis to select menu options and back out to the previous menu, navigation is a doddle.

Of course, if you’re only mildly intrigued by VR, you’ll be better off just paying a tenner or so for a Google Cardboard headset. But Alcatel’s bundled viewer is definitely a worthy rival to most other mobile solutions.

Read next: Best VR headsets to use with your Android phone or iPhone

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Performance and battery life

The Idol 4s uses an octa-core Snapdragon 652 processor backed by 3GB of RAM, which on AnTuTu gives a benchmarking score of 82k.

That’s a fair way behind the OnePlus 3’s tally of 120k, but these test scores aren’t everything and that still beats some other mid-range mobiles like Sony’s Xperia X. I used the Idol 4s as my full-time smartphone for several days and in that time rarely saw any kind of stammer or performance issue.

Beyond a couple of tiny pauses while skipping between apps, Alcatel’s handset was a smooth and satisfying experience. You can even play the latest games quite comfortably, with a solid frame rate.

As for battery life, the Idol 4s gives well over a day of use per charge. You can stream media, play with apps and browse the web to your heart’s delight and still manage at least 36 hours before the phone demands to be plugged in.

And if you do find yourself stranded with no power source and that phone’s battery is running low, you get a Battery Saver feature which toggles a few power-sapping features to keep you going a little longer.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Cameras

A 16-megapixel camera with two-tone LED flash sits on the rear of the Idol 4s and it’s a highly respectable mid-range snapper.

In normal light, you can expect an impressive amount of detail packed into every photo you take. Manic children and pets are usually captured without too much blur, thanks to the fast focus and shutter action, while colours are realistically reproduced. Strong contrast is also well handled, bringing out detail in areas that would be murky on lesser cameras.

Low light shots aren’t bad at all either, with the lens soaking up quite a bit of light to keep grain at a minimum. The Idol 4s is not quite Galaxy S7 levels of awesome, but at this price point we were definitely impressed by the results. Conversely, you do get some oversaturated photos when it’s very bright outside.

If you’re addicted to taking nightclub selfies then the Idol 4s’ 8-megapixel front-facing camera is going to be seriously appealing. It’s great in normal light, capturing crisp shots and offering a wide-angled lens for cramming in plenty of heads. But in low light it’s one of the best around thanks to the single LED flash. This is bright enough to light up your mug even in a pitch black room, although don’t expect accurate skin tones.

Video quality is also solid, with the Idol 4s shooting up to 4K UHD home movies. Detail levels are again strong, and image stabilisation (available up to Full HD resolution) helps to cut down on shaky footage. Although there is a strange warping effect at times when you’re walking and shooting simultaneously.

Alcatel Idol 4s Review: Verdict

The Idol 4s faces stiff competition at the £400 price point from the likes of the Sony Xperia X, OnePlus 3 and Samsung Galaxy A5, but it’s definitely got plenty of appeal thanks to a solid pair of cameras, decent battery life and a gorgeous Quad HD screen – something most rivals can’t boast.

Add to that the bundled VR headset and this is a great-value package, that’s easy to recommend. We’re only gutted that there isn’t a fingerprint sensor built in, while anyone after a compact handset should look elsewhere.

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