Friday, 16 October 2015 14:51

Alcatel OneTouch IDOL 3 smartphone (Review)

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Upside down, right side up – makes no difference to Alcatel OneTouch’s new Idol 3 as the world’s first reversible smartphone. It is possibly the world's best phone for the price.

It also presents a real conundrum to me as a reviewer. On one hand it has some flagship, and meets or exceeds, mid-high market to specifications - a 5.5”, HD, 401ppi, IPS, screen; 13MP camera; Qualcomm SnapDragon 615; 2GB RAM/16GB storage/microSD slot; JBL stereo speakers; and premium finishes. On the other, it retails for $379 placing in the even lower mass-market category. It is cheap, but punches hugely beyond its weight.

Note there are two versions – this review is for the bigger 5.5” screen. The smaller 4.7” has a 720p screen and a Qualcomm SnapDragon 410. It is more of a mass-market phone.

Out of the box

The retail box is attractive and contains the phone, a set of premium JBL buds/mic, a 1.5A charger and USB cable, and a micro sim/microSD removal tool.

Set up is simple and it offers you the option to skip everything (no Google) – just chose your language.

The User Interface (UI) is fine - Android 5.0.2 is underneath. It comes bundled with ‘bonus’ apps like Cars Racing, Clean Master, Dr Safety, Facetune, Bubbles, Kingdom and Lords, Little Big City, Puzzle Pets, Spider-Man, Com.eyeverify etc., that may be benign, but count as bloatware. I removed them freeing up memory and improving performance.

It has a bundled app co-developed with JBL that is a very good music player and a ‘pocket DJ’ feature. Audio is very clean and loud.

Alcatel OneTouch is predominantly found in the pre-pay, sell and forget market – yet Alcatel OneTouch has promised support for this handset for ‘future upgrades’.

Looks and Feel

It is almost the same size as the Samsung Note 5 but it is much lighter to hold. It is comfortable in the hand at 152.7 x 75.1 x 7.4 mm and 141g.

The power button, usually on the right is on the left – takes a little getting used to but the double tap the screen to wake makes up for this. The soft keys have a left – back; centre - home; and right - recent apps keys which seems to be the reverse of what I am used to – no issue.

It has elegant, rounded edges with twin bands of chrome running around the side, top and bottom. The back looks a little like textured metal – I am sure it is not. There are three different colours – light grey, dark grey and soft gold. I like the dark grey.

Being reversible, it has two microphones, and two JBL 2W speakers top and bottom.

Display

The 5.5”, 1080p, 401ppi, IPS screen is good – up with many flagship smartphones. Viewing angles and sunlight readability are good, and when playing a HD movie you can see the detail.

It has something called Technicolour colour and contrast adjustment. I found this slightly dull on automatic – as I do on many smartphones – so turned it off and ramped up the brightness for best results. Skin tones were accurate.

Battery

The 2910 mAh non-removable battery has an endurance rating of 67 hours. I used the phone in the normal course of business for several days averaging about two days between recharge. On one day, I really flogged it hard with several hours of solid use, tens of minutes of phone calls, Wi-Fi constant use and an hour of Bluetooth streaming and still had 35% left at the end of my day. It does not have fast charging so expect it to take around 3-4 hours from empty.

Cameras

You can access the camera from the lock screen – two taps to wake the phone up and left swipe for the camera – good.

The 13MP, f/2.0 camera uses a 5-element lens, Sony IMX214 sensor, and has Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS). It is mounted iPhone style on the top left. Here is my pet hate – it is so easy to cover the camera with your finger (as it is with all similar top left mounted cameras like the iPhone).

I do not suggest you use it upside down, as you are likely to cover it with your hand.

Daylight picture quality is good – not as good as the 16MP Samsung Note 5 or S6 at three times the price but very acceptable.

Low light is also acceptable – the f/2.0 lens helps, as does the Sony sensor, but a single LED flash means limited range. Maximum ISO is 2400, shutter speed 1/2000 sec, and white balance can be set for incandescent, fluoro, sunshine and cloud.

It takes 1080p video (or 480 and 720 if you select that).

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is available but you need to hold the camera very steady – Auto mode is much quicker to focus and shoot. It also has panoramic mode, time lapse, will scan 3D and barcodes, and has ‘face beauty’ mode.

Front camera is 8MP, f/2.0 and has an 84 degree wide shot angle. It has multiple face focus and produces good selfies (subject matter excepted) in all conditions.

In short, the camera is a solid performer - more than adequate for the happy snapper in all conditions.

Under the bonnet

The Qualcomm SnapDragon 615 is an eight core - four x 1.5Ghz and four x 1Ghz. It has the Adreno 405 graphics processor. In car parlance think of it as fuel savvy V6 – flagships have power guzzling V8s and often do not use the extra power.

In the GeekBench 3 test, it scored 2451. OPPO’s R7 scored 2620 and the Sony M4 Aqua scored 2375. These use the same Qualcomm 615 chipset so it suggests that OPPO is optimising for speed and this is very comparable.

It has 4G,LTE, 150Mbps, and bands B1, B2, B3, B4, B7 and B28 – all you need in Australia and better than many other phones.

It has Wi-Fi N dual band, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, NFC and FM radio.

This review table uses established Australian review paradigms for

  • Flagship phones – Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG’s G, Sony Xperia Z3/4, HTC One M9, Lenovo Moto X, and Lumia 930 series (superseded). Huawei, OPPO, Xiaomi, ZTE and others have entrants in this category.
  • Mid to high range – Huawei P8/Max, OPPO R7/Plus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Samsung A, LG L&F series, Moto E/G, Lumia 6XX. This may include Note/Phablets with Pen support
  • Mass market – Huawei Ascend Y/G series, OPPO N, ZTE, Alcatel OneTouch
  • El-cheapo <A$100

This phone cost $379 which puts it in the mass-market category – but it blows those average offerings out of the water so I am going to compared it to both mass and the mid-high market costing $500-800, and even flagship phones costing three time more. It is excellent value. For a mass-market phone there is no peer – 10 out of 5. For a mid-market phone is still rates well above average 6 out of 5, and for a flagship it would rate 4 out 5.

The rating below cover Mid-High/Mass e.g. 5/5

Note the following specifications are indicators only of what comprises the majority of offerings in their respective categories.

 

Mid-High

Mass

IDOL 3

Model 6045 Australia

 

Rating out of 5

Mid/Mass

Screen

5”+

Phablet 6”+

4-5”

5.5”

5/5+

Screen type and quality

IPS

LCD

IPS

5/5+

Pixel per Inch

400+

300+

401

5/5+

Glass (equiv)

Gorilla 3

Hardened

Unknown – hardened at least

5/5+

Res

HD 1080p

720p

1080p

5/5+

CPU

64-bit, 4 core+, Big/ little e.g.

Qualcomm 6XX or similar

32-bit, dual core+

 

Any ARM foundry

Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 MSM8939 and Adreno 405

Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A53

5/5+

Memory RAM

2GB

1GB

2GB

5/5+

Storage

16GB

8GB

16GB

5/5+

MicroSD

Up to 128GB

Up to 32GB

Up to 128GB

5/5+

LTE

Sufficient for local market and some global bands

Local market only

B1, B2, B3, B4, B7 and B28

Sufficient for local market and some global cover

5/5+

Dual SIM

It available provides 1 x 4G and 1 x 3G slot

N/A

An overseas model is available with dual sim and 32GB storage

N/A

Telstra Blue tick rural

No

No

N/A

N/A

Wi-Fi

N single antenna

G/N single antenna

N, dual antenna

5/5

NFC

Yes

Option

NFC

5/5+

GPS

at least GPS, GLONASS

A-GPS

A-GPS

5/5

Mapping software and maps

At least one free mapping system – Google or HERE

At least one free mapping system – Google or HERE

Google Maps

5/5

Bluetooth

4.0+

Optional

4.1 LE

5/5+

Sensors

G-shock

Gyroscope

Ambient light

Compass

Proximity

Accelerator

All

Most

Accelerometer

Proximity

Compass

Ambient light

5/5+

Battery

(Assumes Micro USB or Lightning)

>2000mAh

At least a day

Removable

<2000mAh

At least a day Removable

2190mAh

2 days normal use

1 day heavy use

Micro USB with HOST for USB flash drives etc.

5+/5++

Fast charge and/or Qi

Option

N/A

N/A

N/A

Camera Rear

13MP+ >f2.2

Single flash

BSI sensor, HD record

8MP+ f2.4

Single flash

13MP, 4128 x 3096

f/2.0 5 element lens

Single LED flash

Sony sensor

HD record

Geotagging, HDR, face detection. Panorama, time lapse

5+/5++

Camera Front

3MP+ HD

2MP 720p

8MP, f/2.0, 84 degree wide angle

5+/5++

Screen to body ratio (higher better as it affects dimensions) or keyboard

65%+

60%+

72.7%

152.7 x 75.1 mm

5+/5++

Thinness

8-9mm

9-10mm

7.4mm

5+/5++

Looks – highly subjective

Quality build and finishes

Consumer quality

Looks and feels premium with quality build and finishes

5+/5++

Weight

>175g (or 35g per inch of screen size)

>200g

141g

5+/5++

Operating system

Latest version with upgrades for at least one year e.g. all 5.x updates

Previous, or latest version.

No upgrades promised

Android 5.0.2

All upgrades to Lollipop and most likely Marshmallow

5/5+

User Interface (UI) Bloatware

Does the UI add value, ability to customise

Are the UI and apps adware heavy

UI is OK but it does come with a bit of bloatware that can be easily removed.

5/5+

Video, Audio codecs

Most

Limited

Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
- MP3/AAC+/WAV/WMA player
- XviD/MP4/H.265 player
- Document viewer
- Photo/video editor

Wi-Di

DLNA

Hotspot

5/5+

Options

Bids and mic

Buds

JBL Premium Buds/Mic

5+/5++

Innovations

Standard slab

N/A

World’s first reversible phone can be used upside down

Dual JBL front speakers

Dual Mics

Flip cover for time view

5+/5++

IP or ruggedized

Option

N/A

No

N/A

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year

5/5

Service in Australia

Yes

Yes

Yes

5/5

Price

$500-799+

$250-499

$379 approx

5++/5+++

Conclusion

The end of the $1000 smartphone is nigh  – this simply proves that great quality kit can be done for a fraction of the flagship price – although this is more priced in the mass-market class and gives all of them a severe hiding.

No, it is not a $1000+ Samsung Galaxy S6 series or an iPhone 6/6s series but seriously, it is an amazing phone for the price beating everything in its class and the next class up by a huge margin.

Would I buy it? Yes if I wanted a 5.5” Android smartphone with everything I need. I think this will become a cult phone for those who understand that it is not necessary to be a brand snob.

International reviews are similarly effusive. The only negative comments are that the screen may break slightly more easily than expected. A glass screen protector or flip cover solves that issue.

It will be available from early November through Dodo retail stores and online for RRP $379 (Dodo is part of the M2 Group).

 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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