What if you could get an incredibly capable phone at an astonishingly affordable price? That’s exactly what you’ll get with the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3, a fully unlocked Android phone that costs just $249. Not $249 with a two-year contract; just $249 period. When you compare the Idol 3’s feature set to those of the iPhone and—I’ll just pick a flagship Android phone here—the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, you’re going to be amazed at what you get for the price (and when it comes to pricing, what you don’t get stuck with).
I’ve been testing the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 for a little over a week and I’ve come away very impressed. The Idol 3 is a good looking device with a nice large screen (both in terms of size and display quality) that actually doesn’t feel as delicate as some smartphones. It performs well most of the time, although there are times when apps and functions can temporarily get sluggish. The main (rear) camera is quite capable, though the front (selfie) camera lags noticeably when it comes to taking front-facing video. Given the price, this is an exceptional phone that is mostly good and has only a few minor faults; it’s even got some features that top those on my iPhone 6 Plus as well as a couple of enhancements that will set it apart from other (even top-of-the-line) Android phones.
I should note that throughout this review you’re going to see some comparisons to the iPhone 6 Plus. That might seem unfair—why compare it to Apple’s flagship device which is much more expensive as opposed to comparing it with other Android phones? Well, for this specific review, it makes sense for two reasons. First, since October of 2014 the iPhone 6 Plus has been my main phone so it’s what I compare everything else to. Second, the Idol 3 has the same size screen as the iPhone 6 Plus and I think it makes an interesting, useful comparison (and you know what, the Idol 3 even holds up pretty darn well against the iPhone 6 Plus—and even excels in a few non-critical areas). Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get started.
Before I get any further, let me talk about two of Idol 3’s three standout features, the speakers and the reversible/flippable screen, because they help distinguish this phone from not only other Android devices but iPhones as well.
I really, really like the speakers on the Idol 3. There are two and they are both front-facing. One is on the top of the screen and one is on the bottom. And they aren’t just any speakers, they are made by JBL which means that they sound exceptional. I prefer this setup over that of any single-speaker phone (including my iPhone) because it’s too easy to cover up a speaker when you’re watching a movie or playing a game or using the speakerphone. Plus, the speakers are actually aimed at you which automatically makes them sound louder and better.
The Idol 3 has one really cool feature I haven’t seen anywhere else: a screen that can be reversed. This doesn’t refer to screen rotation—like turning the screen 90 degrees to see a YouTube video in full-screen. The reversibility of the screen refers to the fact that you can turn the phone upside down and it will still work. In essence, there is no “up” or “down” with the Idol 3. You can make a phone call while the “top” of the phone is up or when it’s flipped on it’s head. The screen shows a couple of cool effects when it flips over; the default is to twist and reverse. It’s pretty fun. But it’s also functional; just grab your phone and go—no need to worry about orientation. Of course the iPhone couldn’t do this with it’s current design due to the physical home button which means there is very definitely a right and wrong way to hold it.
One of the Idol 3’s biggest features—actually it’s killer feature, as it puts everything else into perspective—is simply it’s price: at only $249 without a contract and completely unlocked, it’s a full $500 cheaper than the cheapest unlocked iPhone 6 Plus (which would be a 16GB model). So while there are a few gripes about this phone, they are tempered by the price. To me, these gripes are basically all offset by the price. Never having to pay for an upgrade plan or any other monthly installment plan, not being tied to a specific upgrade cycle and no contracts—that is all SO worth it. If this phone cost more because it had more upgraded guts, it seriously wouldn’t be nearly as cool as it is now. In short, this price matters big time. This is the phone I think Steve Jobs would have crapped his pants about more than any top-spec Android phone on the market at the moment because it shows what you can get for a reasonable price.
I like the way the Idol 3 looks and I love the way it feels in-hand. If pressed, I’d say that Apple’s aesthetics overall and in general are better, but I wouldn’t at all say that Alcatel’s are bad. In fact, I prefer the way the Idol 3 looks and feels over Samsung’s devices. It’s got a plastic back but in many ways I actually prefer it because I’m not worried that it’s going to get scraped or scratched. There are some metal (or metal looking, not sure) accents around the edges of the phone and a small LED indicator light on the front. There’s a microphone on both the top and bottom of the phone, a power button on the left and a volume rocker on the right. The phone’s charging port, a mini-USB, in located on the bottom of the phone and the headphone jack is on the top.
For a phone with a 5.5 inch screen, I MUCH prefer how it fits in my hand over the iPhone 6 Plus (which, as I mentioned earlier, has the same screen dimensions). While the two phones share the same screen size, the Idol 3 is MUCH easier to hold and operate. Before I checked the specs, I actually assumed it was a smaller phone because it was so much easier to handle—I was pleasantly surprised to find that the screen was so big. The Idol 3 actually has a bigger screen than the Huawei P8, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the HTC One M9 in case you were wondering (and to add some context).
But it isn’t just big, it’s quite beautiful. No, it’s not Samsung’s Super AMOLED display, but it is full HD, bright and easy to view at multiple angles. Yes, the iPhone’s display is sharper, but honestly from more than a foot away it’s pretty hard to tell (up closer though you can definitely see that text, under app icons for example, is more pixelated on the Idol 3).
The biggest complaint I really have with the Idol 3 is it’s performance. There are times when it’s sluggish; apps taking too long to load, for instance, or the phone taking a bit too long to unlock—that sort of thing. But really, this isn’t something that would keep me from buying the phone. Again, for the price… come on, it’s not going to smash any bench marks, but it’s functional. It’s good enough. And since it’s loaded with Android Lollipop you can quickly and easily close all open windows (using that sweep/broom icon) which always seems to clear up any performance issues during normal use (as it frees up memory).
There’s really nothing wrong with the main (rear) camera, either in the photo or video department, and again considering the price. The main camera is a 13MP shooter with a variety of options including the following modes: auto, HDR, Pano, Manual, Time-lapse, Scanner (for QR codes and the like) and Face beauty. Face beauty is like digital makeup applied automatically without having to open and tweak a photo in an app like Facetune. In the camera settings you can tweak photo size (choose between 10M and 13M), you can set a timer, turn on/off GPS tagging, the shutter noise, the grid and more. For some context, the HTC One M9 (20MP), LG G4 (16MP) and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (16MP) all have better main cameras, but the Idol 3 is on par with the Huawei P8 and Motorola Nexus 6—both at 13MP.
But another minor gripe I do have is with the Idol 3’s front-facing “selfie” camera. At 5MP it’s alright for selfies or still shots, but when it comes to video—like if you move the screen at all—it’s laggy/wobbly. So this would NOT be a great camera for a vlogger walking down the street, for instance.
Battery life lasts all day. I’ve never been able to run it out with a normal day’s use. The lowest it seemed to go in a typical day was down to around 18%. And that’s with plenty of Netflix, web surfing, emailing, video taking, music listening and even some gaming thrown in.
Now for a few more iPhone 6 Plus comparisons. I’m sure the iPhone 6 Plus is technically thinner, but eyeballing the two phones laying flat on on their backs, the Idol 3 looks just a few hairs thicker—so hardly noticeable. The Idol 3 does, however, certainly have a smaller footprint; it’s slightly less wide but shaves off enough room from the length to make the phone much easier to work with (as mentioned earlier). The rear camera on the Idol 3 is also flush with the back of the phone while the iPhone 6 Plus has a rear camera that hangs out—I’ve always hated that.
I don’t know if it’s the low price or the materials used or a combination of both, but I’m not too worried about dropping, scratching, harming or destroying the Idol 3. It’s not meant to be a rugged phone, and I’m sure it’s just as delicate as any other smartphone without a case, but it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about breaking it constantly. I like that.
For me, the price—and the features that that price will allow—make the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 a marvelous Android phone. One of the best, actually; even for a person who isn’t on a budget. Unless you really need an extra few megapixels in your camera, a phone with extra “edges” or a snappier processor, the Idol 3 makes for an ideal Android phone that should satisfy all but those consumers who crave bleeding-edge specs.