Alcatel has made a name for itself in the tech world, much like OnePlus, for offering top-notch phones at bargain prices. The company looks to continue that tradition with its latest effort, the Idol 4S.
In 2016, though, Alcatel is far from the only company making great phones at better prices. As the smartphone has become stale, the one sector to remain vibrant has been the budget level. Affordable phones now come with builds just as good as top-tier flagships and sometimes, such as with the Nexus 6P last year and the OnePlus 3 this year, blow away the competition without blowing the bank account.
Being a good, cheap phone is no longer enough to stand out. Unless you’re coming with a price drastically less than the competition, which at $399 the Idol 4S is not, you have to show up in a big way to convince consumers to hop on the bandwagon.
We’re going to see in the coming weeks if the Idol 4S has what it takes to stand out from the pack, but let’s start with our first impressions.
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Like many recent standout budget phones, the Alcatel Idol 4S offers a design and build that competes with top-tier flagships for a fraction of the cost. At $499, it's not the most pocket friendly phone on the market, but it still comes in far under the sticker price of Samsung's latest, the HTC 10 and Moto Z.
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The Idol 4S' metal and glass build is fantastic, easily up there with the Moto Z and the Samsung Galaxy S7, phones that also use glass as their primary material. The 4S has more character than either of those devices, however, thanks to its top and bottom speaker grills and the three-tone effect caused by the silver edge, metal band and glass. All three are a different color, but they blend well together and give the phone a distinct look.
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At 7mm, the device is a far cry from the thinnest phones on the market, but that doesn't stop it from having a customary camera bump. Despite the continued aesthetic annoyance the blemishes cause, the bump doesn't affect the performance of the device in any way. Inside the hump is a 16MP shooter with f/2.0 aperture, phase detection autofocus and dual-LED flash.
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This is not the power button. That is found on the upper left hand side (horrific placement for someone with smaller hands like myself), with the volume rocker sitting on the upper right hand side. This button is called the Boom key and essentially works as a customizable hot key. Users can program it to launch a particular app or perform an action. It's an interesting idea, but could perhaps use some fine tuning.
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Usually a relic of smartphones past, the Idol 4S is one of just a few phones to offer dual front-facing speakers. Powered by JBL, they are crisp and loud, and easily outshine the tinny, single speaker setup found on most phones. The fingerprint scanner seen here is passable, not quite as speedy as the one found on the Moto Z, but in the same ballpark as those on Huawei's smartphones and therefore perfectly acceptable.
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Of all it's hardware strength, the aspect of the 4S' build I love most is the way light bounces off the back of the phone in circular pattern. It's a small bit of flair, but one that is incredibly slick and eye-catching. It sells the premium story this budget phone is trying to sell.
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Not only does the Idol 4S have front-facing speakers, but Alcatel designed the phone in a way for the speakers to be audible when the phone is face down as well. This means that no matter which orientation the phone is in, you'll get better sound that with most devices.
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The screen here is a 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display with 534 ppi. Like most AMOLED QHD panels, its crisp with great colors and deep blacks. More time is needed to see how it matches up to the best displays on the market, but the early returns are impressive.
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The 4S not only offers a solid phone for a solid price, but even comes packaged with VR goggles. My experience with VR is limited, but the Alcatel goggles here didn't blow me away in my early use. The fact that they come with the phone is great, but the added value doesn't seem to be as great as one would initially think.
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