Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 review: Not just good for the price, but really good overall

Alcatel OneTouch has managed to do what so many companies fail so terribly at in so many ways. Many companies seem to be so concerned about their phone being the next it thing with the it design that they miss the mark completely. Today’s flagship phones cost consumers upwards of $700 without a contract. With $700, you should be able to put some amazing hardware in a phone and make it look and do amazing things. But what if you’re charging only $250 for a phone? What would you expect for a phone with a non-contract price of $250? Not much, right? It should perform and look like a ho-hum device from last year, right? Some do, but the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 performs beyond my expectations in so many ways. I feel like Alcatel OneTouch has figured out where to appropriately cut corners and produce a design that looks and performs like a premium device without the bells and whistles that nobody really needs. It’s just a darn good phone at a darn good price.

We’ve been given the 5.5-inch variant of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 that was announced in March at Mobile World Conference. There is also 4.7-inch version with toned down specs. There, Alcatel OneTouch touted the Idol 3′s reversible design, but not the price. Maybe they thought no one would believe them if they said that they’re making the best phone you can buy for $250.

Before we begin, it’s worth mentioning that the box you see in the feature image is not the box you’ll get. This is a spectacular press box that’s very impressive. Hopefully you’ll find as you read this review that the phone inside the spectacular box is just as spectacular.

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (11)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (9)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (10)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (8)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (7)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (1)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (3)
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (2)
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Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (4)
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1. Hardware

Don’t let the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3′s specs fool you. They’re not top tier, but somehow the Alcatel OneTouch has made it so it doesn’t matter. If you compare these specs to the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, they’re nothing amazing. However, Alactel OneTouch has packaged this phone with hardware that works and works well. So well, in fact, that for the price of $250, I’m giving the Idol 3 a two thumbs up for hardware.

The Idol 3 is an unlocked GSM device. This means it will work with any GSM carrier in the U.S., like T-Mobile or AT&T, and any network in Europe. I ran the phone on my personal line on the AT&T network and it performed great. Here are the specs:

  • Height: 6.01 in (152.7 mm)
  • Width: 2.96 in (75.2 mm)
  • Depth: 0.29 in (7.4 mm)
  • 5.5-inch 1080p (401 ppi) IPS LCD display
  • Weight 5.1 oz
  • Non-removable 2910mAh lithium ion battery
  • 2 GB RAM/16 GB ROM (10 GB usable) with a microSD card slot
  • Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 MSM8939 (1.5GHz + 1 GHz)
  • 13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front
  • Micro SIM, EAP SIM, Dual SIM available
  • Bands: GSM Quad (850/900/1800/1900), UMTS 850/1700/1900/2100, HSPA+ 42Mbps Downlink, 5.76Mbps Uplink, LTE FDD: B2/4/5/7/12/17
  • Dual front-firing JBL speakers

2. Design

At first glance, I found the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 to look a bit odd. It has a simple slab design with chome corners and a funny lip on the bottom and top of the front on the device. Then I realized why I felt that way: the dual front speakers. Interestingly, Alcatel OneTouch has designed the Idol 3 to be used right-side-up or upside-down. Except for the noticeable 8 MP front camera, the device looks basically identical whether upside-down or not, so why not make it work upside-down? In the quick settings menu, there’s a toggle to allow the “Reversible” use of the device. I think it’s an interesting feature that some could easily find useful.

The dual front speakers may be one of my favorite OneTouch Idol 3 features. It’s an interesting design choice to have the glass end before the speakers at each end of the front of the device. The device then steps down at each end for the speakers. I’ve never seen another phone designed this way, and I’m not sure it’s the prettiest way to get the job done, but I think Alcatel OneTouch did the job well. The look has grown on me and I’d take this look all day if it meant that I’d have the dual front speakers.

One of the very few complaints I have about the Idol 3 is the slipperiness of the phone’s back. It has a dark slate gray back that’s impossible to grip. It looks nice, but on a 5.5-inch phone, it makes the device very difficult to operate with one hand. I’ve gotten used it wielding the Idol 3 with one hand, but I still don’t trust myself and would likely get myself a case to improve the grip if this was my personal device. And I hate using cases.

I can’t call this a complaint, but something to note is that the power button and volume rockers are backwards to most all other devices. Most devices have the power button on the right side of the device, but the Idol 3′s is on the left. Switching between the Idol 3 and my Nexus 5 have my thumbs all sorts of confused. If this was a personal device, you would get used to the button positions and it wouldn’t be any issue at all, but it’s just an interesting design choice.

Another strange design choice with the Idol 3 is the placement of the microUSB port: it’s not centered on the bottom of the phone. Instead, it’s placed to the right of the phone on the bottom. That means if you have a dock on your nightstand or in your car, charging the device may not be possible or may become very awkward. It’s not a deal breaker, though, and all things considered, I have to say the Idol 3 is a well-designed phone.

3. Build Quality

Other than the slipperiness and backwards buttons, I’m impressed with the Idol 3′s design. The buttons are nice and tactile, and using them feels nice. The Idol 3 is plastic, but it’s solid as plastic comes. I’ve not noticed any creaking.

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is not made of “exotic” materials, but it feels solid and comfortable in the hand. There’s nothing that makes the Idol 3 stand out from the crowd, though, so it gets an average grade here.

4. Display

The screen on the Idol 3 isn’t a 4k or 2k display, but it’s also no slouch, offering a 1080p resolution on a 5.5-inch screen. And besides, who really needs 2k? I personally like the resolution and size of the Idol 3. It makes everything easily readable for my old man eyes (I’m not old, but my eyes think they are). The display can get super bright and viewing angles are great. It does well in direct sunlight, too. Alcatel OneTouch credits the display quality to its Technicolor IPS display. The only knock that I have against the Idol 3′s display is that the blacks aren’t quite black, but that’s pretty standard for the IPS LCD technology the phone uses. Overall, you won’t be disappointed with the Idol 3′s display.

5. Software

Another category in which Alcatel OneTouch did things just right is software. The Idol 3 comes with Android Lollipop, version 5.0.2. I reviewed the phone with pre-release software and had no complaints. What I like about the Idol 3 software is that Alcatel OneTouch kept it simple. Very few changes have been made to Lollipop: stock app icons like the dialer and contacts have been themed, but with a simple, rounded corner look. Google apps and pre-installed apps like WhatsApp and Evernote are not themed.

A really interesting touch regarding icon themes are with the calendar and clock apps: the calendar icon displays the correct calendar day and the clock displays the current time. Another item to note is that pre-installed apps like Twitter or Facebook can be deleted so that they’re not stuck on your device taking up valuable space if you don’t use them. The Idol 3 only comes with 16 GB of memory, and after the OS and all the other goodies, we’re left with about 10 GB of usable space, so get rid of those pre-installed apps if you’re not using those pre-installed apps. I’m already using most of the pre-installed apps, like Facebook and Dropbox. Alcatel OneTouch also includes some interesting apps of their own, like Mix for some turntable fun times.

The Idol 3′s lock screen is basically stock, save for quick launch buttons near the bottom of the lock screen. The lock screen has the standard Lollipop phone and camera quick launch icons at the bottom corners, but comes with up to five extra quick launch icons. These can be turned off or configured in their own category in the settings menu. These quick launchable tasks include Selfie, Calculator, New Message, Add a Contact and so on.

Another cool feature that I love that is included with the Idol 3 is double-tap-to-wake. Unfortunately, it’s not as consistent and I would hope, but I still love the option to have it and I hope it can become more consistent in future updates. I think all phones should have a tap-to-wake function, especially with phone sizes increasing and the existence of slippery backs.

When Alcatel OneTouch announced the Idol 3 in March, the company felt it important to mention that the phone could be used upside down, and as I already mentioned, I do think it’s a cool feature. Many features of the Idol 3 can be used upside down, including phone calls. This feature can be toggled in the quick settings as well as in the settings menu. The animation it uses to flip the home screen can even be changed. This is a feature where I think hardware and software design have come together well to make something new and useful. The only issue I ran into with using the device upside down is with the buttons, but I think the real beauty of the reversible phone is then you’re quickly pulling the device out of your pocket or bag to answer it and it doesn’t matter if it’s right-side-up or upside-down.

6. Performance

If there’s one place that budget phones tend to lag (pun intended), it’s with performance. Fortunately, the Idol 3 has performed brilliantly. Ever since Lollipop was released, my personal Nexus 5 has suffered from crippling performance issues, often requiring at least daily reboots. So I didn’t have high hopes for a budget device running Lollipop. But the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 has performed like a champ, easily outperforming my Nexus 5 in day to day use. The device has an octa-core Snapdragon 615 which is basically two quad-core clusters, each optimized for a different operating point. The Idol 3 also includes 2 GB of RAM, which is plenty in most normal use cases. What results is a very functional phone that performs well in all situations.

I did a fair share of gaming on the device. Granny Smith and Riptide GP2 ran admirably with no lag, and the dual front JBL speakers make the Idol 3 media and gaming experience excellent. In the two weeks I spent with the Idol 3, there were very few occasions that the phone stuttered at all. I could typically get my Nexus 5 to lag when opening a Hangouts message and SwiftKey starting up, but under similar circumstances, the Idol 3 runs great.

As for network performance, the radio performed equal to my wife’s AT&T LG G3 on the same network. I had no issues dropping calls or losing connectivity where I shouldn’t have. Using the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 has been a very seamless and smooth experience.

7. Call Quality and Audio

Call quality on the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is average. It worked, I could understand the people I was talking to and they could understand me. What earned the Idol 3 a good rating in this category are its dual front JBL speakers. They get impressively loud, and I think they sound great for little phone speakers.

I don’t have an HTC One M9 with BoomSound to compare to the Idol 3, but I do have a Nexus 6 that also has front firing speakers. I used a sound metering app to try and measure volume output for the Idol 3 and Nexus 6. When playing “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness, the Nexus 6 reached a peak output of 83 decibels and the Idol 3 reached 82 decibels. Both get loud and will immerse you with sound in stereo if you’re gaming or watching a movie.

One thing I will add is that there’s a JBL audio effects setting within the Sound and Notification settings menu on the Idol 3. The JBL audio effects seemed to add an echo to everything, adding a more concert-like sound effect. It drove me nuts when listening to audio books while commuting, so I turned it off.

8. Camera

I have mixed feelings about the camera on the Idol 3, and I’m going to talk about it from two different angles. As a dad of three kids that are physically incapable of holding still, I’m impressed with the camera on the Idol 3. The shutter speed is very quick, with little to no lag in snapping the picture after you press the button. I was able to get some great shots of my kids with the Idol 3. Coming from the Nexus 5, this is really impressive. Additionally, the Idol 3 has a burst mode that will snap up to 20 photos when you hold down the shutter button. Unfortunately, it takes a second or two to begin the burst of photos, so it took some timing practice to get the shots I wanted. Still, I love having the burst mode feature, especially when you back up your photos on Google+ and have some great GIFs waiting there for you.

Unfortunately, Alcatel OneTouch needed to cut corners somewhere. A fairly standard feature on today’s high-end devices is optical image stabilization. This hardware does what its name implies, stabilizing the optics in your phone so you don’t have to. The Idol 3 doesn’t have it, and I’ve noticed my fair share of slightly blurry photos.

Despite those shortcomings, the Idol 3′s 13-megapixel Sony sensor is more than capable of taking a decent photo in the right light. Using the camera is simple: you touch the object within view on the display and the camera will automatically focus on that object. If you’re close up, you can easily get an attractive photo with the subject in focus and the background blurred. One item to note is that if you’re clicking around the display in camera mode to focus on different objects, the exposure changes heavily based on your focus area. It’s easy to get very over or underexposed photos. I noticed this mostly with indoor shooting. Just shooting pictures without focusing on a specific point seemed to do the trick with indoors exposure.

Idol 3 camera exposure 1

Idol 3 camera exposure 2

Idol 3 camera example 1

Idol 3 camera example 2

Idol 3 camera example 3

9. Battery Life

As you would expected with a 2910mAh battery, battery life on the Idol 3 is very good. I know I keep comparing to my Nexus 5, but the Idol 3 blows the Nexus 5 out of the water with its battery life. With heavy use that included navigation, phone calls, gaming, and social media browsing, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 lasted from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm without plugging in. I have plenty of opportunities throughout the day to charge a phone, like while driving and using navigation. After one day of testing the Idol 3 without charging it, I gave it small recharges throughout the day, and it never died on me before bed time around 11:00 pm. If you’re not a heavy user, you likely wouldn’t even need to have any recharge sessions throughout the day.

10. Extras

Typically, your phone only comes with extras if you’re getting a high-end device. But I think Alcatel OneTouch has provided a fair share of extras with its budget flagship device, including both software and hardware. First, the Idol 3 comes with JBL headphones, which is a nice touch. Many phones don’t come with headphones at all, and especially not JBL-branded ones. Plus, the Idol 3 can be used upside down, so it has spreakers and mics on the top and bottom of the device. I’m not sure if this is considered extra, but not all phones come with LED notification. Oh, and did I mention the dual front JBL speakers? That’s not really an extra, but I just felt like mentioning it again. Other than those features, the Idol 3 is pure phone. No IR blaster, no laser focus, no finger print scanner. Just pure, unadulterated phone.

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 38.5 / 10

I went into this review unsure of what the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 would be. Alcatel OneTouch has been hyping the Idol 3 like any good company should, but does it live up to the hype? I think so. Alcatel OneTouch found a way to over deliver with a great smartphone experience for a great price. The Idol 3 performs well with gaming, media consumption, and everyday use. I had a great time reviewing the device, and I’m confident that you won’t regret dropping $250 on the Idol 3. It’s a winner.

A final score of 8.5 for a budget device is definitely high, but like I said in the post title, this isn’t just a good phone for the price. It’s a genuinely good phone. Alcatel OneTouch has put together an impressive package with the Idol 3 that I think anyone can appreciate. There aren’t many bells or whistles, but the Idol 3 is a pure, well-designed media consumption device and phone.

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is available to pre-order now from Alcatel’s website or Amazon for the reasonable price of $249.99. It’ll be released on May 21, so you can have the device in your hands in about two weeks.

What are your thoughts on the Idol 3? Can you believe what you get for the price? Are you looking for an unlocked budget phone? Let us know your thoughts on the device by commenting below. Also, feel free to ask any questions about the device. I’ll do my best to answer them as they come.

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