The Idol 3 is one of the major competitors in the market of budget smartphones, but is it the phone for you?
Probably the most noticeable thing in a smartphone is its display: this model of Idol 3 sports a 4.7 inches 720p IPS display, much smaller than the 5.5 inches panel on its bigger brother. In the unboxing video I said I was really impressed with the brightness and the vibrancy of the display, and after a week of usage I can only confirm that. Being it a relatively small display, the 720p resolution is not that noticeable: videos and text look sharp and I’ve had no complaints as for media consumption and web browsing. It also gets really really bright, so it’s perfectly visible even outdoors, and the saturation almost challenges what you’ll find on an AMOLED panel. Of course the blacks are not as deep, but you’d have to be really nitpicky to notice that. The size of the display makes it easy to hold and use with one hand, but is not as comfortable to watch videos and movies on like you would on the 5.5 inches model. Overall, the display is a nice balance between quality and size, and it will be plenty good for most users out there. The comfortable size of the phone depends not only on the relatively small display, but also on the good job made by Alcatel in keeping it thin and light. Despite being all plastic, the phone feels really good in the hand, thanks to the rounded edges and the sandpaper-like material on the back. It’s quite elegant, to be honest, and it has by far the best design in this price range. The buttons on the sides are clicky enough, and they’re also easily reachable thanks to the compact size. That nice looking package also manages to get in all of the standard chips for connectivity, from b/g/n Wifi to LTE and NFC, nothing excluded. So, performances. The Idol 3 is indeed a solid performer, let’s make it clear: it opens apps fast, it handles games at a decent pace, and you can easily do everyday stuff like reading emails, browsing the web or using social media. The Quad-Core Snapdragon 410 and the gig and a half of RAM are not remarkable specs by themselves, but in actual everyday usage you’ll hardly notice that. There’s still a difference between this and a flagship like the Galaxy S6, don’t get me wrong, but it’s really hard to complain about such a gap given the huge difference in price. The multitasking is really good too: you can switch apps almost seamlessly, and the RAM management is not as aggressive as other budget smartphones, so that you’ll find most apps staying open for a very long time. What really limits the possibilities of this phone though is the memory: the Idol 3 comes in 8 and 16 gigabytes models, but the actual usable memory is almost half of that. If you want to really make the most out of this phone you’ll have to expand its storage via micro SD, no doubt on that. Download some apps and shoot a couple of photos and you’ll soon be out of memory if you choose to go without an SD card. Something that really helps with the performance is the software mounted by the Idol 3. Take off some extra toggles and a couple of pre-installed apps, and you’ve got a completely stock version of Android. Where Alcatel did intervene however it was always for good: the tap-to-wake on the lockscreen, the clean-all button in the multitasking and the tiltable screen are just some examples. The built-in launcher takes inspiration from the Google Now Launcher but improves it in its own ways, adding a customizable page at the left and some nifty animations for the widgets. Apart from that, most of the other pre-installed apps are basically stock Android apps with some visual redesign, which is absolutely not a bad thing. Style is somewhat arguable, especially as for the icons, but this is Android after all, and nothing prevents you from installing a third party alternative like I did for the launcher. The real weak point of this phone is without a doubt the camera. Despite the fairly high resolution sensor at 13 megapixels, the photos are generally really unsatisfactory. Colors are dull, contrast is pretty low, and sharpness is probably the only consistent feature in the shots taken by this phone. I’ve found that the HDR and the Manual modes have been the ones that gave the best results, especially in difficult situations like indoors, where the phone will have the biggest problems. You can still get decent shots in some scenarios, but there isn’t a whole lot of such use cases. To be clear, however, that’s the case in every smartphone in this price range. If you consider that range alone, the Idol 3 does its job. Below-average picture quality in this market is simply something you can’t avoid at the present state of tech. Who knows, maybe in 2 years budget smartphones will deliver the same picture quality as today’s flagships, but as for now if you want to stay under 200 bucks this is almost the best you can get. Where the Idol 3 really shines however, even overtaking top-of-the-line devices, is the audio department: this device sports a pair of front-facing, JBL stereo speakers that really take the media consumption game to another level when it comes to this price range. And even when you compare it to phones like the iPhone 6 or the Galaxy S6, there’s no contest, the Idol 3 deserves a clear win.
I hadn’t had such an enjoyable audio experience since the original HTC One, so really thumbs up for that. When it comes to smartphones, and especially budget smartphones, battery life is always an issue, but not with this one right here. The battery life on this thing is pretty damn impressive. It gets a solid 4 to even 5 hours of screen on-time, and that includes video watching, web browsing and gaming. I generally don’t take it easy with smartphone usage, but I had no problem in using it all day long. There are only two downsides with its battery life: it doesn’t have quick charging or wireless charging, and it doesn’t have a removable battery, but at this price point it’s not something you could expect anyway. So at the end of the day, is it worth it? Well if you’re on the sub-200-bucks market, chances are you can’t or simply don’t want to spend more: in both cases, there’s no way you’re getting a better offering for 180 bucks. You’ve got a nice display, an excellent battery life, a pair of speakers that overtake even the priciest flagships out there, in an overall really good looking package. It’s true, the camera is a bit of a bummer, but if you want more you’ll really have to spend at least 100 bucks more.