Review by Sunetra Chakravati,7/23/2014 11:48:02 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Attractive design | Comfortable size | Well priced
Issues with screen and backlight | Running old version of Android | Lack of expandable storage
Great smartphone design has gone from a welcome addition two years ago to the must-have feature today, and nobody understands this more than Apple and HTC - but manufacturers lower down the food chain are also starting to realise the importance of eye-catching aesthetics. The latest value brand to jump on the good-looking, ergonomic bandwagon is Alcatel with this, the One Touch Idol Alpha.
With looks to rival any of the top brands and transparent, art deco touches to make it stand out from the crowd, the Idol Alpha might have the longest name in the phone store, but it’s also one of the most attractive handsets on sale today - and it’s less than £300 Question is, has it got the brawn to back up the beauty?
A metal chassis with curved, chamfered edges, metal buttons, and transparent plastic inserts above and below the screen give the Idol Alpha an attractive look which is refreshingly unique, nicely setting it apart from competitors at all price ranges.
Speaking of price range, I’d bet anyone unfamiliar with Alcatel would - based on looks alone - line the Idol Alpha up against the iPhone, HTC One (M8) and other such esteemed rivals. But they’d be dead wrong, because despite it’s slim figures and art deco design, this phone will cost £290 SIM-free when it goes on sale in August.
The handset is just 7.5mm thick (0.1mm thinner than the iPhone 5s) and it weighs just 117g - that’s a barely noticeable 5g more than the iPhone. I’m a huge fan of the metal chassis, with its polished and chamfered edged catching the light exactly as they do on the iPhone, and the way the top and bottom edges camber towards the screen. Finally, the clear panels above and below the display add a unique twist to what is what of the best looking phones of the year. The three touch buttons found on all Android handsets sit just above the clear panel, which fills with a cool white/blue light when the buttons are pressed, like the downlights below trendy kitchen cupboards.
Unfortunately, the non-removable rear cover is plastic, but my gunmetal review sample at least looks like metal, which is still one up on the fake chrome and leather of recent Samsung offerings.
The Idol Alpha has a 4.7-inch display with an HD resolution of 720 x 1280. That size may sound familiar because the iPhone 6 is expected to be exactly the same. Although I’ve recently sung the five-star praises of the HTC One (M8) and LG G3 recently, this Alcatel is a great size; even my small hands can reach the upper corners with a thumb tip. It may not offer the IMAX cinematic experience of an LG G3, but it slips into my pockets much more comfortably.
An HD resolution of 720 x 1280 is par for the course at this price range, but viewing angles are poor and the backlight can often be seen leaking through from the edges.
When viewed dead-ahead, the Idol Alpha’s screen is good, but turning the phone either horizontally or vertically causes the backlight to fade and colours shift away from how they should look. Another classic trait of a less expensive handset is the Alpha’s backlight, which casts a bright strip of light along all four edges when viewed slightly off-centre. Colours and contrast are otherwise good, but not quite a match for the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) - although at this price I can forgive the Alcatel for that.
Power comes from a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM and the Alpha uses this to run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. This isn’t the newest version of Android - that’ll be 4.4 KitKat, with 5.0 on the way very soon - and for that Alcatel loses out to some low-cost rivals. The excellent Moto G by Motorola, for example, and the HTC One mini 2 both pack the newest, shiniest version of Android and are expected to receive timely updates to 5.0.
Storage stands at 16GB, of which Alcatel has being honest in saying 13.3GB os available to the user, with the operating system and preinstalled apps taking up the rest. Sadly there’s no way to increase the storage due to there being no microSD card slot - a crime Apple is also guilty of repeatedly committing with the iPhone.
The Alpha’s performance isn’t quite as slick as its looks. Android stumbles around, with the screen sometimes not registering taps and swipes, while a small pause before each app opens constantly reminds you that this isn’t the powerful flagship it looks like. But lower your expectations to match the price rather than the sharp tailored suit, and the Alpha’s slightly tame performance is more understandable. At least it’s consistent - apps don’t crash or stutter at random, instead everything’s just a little more sedate than with the more expensive (and in some cases, less well-dressed) competition.
A 13-megapixel rear camera sounds great on the Alpha’s spec sheet, but often fails to live upto expectations - you’d never guess it’s the same resolution as the LG G3. The app itself is a little slow to react, especially when switching to and from the 1.3-megapixel front camera, and jumping in and out of the photo gallery. Results are mixed; darker areas are often noisy and grainy, but in decent light photos came out well, with balanced colours and a good amount of clear and sharp detail.
I’m pleased to see Alcatel has strived to keep the camera app simple and easy to use - it’s not as stripped back as on the LG G3 of iPhone, but with just four shooting modes (HDR, Panorama, Night and Sports), and five (location, size, timer, ISO, exposure) variables in the Advanced menu to choose from, the Alpha is still refreshingly simple compared to Samsung’s often bewildering options.
At just under £300, the Idol Alpha represents excellent value for money. I love the design - it’s one of the best-looking smartphones I’ve had the privilege of using - and at 4.7in the screen will be the perfect size for many consumers.
But what Alcatel gives with one hand, it takes away with the other, and those backlight problems, when it leaks around the edge, distract from what is otherwise a great handset. Add in slightly washed out colours and distortion when viewed off-centre, and you’re reminded that this phone can’t quite offer the performance its good looks suggest.
It’s a small problem though and although other phones offer better quality screens, none at this price can hold a cancel to the way the Alpha looks and feels.