idol 3

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is the best phone that the company has ever made. Before we get into the device though, let’s get a little bit of history on the company behind the smartphone. Not to be confused with the telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent, Alcatel OneTouch is the branding used for the mobile phones made by Alcatel Mobile Phones. Alcatel Mobiles Phones is a joint venture between Alcatel-Lucent and another company called TCL Communication. Alcatel-Lucent is based in France; TCL Communication is from China. Still following? Alcatel OneTouch is the brand. Alcatel Mobile Phones is the company that makes OneTouch devices. Alcatel-Lucent and TCL Communication are the parent companies behind Alcatel Mobile Phones.

With that out of the way, let’s see what the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 has to offer and why it’s one of the best budget handsets you can buy today. I reviewed the 5.5-inch version of the Idol 3. I used the phone on T-Mobile in the USA as my daily driver for almost two weeks. It was running Android 5.0.2 out of the box, with software build number 7SM5-UE52.

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Design

On first look, the Idol 3 looks like any number of black rectangular slabs. When you pick it up, however, you’ll immediately notice how light it is. It’s so light, in fact, that it took me a day or so to get used to it. The phone only weighs 5 ounces (142 grams). That’s only slightly heavier than the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6, but the Idol 3 has a larger screen and overall device size than those two high-end phones. The display itself is gorgeous. It’s an LCD screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, but it’s bright and sharp and looks great, even outside. The screen on this phone is one of its high points. It’s really good, and well above the $249 price that you’ll pay for the phone.

In addition to being light, the phone is incredibly slim. The bezels on the sides are also small; this means that the phone can be used with one hand without much trouble. The battery is sealed in the device, which helps keep it slim but means you won’t be able to buy a backup battery. Just get a battery pack instead.

The back and sides are brushed plastic with silver trim all the way around. The volume rocker is on the right side of the phone, while the power button is a little too high up on the left side. Reaching that power button can be a bit of stretch for any but the largest of hands. I would have liked to see the power button on right side, with the volume rocker moved down a bit and the power button above the volume keys. The charging port and a microphone are on the button, and the headset jack and another mic are on the top. The SIM micro SIM tray and microSD card slot are combined and located under the power button. The 13-megapixel camera and flash are on the back in the far top left corner of the phone. The camera is very close to the edge of the phone. This is another design point that I would have changed. It’s very easy to put your finger in the way of the camera when taking photos.

One of the major Idol 3 features is the JBL speakers on the front of the phone. Located on top and bottom, these JBL speakers make for a better-than-average listening experience. Music playback is loud and clear, lacking some bass but not bad at all. We’ll talk more about these later.

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Hardware

The Idol 3 is running on a 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset with 3GB of RAM. It’s got 16GB of onboard storage and the microSD card slot supports up to an additional 128GB of external storage. The processor isn’t high-end these days, but it’s more than enough for most day-to-day functions. The software stutters a bit from time to time, and high-performance gaming isn’t all that smooth. That could be due in part to the lack of software optimizations. Android Lollipop has been optimized a bit with the rollout of 5.1.1, so hopefully some of these hiccups can be ironed out. The hardware isn’t the problem.

The Idol 3 comes with a big 2910mAh battery that lasts all day. I averaged 13-15 hours off the charger, with 5-6 hours of screen on time, and usually ended the day with more 20 percent of the battery left. Call quality was fine as well. The speakers above and below the screen make for a good sound quality on speakerphone too.

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Software

The software was a bit stuttery and slow from time to time. For most activities it was fine, but with the Google Play Store updating apps in the background or when toggling quickly between apps, things tended to get slow. The Material design elements that Lollipop introduced are all present in the software, with only some minor tweaks to the interface. Alcatel’s skin is pretty lightweight. They added some features and tweaks that are helpful, and a couple that are not so helpful.

The Idol 3 has a reversible mode that lets the phone orient itself right-side up no matter which way you pick it up. This is handy when you get a phone call. You can just pick up the phone and answer. There’s a speaker and a mic on the both ends, and the phone will switch to whichever way you are holding it. This feature is very convenient. It means you don’t have to think about which way the phone is oriented when you pick it up. The phone software also incorporates the great double-tap-to-wake feature that Nokia brought to us back in 2008, and LG brought to Android in 2013. It’s easy and it works well on the Idol 3. Given the poorly placed power button, the double-tap feature is a life saver. This feature should be baked into every phone.

Alcatel adds a row of shortcuts on the bottom of the lock screen, giving you quick access to the front-facing camera, the phone dialer, and others. There are also gesture actions that allow you to swipe in from each bottom corner to open apps. The Notification pane is somewhat annoying in the way it handles Quick Toggles. Instead of being able to long press on an icon to access its Settings, you have to press the text that’s listed under the icon. It’s a slight change that means you’ll accidentally turn off your Wi-Fi a few times before you get used to it.

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Camera

The camera on the Idol 3 produces decent results. It’s not going to stack up to this year’s high-end phones like the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6, but it’s not bad at all. The 13-megapixel shooter does better outside in sunlight that it does indoors. Low light shots are just passable. The camera defaults to 10-megapixel shots, so you’ll want to head into the settings and adjust the aspect ratio in order to get the full 13-megapixels that are available to you. The rear camera will also shoot video in 1080p. The front-facing camera is higher resolution than most, coming in at 8-megapixels and doing a decent job itself. The camera will let you shoot in manual mode and it has an HDR mode you can turn on. There’s time lapse functionality, filters, and a QR code scanner built right in as well.

The camera app is a little strange in that it doesn’t offer a shortcut to your Gallery app. Alcatel says this is a Lollipop convention, not a choice they made. They should have made the choice to add a small preview/Gallery shortcut to the Camera interface.

Here are some indoor and outdoor camera samples, taken with the camera on Auto and the flash turned off.

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Wrap-up

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is a great phone. It’s a mid-range device, to be sure. The $249 price point puts it over the top for me. It’s not perfect, but this phone offers a very low price point and good value all the way around. The software is a little buggy and can be slow, but the battery lasts all day and the screen looks amazing. If you don’t want to spend more than $250, this is the phone that you want right now.

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Jeremiah Nelson

Jeremah lives in Virginia, on the east coast of the U.S. He loves Android and is versed in iOS. In his spare time you’ll find him flashing ROMs and listening to metal.