Alcatel Idol 4s Review – A reasonably cheap VR companion

Thomas Wellburn
November 14, 2016

[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]

The Alcatel Idol 4s is a handset made for virtual reality, shipping in a convenient package which includes both Goggles and software.

Technical Details

OS Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

Processor Snapdragon 652

Screen 5.5 inches

Resolution 2560 x 1440 (534 PPI)

Memory 3 GB RAM

Storage 32GB

Micro SD compatible Yes, up to 256GB

Rear camera 16MP

Front camera 8MP

Video 2160p

Connectivity Bluetooth, 3G, 4G LTE, NFC

Dimensions 154 x 75 x 7mm

Weight 149g

Battery 3,000 mAh

[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]

There’s no denying that the Alcatel Idol 4s is a great looking device. Coming in a three-piece design with glass font and rear, it’s easy to draw comparisons with the Samsung Galaxy S7. It’s no secret that BlackBerry took heavy inspiration from the device when creating the DTEK50… and by that we mean they totally ripped it off. The centre piece is comprised of machine cut metal, with stereo speakers etched into either side of the glass. This is then sandwiched by two pieces of glass which make up the front and back.

There seems to be varying versions of the Alcatel Idol 4s currently on sale, as the US model features a fingerprint sensor while the UK one we received does not. While we doubt it’s something that will make or break handset sales, you would expect a feature such as this to be included as standard, especially considering the price point.

On the front there’s very little to see, as the lack of physical keys means the device keeps a very slim appearance. A pair of stereo speakers flank the top and bottom of the device, giving out solid audio with plenty of volume and clarity. Size-wise it’s quite slim, with the screen taking up a good amount of real-estate. Moving to the sides and you have the volume rocker and ‘Boom Key’; an additional button which can be programmed to perform a variety of functions. The power button is situated on the top left of the handset in a really awkward place, meaning it can be very hard to turn the device on one-handed. On the back you’ll find both the Alcatel and Idol logos, plus a subtle camera bump for the rear sensor.

Onto the included VR headset, which felt very well built and offered a secure fit. It’s comprised of fairly sturdy plastics and a nice foam seal around the goggles themselves, which doesn’t chafe or make your face feel sweaty. On the bottom are two buttons which control the device, using conductive metal pads which touch either side of the handset. There’s no actual physical connectivity between smartphone and headset, with the device operating more like Google Cardboard than the Samsung Gear VR. In our opinion this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it makes the whole process a lot more simple and less prone to fault. We’ll get onto the actual workings of the VR application later on in the review but suffice to say, it’s a solid attempt.

[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]

The Alcatel Idol 4s has a 16 megapixel front camera with f/2.0 aperture. Although there’s a lack of optical image stabilisation on board, we found the digital stabilisation to be reasonably effective at making things less wobbly. While it’s not the best for video work, it did help with the macro photographs. We were able to get quite close without any real issues and aside from a couple of blurry images, most of them retained a good amount of sharpness and detail.

For general photographs, we’d say that the Alcatel Idol 4s is perfectly acceptable but never really excels in any particular area. Under normal lighting conditions, images have a good amount of colour reproduction that never feels dull or unexciting. Highlights seemed to be blown out in a couple of our test shots, demonstrating that it can’t quite get the exposure right in some cases. Equally, shots which have a very high dynamic range, such as a cityscape picture, will often underexpose the darker areas to compensate for the intensity of the sky. This can mean a loss of detail in the shadow areas as a result.

Unfortunately low-light photography is one area where the Alcatel Idol 4s just can’t compete. Our test image was incredibly dark, with no real detail to be seen. Even in general day-to-day use, we struggled to use it for anything after dusk. Unless you’re in optimal lighting conditions, the sensor just can’t take in the light necessary for a good image.

Thankfully, the Idol 4s somewhat overcomes this by offering a very good camera application with plenty of tools for picture tweaking. The manual mode offers ISO, shutter speed, white balance and focus adjustments, while an exposure dial next to the focus area allows you change brightness levels for the overall image. It’s all presented in a very easy-to-use interface with simple sliders for adjustment and no menu diving, making everything easy to reach when you’re snapping away.

The 8 megapixel front shooter is perfectly acceptable, offering decent performance in bright conditions but nothing special under low-light. Colours can also seem a bit dull, with images taking on a more muted tone compared to other handsets.

[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]

The screen is possibly the standout feature on the Alcatel Idol 4s, with a 2560 x 1440p panel offering up the highest resolution currently found in most flagship smartphone handsets. Since this is a product specifically tailored for virtual reality, you’d really expect nothing less. When you use a VR device, resolution is halved to take into account each eye. This means that even 1080p panels don’t really cut it if you want a truly immersive experience. The VR experience on the Alcatel Idol 4s is definitely up there with competitor devices, which is no doubt thanks to the great screen. Response time seemed to be very quick, meaning we get that nauseating feeling that some other devices give out. Equally

The only thing which lets down this excellent panel is screen brightness, as it seems to have just two settings: medium or low. Cranking it up to maximum brightness made little difference to using it on medium and the result fell short of other handsets. It concerns us that you might not be able to see this device too well in direct sunlight or brightly lit scenarios. What’s odd about this is that the resting ‘average’ brightness appears to be much higher that competitive devices when using automatic settings.


[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]


With a Snapdragon 652 and 3GB RAM, the Alcatel Idol 4s is well equipped to handle most modern titles and multi-tasking scenarios. The chip is comparable in speeds to the Snapdragon 810, which only a year ago was considered the flagship model. Opening up YouTube, Facebook and all the usual happened pretty much instantly with no real delay from input. We tried opening up a bunch of apps in an attempt to slow things down bit the Idol 4s handled things admirably, switching between them without any real fuss.

Benchmarks for this handset were generally on a par with other mid-range handsets, showing strong single-core performance that almost matched current flagships. Our GeekBench 4 result scored 1477 for single-core and 2355 for multi-core, which puts the latter in the same ballpark as handsets equipped with the Snapdragon 801 and 810. Both of these are still strong chipsets, so it’s nothing to really be ashamed of. AnTuTu came out at 57,409, which is considerably lower than similarly equipped devices such as the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7.

The included Adreno 510 GPU is again roughly comparable to the last generation Adreno 430 which we found paired alongside the Snapdragon 810, though it’s slightly less capable overall. 3DMark posted a strong result of 879, putting it in the upper tier of comparative mid-range handsets but behind those equipped with the 810. Trying it out on Asphalt 8: Airborne, we got a smooth result with only subtle frame drops even on the highest quality. With Gameloft recently releasing the more graphically intense Asphalt Xtreme, we decided to give it a run on that as well. Cranking things up to the maximum introduced some notable stutter that sometimes impacted gameplay, with frame-rates definitely dipping into the low 20’s.

The data speed rating of this handset is CAT4, which is quite low by today’s standards. This offers a theoretical max download speed of 150Mbps and can’t take advantage of the faster speeds now offered by some network carriers. We’ve started to see a lot of budget manufacturers bundling CAT6 into their latest handsets, so this seems like a bit of a missed opportunity for Alcatel considering the Snapdragon 652 supports such speeds.

Older Alcatel devices used to have some pretty heavy software skins, so it’s nice to see things moving closer to stock with the Idol 4s. Aside from some subtle tweaks to the quick-launch menu and a visual overhaul, this is pretty much stock Android 6.0. Icons have been given a more minimal appearance, with a largely flat design that goes for simplicity. There’s also some fresh animations when opening folders which feel a bit unnecessary and long-winded.

Bloatware is moderate, with a few added applications plus quick launch buttons to Yahoo and Shazam baked into the lock screen. All of this is easy to remove, aside from the Alcatel OneTouch applications which can only be removed from the home screen. As a handset which focuses heavily on virtual reality, the Alcatel Idol, 4s also comes with a dedicated VR application similar to that found on the Samsung Galaxy S7. Although there’s less functionality and options available, we’d actually argue that it’s easier to use the Samsung variant.

The Alcatel Idol 4s ships with a 3,000mAh battery, which is about what you’d expect from a handset of this price. We managed to get just over a day of solid use with the handset, which falls slightly short of over devices with a similar capacity. The Antutu test gave it a score of 10,162, which is a middling result and not really that impressive. Being a glass device, the battery is non-removable.

[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]

The Alcatel Idol 4s is a solid handset that offers good performance in a convenient package which is tailored for virtual reality. Both this and the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 are very close in terms of features… and it’s really a matter of preference0 which one you pick.

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