More and more often, manufacturers are releasing budget devices that punch way above their weight class. The latest smartphone from Alcatel, the OneTouch Idol 3, packs quality hardware and handy features in an inexpensive package. The Idol 3 comes in two sizes: 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, which both use the exact same physical build, identical software and offer similar performance. Over the past month, I had the chance to take the larger Idol 3 (5.5) for a spin. I don’t mean figuratively either – the OneTouch Idol 3 comes with a fully reversible screen that was a lot more convenient than I had ever expected.
One interesting thing I noticed was that the more I used it, the more I liked it. Due to its price tag, I assumed the Idol 3 would be another generic phone that delivered substandard performance, but was pleasantly surprised to be completely wrong. The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is not the most powerful phone in existence, but it worked well for me and includes some useful features to help it stand out from the pack.
The OneTouch Idol 3 looks and feels great for a phone near its price tag. It rocks a thin shell with a matte plastic back that resembles a metallic finish and fits snugly in the hand with enough grip to ensure it’s not going to take a tumble. It’s much more compact than I would have expected for a 5.5 inch display. It’s also quite light, which could be considered good or bad, depending on your preference.
The Idol 3 rocks dual front-facing JBL speakers that look just as great as they sound. Designed above and below the edges of the display, it helps accentuate the premium aesthetic of this overachieving smartphone.
My one complaint is Alcatel’s decision to put the power button on the top left side of the phone. Not only is it weird and unfamiliar (the majority of Android phones over the past couple years have positioned it on the right side of the device), if you have the 5.5 inch model, it’s uncomfortable to reach that high up on the left side of the phone. Luckily, there’s a “double-tap to sleep” feature which works wonders, but you’ll still find yourself having to press the awkwardly placed power button to wake your device.
The Idol 3 runs a slight variation of Stock Android 5.0 Lollipop, keeping most things identical to Google’s vision of a simplistic UI. One implementation that ended up being much more useful than I ever expected was the fully reversible screen. This technology lets you pick up the phone either way and call, text and browse the web as you normally would – no flipping required. The best part is that I didn’t even even realize its usefulness until I switched to another phone (Galaxy Note 5). Now, anytime I pull my phone out of my pocket I automatically expect it to be right-side up only to be left disappointed half the time – Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, get on this!
While there are a few UI changes that made me scratch my head (like changing the way app folders look), most of these detriments didn’t really impact my experience and weren’t a big deal. However, I did notice some lag when using the multitask button to switch between apps – here’s hoping an Android 6.0 Marshmallow update will come in the near future and fix this issue.
The Idol 3’s 5.5 inch display was a lot more fun to look at than I had expected. Its 1080p resolution offers vibrant colors and retains decent visibility outdoors, even on a sunny day. However, I did notice some issues with the display randomly becoming unresponsive, requiring a reset before the touchscreen would recognize anything. This probably happened four or five times over the span of a month of usage, which isn’t a huge deal but still kind of annoying. It’s possible I had a faulty display – some Googling didn’t turn up any similar issues, so it’s likely you’ll be fine.
The Idol 3’s battery life was much better than expected. I assumed that powering the large display would come at a cost, like many other phones on the market, but I never had an issue making it through a full day of moderate to heavy usage (Spotify, messaging, Facebook, reddit, photos, Instagram and Clash of Clans).
The Idol 3 takes quality pictures in lit conditions, but doesn’t produce the best shots in dim settings. The native camera app is simple to use and offers the usual features, like panorama mode, time lapse, skin tone filters, manual mode and a QR scanner. The one weird thing about the camera app is that there’s no visible shortcut to the gallery – you can view your pictures by swiping to the left but you’re left to figure it out on your own. Remember, you can always download a third-party camera app from Google Play if you’d prefer something different.
The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 comes with 16 GB of internal storage and includes a removable storage slot for up to 128 GB of extra space with a microSD card (only 32 GB for the 4.7 inch model). You really can’t ask for anything more at this price point – I honestly would have assumed it would ship with 8 GB of internal storage so I was quite happy to see double that.
I’d still suggest checking out Google Photos – it offers unlimited free cloud storage for all your pictures and videos so you’ll never end up with a maxed out phone. Or, just grab a microSD card and pop it in the Idol 3 – either way has you covered.
Who should consider the OneTouch Idol 3?
Those interested in a very capable, low cost smartphone. If you’re looking for a big, bright display consider the 5.5 inch, while the 4.7 inch model is perfect for those who’d prefer something much more compact. While it may not be the most powerful smartphone out there, it’ll get the job done and look good while doing so.
High value at a budget price
Battery will last you a full day
Lots of internal storage (16 GB), with the option to add more via microSD
Useful features like a reversible screen and double-tap to wake
Models are either large or small – no option for those who prefer standard-sized phones (~5-5.2 inches)
Some lag when using the multitask button to switch between apps
Occasional touchscreen issues, whether buggy or unresponsive