“The Idol 4 and 4s are special phones in more ways than one. We went hands on…”
Amidst all the excitement and madness we encountered at MWC 2016, it was easy to miss a few new devices that didn’t make as much noise as others. That doesn’t mean however, that some of those don’t deserve second looks. The Alcatel Idol 4s and its smaller sibling, the Idol 4 were, a couple of such hidden gems that we discovered while scrounging the floors at the annual phone fest. We’ll forgive you if you balk at the model name of the larger variant – the 4s label makes it feel as if it’s from another era – but don’t let that fool you. The pair are not only lookers, they bring some interesting specs and intriguing features with them.
First up – the packaging. The Idol 4s ships in a white plastic box, which opens up and turns into a VR headset – quite nifty indeed. Turns out, both the Idol 4s and Idol 4 boast a built-in VR mode, somewhat similar to the Lenovo K4 Note (review). Accessories like the charger and USB cable are tucked away neatly into the same packaging.
This is just the tip of the iceberg though, as we discovered quite a few other goodies when we played with the phone. The Idol 4s is the only one that comes with the VR headset packaging though, and the other differences between the two include screen size and resolution, processor, storage, cameras and battery capacity. The Idol 4s rocks a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with QHD resolution, comes powered by a Snapdragon 652 processor mated to 3 gigs of RAM, offers 32GB expandable storage and a 16MP primary snapper, and is powered by a 3,000mAh battery. In comparison, the Idol 4 is smaller, featuring a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display, utilising a Snapdragon 617 processor with 3GB RAM, 16GB expandable storage, a 13-meg primary camera and a 2,610mAh battery. These are significant differences and make sure the two stand apart on their own. The overall design language is the same however, and so is the platform and interface. The offered features are similar as well, so we’ll just focus on the more loaded Idol 4s to give you an idea of what both bring to the table.
Design-wise, the Idol 4s and Idol 4 are a stylishly-made devices, using metal frames with glass on both sides. They’re quite slim and lightweight too – the girth is just about 7mm thick. Thanks to the metal and glass, the phones feel reasonably premium and give a nice feel in the hand. Goes without saying that the Idol 4 isn’t just more compact, it’s lighter as well. Both are pictured above for the sake of comparison (with the Idol 4 on the right), but the rest of this post mainly talks about the Idol 4s. Again, keep in mind that apart from core specs, the design and features are similar, so most of what we have to say should apply to both the Idol 4s and Idol 4.
At the front, the screen dominates proceedings, and there are no dedicated keys for navigation, as they have been incorporated in software. At the very top and bottom, you’ll find tiny holes for the front-facing stereo speakers. What makes things even more interesting is the fact that these can fire from the rear too, and accordingly, the same speaker holes are replicated at the back as well. In fact, the two phones boast what the brand calls reversible sound and UI, so you can use them in different orientations without affecting your experience. It’d also be worth mentioning at this point that the pair are loaded in terms of multimedia-related features, boasting Waves technology and a TFA9890 Smart Power Amplifier.
The power key is on the left, along with the hybrid SIM slot. The headset socket is located on top, while the micro-USB port is placed at the bottom. The control placement is slightly different on the Idol 4 though, which has its SIM slots placed on the right. What’s common though, is a round metal button placed in the middle of the right spine, looking suspiciously like the power key used by Sony on its Xperia smartphones. On the Alcatel Idol 4s and Idol 4, this button is called the Boom Key, and can be programmed to do different tasks depending on the app you’re using.
The Boom Key is, in fact, another key highlight of the new Idol duo, and gets its own head under device settings where you can set it up. A double press of this key when the phone’s on standby captures a photo, while a long press takes burst shots. It can also be set to capture screenshots instead, or launch any app of your choosing. When you’re on the home screen, pressing this button displays live weather animations. And when you’re on a call, the Boom Key supposedly enhances voice clarity and loudness.
The aptly-named Boom Key has more tricks up its sleeve. While in the gallery, you can press the button to create a photo collage. While viewing videos, the key applies fun effects to the video playback. In the music app, a press of the Boom Key activates ‘Boom effects’, enhancing the audio output and making it sound richer. It even works while gaming – boosting your speed if you’re playing Asphalt Overdrive.
Speaking about music, the built-in music player app is also quite nifty. When you switch the phone’s orientation to landscape, the music app displays a pair of LP disks, and you can use this funky-looking interface to play two tracks simultaneously. Switch to manual mode, and you can even spin the virtual disks individually, much like a DJ turntable, and figure out if you’ve got some mixing skills of your own.
As far as the platform is concerned, the Idol 4s and Idol 4 run a near stock version of Android Marshmallow, with skinned icons that don’t do much change the experience. There are a few more features hidden under settings though, and these include support for gestures such as double tap to wake, screen off gestures, a glove mode, the VR mode we mentioned previously, and the ability to launch the camera straight from standby by double pressing the power key. Another interesting feature is labelled Touchless UI, and one of its tricks is to blur the wallpaper when you bring the tip of your finger near the screen – you don’t even need to touch the display for this work.
As you can imagine, we had fun playing with the Idol 4s and its vast and impressive assortment of features. The QHD screen looked gorgeous, and the phone was zippy enough during our time with it. Alcatel hasn’t very aggressive in India, and we’re aren’t really sure when it plans to bring the new Idol smartphones to India, if at all. This is a shame, because both the Idol 4 and 4s look quite special, and thanks to everything they bring with them, could get love from prospective buyers in India if priced right.