It’s not all that often that an Alcatel phone catches our attention. This is probably because, in the scheme of smartphones, we’re not used to seeing something from the company that stacks up to the HTCs, Samsungs and Apples that proliferate in the Stuff offices. With the recently launched OneTouch Idol Alpha, despite its Street Fighter-like naming convention, that might change. Alcatel clearly wants this Android 4.2 handset to stand out from what they’ve done in the past while at the same time standing out from what all those other companies are doing.
Style Over Substance
And, on a visual level, that’s exactly what Alcatel have done with the Idol Alpha. You’re not going to mistake this handset for something from the LG or Samsung stable, with its largely glass front, the clear sections bordering the top and bottom of the handset and the metal edging. The rear of the ‘Soft Gold’-coloured model we had for review may be plastic but you’d never think it just by looking at it. In order to really remove doubt that Alcatel have used plastic at all, we may have had to gnaw on the phone like a beggar testing the metal on a lazily-tossed coin. It’s okay, they said we could.
The stylish looks exaggerate the internal hardware somewhat though, the Idol Alpha looks like it comes from the top-of-the-range but in guts-terms it’s actually a mid-range device in most respects. The 4.7-inch screen puts it into a smaller league than most flagships and Alcatel have opted for a 720p display – it shows but we’re used to looking at full HD screens. Colours and clarity are still good enough for a midrange. Alcatel is promoting their oleophobic screen coating, which is a bit hard to test. Rubbing it against an oily person leaves streaks on the display but these just wipe off with a cloth and very little effort. Guess it works.
The main mid-range marker is the quad-core chip that beats at the heart of this golden Idol. It’s a mere 1.2GHz, speed wise, so you’re looking at decent performance when you’re running apps one at a time but it’s not going to do anything stellar with regards to gaming or multitasking. The Idol Alpha’s main aim is looking good. What does look good is the 2GB RAM allocation, which also helps to prevent lag on launching apps (of which there are many out of the box – we’ll address that in a moment). There’s about 13GB of internal storage available to users of the 16GB the Idol features, which isn’t bad for a middle-of-the-road smartphone. What would have been nice would be microSD support, something that is lacking here.
Something else that seems to be lacking is a headphone port. Well, a port built into the phone itself. Users can plug in some ‘phones by connecting an adaptor to the microUSB charging port, which keeps the sleek lines of the phone but leaves you high and dry if you love the connector. And it’s so very, very short…
Does the camera make up for it? Perhaps. The Idol Alpha has a 13.1MP shooter in the rear, which is about the same as LG’s G2 packs on paper but LG’s old flagship definitely packs the better hardware. That said, you’re going to get some rather decent imagery from Alcatel’s camera anyway if the lighting’s good. In low-light conditions image quality drops quickly to a grainy output so it’s not all roses.
Apps, Power And Price
There are a lot of apps preinstalled on the Idol Alpha. A whole lot. We’ve never been fond of bloatware so a few can stay, like the Google stalwarts, perhaps WhatsApp but there’s a large collection of apps that we’d have like to have had the choice to install. You can can most of them if you like however so it’s not a train smash. Or even a stubbed toe, just a spot of cleanup.
The Idol Alpha has a mere 2,000mAh battery but it has the benefit of running some lightweight hardware and a sub-HD screen on top of whatever you’re forcing it to do on a daily basis so battery life should last through the day unless you’re spending all day tapping on the screen. It’ll last through a typical work day at the very least and if it doesn’t you’re probably slacking heavily.
The only point of contention might be the asking price. R6k for a mid-range phone might seem like a kick in the nethers but you haven’t seen or held it at this point. Given its styling and the fact that you’re paying about R4,000 more for a high-end device, six grand doesn’t seem so bad for this thin, light, sturdy and mostly speedy smartphone.
If we were comparing this smartphone directly to the highest of the high, and we’re not referring to Cheech and Chong here, then we would be sure to have issues with it. Aimed at its direct competitors, Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol Alpha is quite the impressive effort, one that is all the more so because it’s come from Alcatel, of all places. Our only real complaints are that there’s no microSD expansion available, the odd headphone choice and the now-dated Android 4.2 operating system. Otherwise, you’re going to be turning some heads hard enough to cause whiplash. Alcatel’s little golden Idol deserves at least some praise.