Al­ca­tel

Clos­ing The Gap On Ri­vals

SmartHouse - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Fer­gus Hal­l­i­day

From there, the in­clu­sion of vir­tual re­al­ity can’t help but sweeten the deal. All up, there’s a lot to like about the Idol 4S. Af­ter a week of reg­u­lar use, we came away pretty im­pressed though, as al­ways, the usual caveats ap­ply.

A more-pre­mium up­grade on the sim­i­larly-priced Idol 4, the dif­fer­ences be­tween it and the 4S are largely tech­ni­cal.The 4S boasts big­ger on-board stor­age, a su­pe­rior cam­era and a more­pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor. In fact, given the ad­van­tages the Idol 4S of­fers in terms of per­for­mance, we rec­om­mend shelling out the ex­tra $200.

A sur­pris­ingly thin thing, the Idol 4S’ 5.5-inch AMOLED dis­play makes it nice to look at and nicer still to use. It’s light­weight enough to pull out for rapid use but the frame is solid enough that it never feels frag­ile. A sleek and steel-lined bun­dle of glass and aluminium, it bears more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to more-ex­pen­sive flag­ship de­vices it’s com­pet­ing with.

On the whole, the whole pack­age feels more ex­pen­sive than it should.

The Idol 4S comes with a plas­tic case that clips-onto the de­vice. While this case is very quick to smudge, it does give the Idol 4S a much bet­ter fit to your palm – even if hav­ing to take it on and off when­ever you want to mess around with vir­tual re­al­ity is a bit frus­trat­ing.

Both the 4 and 4S fea­ture the same re­versible de­sign as the Idol 3 pre­de­ces­sors but they take it fur­ther by ex­tend­ing that re­versible qual­ity to the speak­ers. Au­dio played on loud­speaker sounded clear and pleas­antly crisp.

Un­for­tu­nately, this didn’t ex­tend dur­ing calls. Con­ver­sa­tions I had on the Idol

4S of­ten sounded a lit­tle muf­fled. Thank­fully, the de­vice comes bun­dled with a pair of JBL ear­buds that help make up the dif­fer­ence.

The Idol 4S also boasts a 16MP rear cam­era, plus an 8MP one on the front. It’s easy to tog­gle be­tween the dif­fer­ent cam­era set­tings and the re­sults are quite sharp.

There’s a lot of op­tions here with Idol 4S pos­sess­ing the func­tion­al­ity to take panoramic im­ages, slow-mo­tion videos and Vine-ready mi­cro-films. It also comes in­te­grated with Fyuse ‘spa­tial pho­tog­ra­phy’ app.

Per­for­mance-wise, the Idol 4S is quick and smooth for the most part. It’s pow­ered by An­droid 5.0.0 (aka ‘Marsh­mal­low’) and boasts a con­sid­er­able bat­tery life that lasted be­tween 12 and 15 hours.

Ob­vi­ously, this can de­grades or vari­ate based on how fre­quently you utilise the VR and other bat­tery-heavy func­tions. Be­yond that, the big­gest fea­ture of the Idol 4S is The Boom Key.

A small, round metal nub, the Boom Key serves a dif­fer­ent func­tion depend­ing on the con­text in which it is pressed. It can act as a quicker way to take pho­tos when the de­vice is in standby-mode, gen­er­ate col­lages of pho­tos in gallery mode, sum­mon a three-di­men­sional weather ef­fect onto your home screen and op­ti­mise au­dio be­ing played through the mu­sic player.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­cept but it’s weighted down by half-baked ex­e­cu­tion. Put more sim­ply: some of the Boom Key func­tions are more use­ful than oth­ers. It feels like the idea of the key was con­ceived far in ad­vance of it’s proven util­ity.

I barely used the weather ef­fect, hardly no­ticed the dif­fer­ence with op­ti­mised au­dio and rarely opted to gen­er­ate col­lages with the Boom Key over In­sta­gram’s su­pe­rior app.

Still, there’s a lot of po­ten­tial here – and it is nice that you have the free­dom to con­fig­ure what the Boom Key does. It’s a good fea­ture: hope­fully fu­ture it­er­a­tions see it re­alised with greater div­i­dends.

Then, of course, there’s the VR side of the pack­age.

Both the Idol 4 and the higher-end Idol 4S put vir­tual re­al­ity front and cen­tre – though at this stage it feels like less of a fully-formed fea­ture and more of a glo­ri­fied tech-demo.

Both come with a set of VR gog­gles in­cluded and a small-suite of One­Touch VR ap­pli­ca­tions pre-loaded.

Though the cur­rent soft­ware lineup here is a lit­tle lim­ited, it re­mains a cool com­po­nent of the Idol 4 ex­pe­ri­ence. It doesn’t re­ally sit on the cut­ting edge of what vir­tual re­al­ity can of­fer, nor does it feel like a cheap knock-off.

How­ever, the de­sign of the head­set (which can be snapped into a carry case with ease) isn’t too shabby – even if it some­times feels like a glo­ri­fied Google Card­board.

The head­set it­self is rea­son­ably com­fort­able to wear, the ad­justable straps let­ting you find the best fit. That said, it can oc­ca­sion­ally be a has­sle to take on and off.

It looks pretty much how you ex­pect, and there’s a def­i­nite ap­peal to that qual­ity – even if it’s a lit­tle un­re­fined in style and quickly gar­ners a col­lec­tions of smudges.

More frus­trat­ingly, the two but­tons at the base of the vi­sor (used to se­lect and can­cel out of VR ap­pli­ca­tions) of­ten failed to func­tion.

While it’s not ex­actly a deal-breaker, it cer­tainly kills the mood when you’re try­ing to show the tech off to some­one.

With an Octa-core Qual­comm Snap­dragon 652 pro­ces­sor and 3GB of RAM be­hind it, the Idol 4S of­fers a win­dow into what VR could be – even if it is just a win­dow for now.

Con­clu­sion

It’s an im­pres­sive pack­age both de­spite and be­cause it still fits snugly within that lower-bud­get space that Al­ca­tel are known for. This is the clos­est they’ve ever got­ten to de­liv­er­ing a ‘flag­ship at half the price’. While the Idol 4S doesn’t hit ev­ery mark, it hits enough of them and hits well enough that some of its competitors should pay at­ten­tion.

The Al­ca­tel Idol 4S comes with the higher price point of $599 and is on sale now.

IDOL 4S 5.5” 2K AMOLED IDOL 4 5.2” Full HD IPS

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