Alcatel Idol 4S review: Cute tricks give it some boom

Following several likeable if unexceptional devices, Alcatel’s Idol 4S wants your love, and is determined to earn it.

Its design is bolder, its screen is brighter, it now has a Boom key (about which I shall explain later) and a case and screen protector, and JBL headphones are all right there in the box.

And that box? It’s actually a virtual reality headset. All for Dh1,599. What more could one want? Actually, one or two things, but there’s lots about the Idol 4S to admire.

It dispenses with its predecessor’s brushed plastic finish, sporting instead a stylish glass and metal finish that wouldn’t look out of place on far more expensive devices.

The 5.5-inch display is now Quad HD Amoled, with an impressive pixel density that falls just short of pricier rivals. The colours of the new trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One look absolutely sumptuous, even if the action scenes could be a touch smoother.

The rear camera is now 16MP instead of the Idol 3’s 13MP. While it does an admirable job in normal light conditions, ­lower light images are still grainier than on its peers.

Alcatel is really touting the 4S’s Boom key on the device’s right side, which can be programmed to “boom” your smartphone experience in a number of ways, including taking a burst of photos, instantly turning up music volume, a Nitro boost in Ashphalt, opening a favourite app and so on.

It’s a nice concept that works quite well for quickly opening YouTube or the camera. For me personally it’s more cute trick than a must-have feature. A fingerprint scanner would have been far more preferable, available on similarly priced devices such as the OnePlus 3 and Huawei’s Honor range.

Despite its niggles, the Idol 4S is great value for money, especially with its VR headset. Its Boom Key won’t appeal to everyone, its camera could be better, and the OnePlus 3 is ever so slightly faster. Otherwise it’s a hard device to fault, its design and display in particular making it a good choice for the budget-conscious smartphone shopper.


Let me get this straight. The Idol 4S’s box is also a virtual reality headset?

That’s right. The plastic space age lunchbox-type packaging that the Idol 4S comes in is actually a cleverly designed headset, meaning you can dip your toes into the world of VR for no extra cost.

How wonderful! Is it any good?

It’s not quite up there with Samsung’s Gear VR headset, which will set you back about Dh300, given that there’s no way of adjusting the lenses, but even so it does the job quite well.

The short 360 videos included on the headset render well, although the included Titans of Space game was a little on the jerky side. The headset can tap into Google’s Cardboard VR platform, meaning there’s plenty of content available.

Sounds interesting. Is the Idol 4S ‘reversible’ like the Idol 3?

Yes it is. And if you’ve forgotten what that means, it means you can use the handset even if you’re holding it upside down to make and receive calls, thanks to four-way JBL speakers and microphones at either end of the handset.

Thanks for reminding me. Dh1,599 is still a little steep for me, does it come any cheaper?

The Alcatel Idol 4 is a little smaller at 5.2 inches and will set you back Dh899. For that price, however, you get lower specs and no VR headset. Both handsets, however, are available in gold, dark grey, metal silver and, you’ll be glad to hear, rose gold.

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