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Alcatel Idol 4S review: Getting the most from the mid-range

Quick Take

The Alcatel Idol 4S is a 5.5-inch mid-ranger from a company that's spent the time to refine its design and hardware. You get access to a fantastic camera with manual features and Hi-Fi audio. The phone offers an excellent display, even outdoors, and provides battery life that will easily get you through the day.

Good and Bad

The Good

  • Awesome camera with plenty of features
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Great Hi-Fi audio

The Bad

  • Phone can feel slippery in your hand
  • Processor heats up after extended use

About this Review

I (Jen Karner) am writing this review after using the Alcatel Idol 4S for two weeks. It's running Android 6.0.1 with the July 1, 2016 security patch (build number 4AGB-UEB10.) It was connected to the AT&T network in Halethorpe, Md., and the great Baltimore Metropolitan area, and was connected via Bluetooth to a 2015 Honda Fit.

Alcatel Idol 4S Specs

Display5.5-inch QHD AMOLED screen
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 652 octa-core CPU
Storage32GB storage, micro-SD slot
Rear Camera16 MP, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Front Camera8MP
Battery3,000 mAh, Micro-USB port, Quick Charge 2.0
Dimensions153.9 x 75.4 x 7 mm
149 g

Sleek and metal

Alcatel Idol 4S Hardware

The Alcatel Idol 4S has a sturdy metal and glass body that feels great from the moment as you pick it up. While the device fits comfortably in your hand, it tends to get slippery, (which means that investing in a decent case might be a good plan if you have a tendency to drop your phone regularly.)

The back is smooth glass, with minimal branding. The only thing that protrudes noticeably from the back is the rear camera lens. While there is a fingerprint sensor set into the back, there isn't any indentation. Instead, you'll be able to locate it by the metal ring that surrounds it. And it's reasonably ergonomic too, even if you have smaller hands.

The boom button lets you trigger certain actions when within apps, or when your phone is locked.

From the front, the phone looks pretty similar to many other rounded 5.5-inch handset (particularly some of Samsung's recent devices.) One of the biggest differences comes in the buttons layout. That's because along with the power button on the upper left, and volume rocker on the upper right, you'll find the "Boom" button — a circular key in the middle of the right side.

The boom button lets you trigger certain actions within apps, or when your phone is locked. This includes doing things like launching your camera when the device is locked, or triggering specific actions like a weather preview. It's a nifty feature that enhances the experience, but isn't entirely necessary and can be ignored if you so choose. It also really, really looks like a power button.

Alongside the standard Micro-USB and headphone jacks down below, you'll also find a slot for your micro SD card on the upper left corner, just underneath the power button. And at both the top and bottom of your screen you will see small discrete speaker grates for the Idol 4S's impressive audio system.

You don't need to jack up the volume all the way to get fantastic sound when listening to music, or sharing videos with friends.

Those speakers really get the job done, too, with support for Hi-Fi audio and stereo output whether the phone is facing up or down. That's right, they'll fire out the back of the phone too. Aside from that you don't need to jack up the volume all the way to get fantastic sound when listening to music, or sharing videos with friends, which is great.

The display is impressive, too, with a 2560x1140 pixel resolution that rivals some more expensive smartphones. So naturally there's plenty of pixel density to go around, and I also found it bright enough to use in outdoor conditions — although you'll need to watch out for increased battery drain at higher brightness levels.

As for general speed, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 652 processor works admirably, and I didn't notice any performance issues with the Idol 4S. It didn't matter if I'd been playing Avengers Academy for over an hour, or if I'd had to navigate my way through Baltimore City using Google Maps, this phone was always up to the task. Even when I'd been using the phone heavily for several hours, the only real issue was heat buildup — something that's by no means unique to the Idol 4S. It never started dropping apps, acting jittery, or requiring me to put it down to give it a rest. (It did start to slow down after a while, but even this was generally when the battery was quite low.)

And storage-wise, there's 32GB of internally, which can thankfully be augmented using a microSD card for plenty more storage to keep your games, photos and music loaded locally. Alcatel specifies that the slot can take cards up to 512GB.

All Google, all the way

Alcatel Idol 4S Software

For now, the Alcatel Idol 4S is reasonably up-to-date software-wise, running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow right out of the box with the July 2016 Android security patch. We're on the cusp of Android Nougat, but Marshmallow still gets the job done, and Android 6.0.1 performs really well on the Idol 4S.

While it doesn't come in bogged down in tons of bloatware, there are a fair few apps that come preloaded. Several of these revolve around VR, because the Alcatel Idol 4S comes packaged within a Google Cardboard headset. You'll find a few games, a VR launcher and a VR store where you access new virtual experiences.

Preloaded VR content helps you make the most out of the bundled 'Cardboard' headset.

An added perk is the addition of the Waves Maxaudio app. This phone has Hi-Fi audio, and the app lets you manually adjust how things sound. You can tweak stereo, bass, treble, and even set specific settings for different genres of music. You also get access to an app called Fyuse (opens in new tab), which allows you to take seriously epic movable photos (when it works correctly, anyway).

Superbly suited

Alcatel Idol 4S Camera

Cameras have become integral to the way that many of us use our phones. Whether it's rolling through Instagram and taking selfies, or recording video of friends at parties, having a camera that works well is a necessity. Thankfully, the Alcatel Idol 4S does a great job here, with tons of software features, and cameras that do a great job capturing memorable moments.

There's a 16MP rear facing camera, and an 8MP selfie shooter. Both function quite well, though they do have a tendency to blur if you aren't holding your hands still. Usefully, you can actually open up your camera, even if your phone is locked pressing the Boom button on the side.

Alcatel gives you plenty of options with the camera as well. You've got auto, panorama, and manual modes, slow motion videos, Fyuse, and micro-video. Each one is chock full of features to let you get the best results in different situations. The Fyuse mode lets you take photos that you can actually look at from multiple angles, but it did have problems about half of the time when I tried to use it. Aside from showing people how it worked, I more or less left this function alone.

In manual mode, all of your options appear on the right side of the screen and let you adjust them on a slide bar. Panorama functions will show you a preview of your photo as you take it, and even the auto mode has basic sliders you can tweak up and at the top of your screen. So long as you can get used to having to hold very still when taking photographs, you'll be quite happy with the results that you get.

Capacity to continue

Alcatel Idol 4S Battery

The Acatel Idol 4S is equipped with a 3,000mAh non-removable battery. In my experience, it's capable of taking you through 12+ hours without needing a recharge, even with heavy use. When it does come time to fuel back up, you've got access to quick charge capabilities which means you won't be stopping for too long.

Even when I was moving between multiple games, or out for a walk playing Pokemon Go, I could count on having hours of gameplay without having to stop and let the phone recharge. When that time finally did come, I didn't need to plug it in for more than about 90 minutes because it supports Quick Charge 2.0.

Even using the Alcatel Idol 4S heavily, I never once managed to actually run completely out of juice.

Even using the Alcatel Idol 4S heavily, I never once managed to actually run completely out of juice. The lowest I got was about 5% and that was usually at the very end of my day, as I was headed to bed. For regular or light users you can expect to get through a solid 16 hours without issue, heavier users should expect 10-12 hours of use. That's about standard for a phone of this size in mid-2016.

Bottom Line

Should you buy it? Yes

This brings us to the big question with the Alcatel Idol 4S, should you buy it? Between the battery, screen, and camera you're looking at a solid phone that can easily get you through your day without ease and it doesn't have a killer price tag attached. You can pick it up from Alcatel directly for $399, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Considering that you also get a fantastic VR headset with your phone, you can go far with this phone. It isn't a flagship device, but Alcatel has worked their butts off to offer a fantastic device that is affordable for many people. Sitting as a mid-grade phone, you've got plenty of options, but the Alcatel Idol 4S is a good choice for anyone who values photo and audio quality, as well as a great overall experience.

See at Alcatel

Jen is a staff writer who spends her time researching the products you didn't know you needed. She's also a fantasy novelist and has a serious Civ VI addiction. You can follow her on Twitter.

  • So now we have honour 8, Alcatel s4, oneplus 3 for the same price. I think that sailfish will destroy them in plenty of ways though... Posted via the Android Central App
  • With the recent price drop also add the Nexus 6P 64GB to the list.
  • You forgot the Axon 7 also.
  • for myself as someone who cares about camera quality the oneplus 3 or the Axon 7
    kills the honour 8 and this S4, I would't recommend this phone to anyone Sailfish might destroy all of them though, I agree.
  • I'm sure you've bought and used all four devices to make such a ridiculous claim Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have owned OP3, idol 4s, and axon 7. OP3 and A7 have much better cameras that idol. OP3 is my pick by far.
  • Yep. That was pretty clear from the Idol's OK shots in the review.
  • No more Nexus......If Google messes this up with unnecessary garbage then all that power means diddly squat. It needs to be pure like the Nexus or it's DOA.
  • What about Axon 7....Lol
  • Sounds like a 1+3 killer.
  • 4 killer Posted via the Android Central App
  • Lol not even close Posted via the Android Central App
  • You need to lay off with the heat thing if it doesn't affect performance it's just trivial and shouldn't be listed at all on the pros and cons
  • Well, to much heat WILL damage the phone internal on the long run, but then again, that only happens if you use the phone very heavily Posted via the Android Central App
  • Excess heat can make the device uncomfortable to use and can damage the internals in the long run
  • Right! All phones get hot, you just don't feel it depending on the material! And it's so silly to me how a company can sell various tiers of SOX processors, so basically you deliberately offer a lower performance model that has heat issues.....aww ok....i don't care Posted via the Android Central App
  • Any review I've seen about this phone have been mostly positive.
    The under 400 dollar phones are popping up and taking over. I don't see a lot of reasons to pay big money for phones anymore.
  • Impressive device, but I'm not sure I'd want my front-firing speakers also firing out the back. And I really don't like glass-backed phones...
  • As someone who's only used phones with FF speakers over the last few years the "pass through" technology on this device only enhances the experience.
  • If it's got a great camera, you have sold me already. Love taking photos. I'm very impressed with this device. Hadn't heard of alcatel until a couple weeks ago, but they have made a solid impression so far. A droid a day keeps the Apple away
  • I returned mine. Low light performance without OIS was awful. More than 50% of the pics were blurry, the sharper ones were dim. Even in good light it'***** or miss. I also didn't care for the gimmicky software overlay. Some of it can be turned off but some cannot. A launcher might cure some of it. Other than that, the review nails it. For the money, it's tough to beat. But minus the speakers and display, I think the OP3 kills it.
  • Thank you for your honest input, it's much appreciated. This phone seems to be decent, just wish that it had some color choices.
  • Also, the FPS was difficult to locate and only about 70% effective the first time. That can be cured with an update. At first the V10 was awful but an update made it fast and flawless. For all its audio prowess, the headphone (wired) audio quality was a bit rough compared to the V10.
  • There aren't too many phones that can actually compete with the V10 on wired headphones, but the battery drain to utilize it kills it quickly.. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In general, yes the battery drains quickly when in use, but in my experience it's not from headphone use. I plug in for 1 1/2 hours at the gym and listen to downloaded music and go from 100% to maybe 98% if I keep the phone in my pocket and don't respond to notifications.
  • Agree with the review. Coming from an X pure (and an idol 3 before that). It's a great device. The build /speakers are amazing. Camera is on par with the pure. Speakers have a bit more stereo effect to them than the X. The 652 for me has been a big upgrade over the 808. Screen could get brighter but not a deal breaker. My only issue was the pre-order process was a mess. Other than that I'm liking it. Well worth it at $349. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You keeping yours Ski? I'm returning as explained above. Waiting on the V20.
  • Definitely. It's a keeper. You sold me in the forums actually haha. Glad you did cause I really like this device. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Good for you after all the pre-order issues. It's a great device but just didn't meet my needs/preferences.
  • How can anyone justify buying the Alcatel 4S for $399 with so many options at $399 that have Snapdragon 820's in them. OP3 and ZTE Axon 7 come to mind. If the sound is why you're looking at the Acatel 4S, then really take a good look at the Axon 7...the front facing speakers sound is amazing, and LOUD.
  • According to most reviews including this one, there is no performance gap and the Idol 4s has features the others don't have. None are a perfect device. Give me the build of the Axon, the speakers of the Idol and the software of the OP3 and you have a killer phone.
  • Simple.... Better battery life and better speakers. I agree the other phones are great but if you don't play games then do you really need the 820? Posted via the Android Central App
  • A $400 phone with no definite OS upgrade? No thank you.
  • Alcatel is promising a Nougat upgrade. Posted via the Android Central App
  • They are?
  • Yep - only concern is when (not as much if). Tech Insider review..."There’s also a question of how quickly Alcatel will update the device to Android 7.0 Nougat — a company rep told me it will receive the update, but couldn’t give a specific timeframe just yet." Verge.,,"Alcatel says that it will update the 4S to Android 7.0 Nougat, but it has not committed to a time frame for the upgrade." Android police "A number you'll probably be seeing a while, though Alcatel promises a Nougat upgrade at some point."
  • Who carries this phone. I have a mid ranged phone as of now and I'm not impressed but this looks awesome
  • I'll buy if they guarantee they'll release a Nougat update. I don't wanna get a phone that'll have outdated android software in a couple weeks.
  • ....its gonna be outdated in the next few weeks regardless of a promise or not. Are you going to cease using your current device Posted via the Android Central App
  • I need a new phone. This seems like a good phone. But I don't want a phone that's never gonna see an update. Ive had enough of those. If they say they're gonna update the OS, I'll take them at their word because I have idol 3 and they did update that. However I did just take a look at the axon 7 so now I'm on the fence...
  • I can't wait to return this phone and order an Alcatel Idol 4 Posted via the Android Central App
  • I would take the Honor 8 all day long over this one.
  • Yoop mee2...
  • Jen, love the shot in the grass! Verrry artsy-fartsy!!!
  • The review was a bit lacking in the software section. Does this run close to stock Android? Heavily modified? Somewhere in between? Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's good phone I was able to Stream pornhub so yeah I'm going to buy one for my grandmother who needs a phone and yeah she's going to like this one.
  • Great to see that mid-range phones are getting better and providing a real alternative to overpriced flagships.
  • About the heat thing. Does yours throttle while recording video? I watched Juan Bagnell's review the other day and saw that the phone throttled while recording video, and it destroyed the video quality.
  • In that case I'll ditch my comment above lol Posted via the Android Central App
  • OnePlus 3 > Honor 8 > Axon 7 > Idol 4S
  • I actually test phones for my job and used to have an Alcatel which was worst phone ever. I am going to say this Alcatel is way better than the Alcatel phone I used to have. This phone is fast and the camera is better than any camera on an LG by far. This phones speakers are so good my neighbor called the police because the music was so loud. I wish it had more memory but overall fantastic phone.