$200 didn't use to buy much when it came to phones, but these days, it gets you a phone with a metal design, great display, front-facing speakers and a lot more.

The quick take

Affordable Android phones have gotten insanely good over the past couple of years, and the Alcatel Idol 5 is a prime example of this. For just $200, you're getting a phone with a metal build, great display, front-facing stereo speakers, NFC, and (mostly) smooth performance. The camera can be slow and image results are often mediocre, but if you're already on Cricket and want a good experience without going broke, the Idol 5 won't disappoint.

The Good

  • Metal build
  • Programmable Now Key
  • Front-facing speakers
  • Display is way better than it should be
  • NFC for Android Pay

The Bad

  • Slow camera
  • Lots of preinstalled bloatware
  • Exclusive to Cricket Wireless

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The internals

Alcatel Idol 5 Tech Specs

Category Spec
Operating system Android 7.0 Nougat
Display 5.2-inch IPS LCD, 1920x1080 (424 ppi)
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor MediaTek Helio P20, 2.2 GHz
RAM 2GB
Storage Up to 32GB
Expandable microSD up to 256GB
Rear camera 12MP with dual-tone flash
HD video (1280 x 720)
Front camera 8MP with LED flash
HD video (1280 x 720)
Battery 2850mAh
Non-removable
Charging USB-C
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC
Headphone jack Yes
Dimensions 148.08 x 71.88 x 7.62 mm
147g
Colors Grey

Lots of phone for not much dough

Alcatel Idol 5 Things you'll love

As soon as I took the Idol 5 out of the box for the first time, I had to double-check its price to make sure I'd read it right. Metal is not a new material for phone design and we've already seen it done a hundred different ways, but it's a very welcome surprise on the Idol 5. Its actual appearance really hasn't changed all that much since the Idol 3 that came out back in 2015, but the use of metal here is cool, comfortable, and a lot less fragile than the glass back on the Idol 4.

This is a far better display than what you'd expect on a $200 phone.

Once you stop gazing upon the Idol 5's back, you'll be met with a 5.2-inch 1920x1080 display that looks far better than you'd expect for a phone that costs two Benjamins. Text on the display is perfectly sharp, colors look great, and Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 feels as nice as ever. Color temperatures do get slightly warm when looking at drastic viewing angles from the top or bottom, but this isn't something you'll ever notice with regular use.

Flanking the Idol 5's display at the top and bottom are dual front-facing speakers, and when you combine this with the phone's display, you get a phenomenal package for consuming media. Also, if you happen to find yourself on the subway or in class, you can use the Idol 5's 3.5mm headphone jack to keep your games or movies to yourself.

No matter what you're doing on the Idol 5, you'll be met with a user experience that's proven to be better than I was initially anticipating. The MediaTek processor and 2GB of RAM are certainly less than desirable on paper, but here on the Idol 5, they work quite well together. Navigating through the user interface is very smooth, apps open quickly, and the performance within them is great, too.

Having an extra reprogramable hardware key is great.

Alcatel also shows considerable restraint throughout the phone, offering users with a mostly vanilla build of stock Android 7.0 Nougat. Most of the design elements remain unchanged, and there are also some welcome additions such as the ability to use the phone upside down and program the "Now Key" below the volume rocker to perform an array of different actions and open whatever application you'd like. It sometimes takes the Now Key a couple of seconds to complete whatever action you've assigned to it, but it's still quite useful nonetheless.

The battery is another part of the Idol 5 that ended up impressing me. After a day with lots of social media, downloading a few apps, streaming some music, and a couple hours of playing games, I still managed to end the day at 11:05 PM with 16 hours of total use and a little over three hours of screen-on time. With more regular usage, I'd expect you could easily get between three and a half to four hours of screen-on time.

Lastly, I was very surprised to learn that the Idol 5 comes equipped with NFC, and consequently, supports Android Pay. This is a feature that's usually reserved for much more expensive phones and is something you won't find on the Moto G5 Plus or G5S Plus that cost $30 and $80 more respectively.

Hard to complain about anything

Alcatel Idol 5 Things you'll hate

There's admittedly not a lot I don't like about the Idol 5, but if I were to pick out its weakest point, it'd be the phone's rear camera. The 12MP shooter can produce some good-looking photos in broad daylight, but it struggles quite a bit when you turn the lights down even just a little.

An alright performer that doesn't do anything special.

Images taken in low-light areas have the grain and detail softness that you'd come to expect for a phone of this price, but what struck me the most was just how slow the camera gets when trying to take a photo even when you're indoors during the daytime.

It'll sometimes take an upwards of three seconds just to capture a photo in a darker setting, and while that may not sound like a lot on paper, it's incredibly jarring the first time that you run across it. You can turn this off by disabling the "low-light enhancement" feature that's turned on by default, and I'd advise doing so ASAP as it seems to be more harm than good.

Another pain point with the Idol 5 is that it comes preloaded with a good chunk of bloatware. There are a couple apps that some people might find useful, such as Facebook, WPS Office, and Amazon Shopping, but most of them are games that you'll likely never touch. Thankfully, if you don't have any intention of using these apps, most of them can either be deleted or disabled.

The only other complaint I have with the Idol 5 has to do specifically with the unit I received. When pressing the volume-down portion of the volume rocker, the button gets stuck in the body of the phone and causes the volume to go all the way down each time it's pressed – forcing me to press the volume-up button in order to get it unstuck. This is more than likely just a freak thing with my device, and while I don't envision you'll have the same issue if you buy the phone, it's still something worth pointing out.

Another great budget option

Alcatel Idol 5 Should you buy it?

Alcatel's Idol 5 has a lot of good things going for it, and it comes in at a price point that's accessible to a wide array of different people – as long as you're on Cricket. The phone is an exclusive to the AT&T-powered MVNO, and if you're already on the network, it's a great buy. The addition of front-facing speakers and NFC are two items that are rarely seen in this price range, and while I wouldn't necessarily say they're worth leaving your current carrier over, we are really glad to see them present on the Idol 5.

The Idol 5 is a strong purchase for Cricket subscribers.

However, if you desperately want those two features and you only have $200 to spend, it might be worth checking out the Idol 5S. The 5S regularly cost $280 or $199 as an Amazon Prime Exclusive, and along with NFC and front-facing speakers, there's also a Snapdragon 625 for the processor, smaller battery, and glass back.

The choice between these two will ultimately come down to your personal preference and whether or not you're a current Cricket customer, but if the Idol 5 checks all of your boxes, you really can't go wrong with it.

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