Alcatel's new headliner phones are full of surprises: Hands-on with the metal Idol 4, 4S

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Alcatel hasn't traditionally been the first name on my list of recommended phones, but last year's Idol 3 impressed me with its low cost and solid features. So far, the Idol 4S and smaller Idol 4 unveiled here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are on track to do the same. The two phones are set to arrive in June (see prices in chart below).

The boom key is one of the phone's best additions. Boom!

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Their best feature is the "boom key," a button on the right side (that's not the lock button!) that does different things depending on what you're doing -- and also on how you program it.

You can set it to open the camera when the phone is locked, to boost bass when you play music and to take burst shots when you press it and hold. The boom key can boost your speed when you're gaming, or you can set it to open an app.

I dig the preset suggestions, but customization is crucial to making this convenient button your own.

How about the rest of the phones? The two retain the same rounded shape as the Idol 3, but are made of aluminum and glass, not plastic. It's a classy effect overall, but like all glass phones, my mind races to protective cases.

Dual JBL-made speakers return to the 5.5-inch Idol 4S and 5.2-inch Idol 4, but this time sound carries all the way through to the back. In my demo here, audio sounded just as loud with the phone flipped on its face as it did screen-side up.

More things to know:

  • The "Reversible" software shows the screen contents as rightside-up even if you pick up the phone upside-down
  • Flashes on front-facing cameras will light up dark scenes for selfies
  • Camera tools can make amusing noises to get your squirmy subject's attention, capture 15-second mini video
  • Idol 4S works with brand-new VR headset (could sell separately, depending on the market)

Idol 4S versus Idol 4: What's the difference?

Alcatel Idol 4S Alcatel Idol 4
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Custom software Reversible OS Reversible OS
Screen resolution 5.5-inch 2,560x1,440-pixel AMOLED screen 5.2-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel IPS
Camera 16-megapixel camera 13-megapixel camera
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel camera with flash 8-megapixel camera with flash
Processor 1.8GHz + 1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 1.7GHz + 1.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Speakers 3.6 watt JBL dual speakers for front and back 3.6 watt JBL dual speakers for front and back
Storage 32GB storage, 3GB RAM, up to 512GB Micro-SD card slot 16GB and 2GB RAM, up to 512GB Micro-SD card slot
Battery 3,000mAh battery (quick charge) 2,610mAh battery with quick charge
Connector Standard Micro-USB port Standard Micro-USB port
Dual SIM-capable? Yes Yes
Price ~450 euros, converts to $500, £385, AU$780 ~280 euros, converts to $310, £215, AU$435

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Where to Buy

Alcatel Idol 4S

Part Number: Idol 4S-gold

Visit manufacturer site for details.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 5.26 oz
  • Diagonal Size 5.5 in