Just when you think the world of budget phones has settled, Alcatel comes along with the Idol 5S. At first, this looked to be the best phone you can buy under $300: It has a top-notch look and build, runs Android Nougat 7.1 and has similar hardware to one of our favorite budget phones the Moto G5 Plus (not to mention price). But the battery on the Idol 5S doesn't last long at all. And that's a big bummer.
The Idol 5S sells for $280 which converts to £215 and AU$355. In the US, an Amazon Prime version with lock screen ads pushes that price down to $200.
With its glass front and back, the Idol 5S looks downright fancy. In my hand, it feels like a slick and svelte iPhone 4. The top and bottom of the phone house the Idol's dual speakers which are better than most budget and mid-tier phones. They're excellent for listening to music and videos.
The Idol 5S includes Google Assistant for fast Google queries, finding photos and dictating messages. The 5S has a 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and handles everyday tasks just fine: messaging, social media and playing games like "Super Mario Run", "Modern Combat 5" and "Incredible Monster Hero."
There's a fingerprint reader on the back to unlock the phone, and it has a couple tricks. When the phone is unlocked, you can touch and hold the reader to go to the home screen, slide your finger vertically to view notifications or slide your finger horizontally to flip through photos.
You can also set specific fingers to trigger shortcuts. For example, I can use my index finger to unlock the phone and go straight into the messages app. Other fingers can be set to trigger different shortcuts including:
But the fingerprint reader can't be used for Android Pay since the Idol 5S lacks NFC. It's worth noting that most budget phones in the US don't have NFC, but many in the UK and Australia do.
Photos from the 12-megapixel rear camera are nice for the price, but aren't comparable with pictures from more expensive phones like the Galaxy S8, Google Pixel or iPhone 7. For me that's fine because, again, the Idol 5S is a third of the price.
The Idol 5S shoots decent 1080p video, but it can't record 4K video and there isn't any optical image stabilization (something that's pretty common with budget phones). It does have digital image stabilization for video though, and that was impressive.
Given all this, you'd think the Idol 5S would be the best budget phone you can buy. Unfortunately, there are two problems. The first is the battery. In our looped video battery test, it lasted a meager seven hours and 48 minutes. That's the shortest time for any phone we've tested in the past two years. And while it got me through most days with real-world usage, there were days after heavy use where it needed to be charged by the late-afternoon.
The second problem isn't one, per se, unless you're Alcatel. The Moto G5 Plus is an impressive budget phone as well, and is outfitted with much of the same internal hardware as the Idol 5S. One of its best parts is the G5 Plus' battery. It lasted 13 hours and 22 minutes in our tests. That's a big difference.
The Alcatel Idol 5S is a good phone, but its Achilles' heel is its mediocre battery. While it's a deal breaker for me personally, it may not be for others. If you can get past charging it more frequently, it is otherwise a wonderful phone for the price. However, there are other similarly priced phones with similar specs to consider as well including the Nokia 6, the Huawei Honor 6X and the aforementioned Moto G5 Plus. Check out how their specs compare below.
|Alcatel Idol 5S||Moto G5 Plus||Nokia 6||Huawei Honor 6X|
|Display size, resolution||5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels||5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels||5.5-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels||5.5-inch, 1,920x1080 pixels|
|Dimensions (Inches)||5.85x2.79x0.29 in||5.9x2.9x0.3 in||6.06x2.98x0.33 in||5.9x3x0.3 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||148.6x70.8x7.4 mm||150.2x74x7.7 mm||154x75.8x8.4 mm||151x76x8.2 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||5.25 oz; 149g||5.5 oz, 155g||5.9 oz; 167g||5.7 oz, 162g|
|Mobile software||Android 7.1 Nougat||Android 7.0 Nougat||Android 7.1.1 Nougat||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Camera||12-megapixel||12-megapixel||16-megapixel||12-megapixel + 2-megapixel|
|Processor||2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625||2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625||1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430||2.1GHz octa-core Huawei Kirin 655|
|Storage||32GB||32GB (UK & US), 64GB (US only)||32GB||32GB|
|RAM||3GB||2GB on 32 GB (US model), 3GB on 32GB (UK model) or 4GB on 64GB (US model)||3GB||3GB|
|Expandable storage||Up to 512GB||Up to 128GB||Up to 128GB||128GB|
|Fingerprint sensor||Back cover||Below screen||Below screen||Back cover|
|Special features||Dual 3.6-watt speakers||Dual-SIM, splash-proof||Dual SIM||Dual SIM|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$280||$229 (32GB); $299 (64GB)||$229||$250|
|Price (GBP)||Converts to £212||£249 (32GB)||Converts to £175||£225|
|Price (AUD)||Converts to AU$350||Converts to AU$300 (32GB) and AU$390 (64GB)||Converts to AU$290||Converts to AU$330|