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Alcatel Idol 5S review: Slick budget phone with a crummy battery

The Alcatel Idol 5S has premium looks and features for a low price. Too bad its battery doesn’t last long.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
3 min read

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.


Alcatel Idol 5S

The Good

The Idol 5S has a premium build, amazing speakers, a fingerprint reader and it runs Android Nougat -- all while being affordable.

The Bad

It has the shortest battery life of any phone we’ve tested in the past two years.

The Bottom Line

The Alcatel Idol 5s is an otherwise great budget phone, but the battery is its Achilles’ heel.

The Alcatel Idol 5S looks slick and premium with its glass front and back.

Josh Miller/CNET

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:

  • Launch Google Assistant
  • Compose a message or email
  • Take a selfie
  • Show recent calls
  • Launch the camera app
  • Set a timer or alarm
  • Add an event
  • Open the calculator

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.

Can you tell these photos were taken with a budget phone?

See all photos

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.

Here are two videos I shot with the Idol 5S. The top one has the electronic stabilization turned off. The bottom one has it turned on.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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.

How the specs of the Alcatel Idol 5S, Moto G5 Plus, Nokia 6 and Huawei Honor 6X compare

Alcatel Idol 5SMoto G5 PlusNokia 6Huawei Honor 6X
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.5-inch, 1,920x1080 pixels
Pixel density 424ppi424ppi403ppi403ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.85x2.79x0.29 in5.9x2.9x0.3 in6.06x2.98x0.33 in5.9x3x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 148.6x70.8x7.4 mm150.2x74x7.7 mm154x75.8x8.4 mm151x76x8.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.25 oz; 149g5.5 oz, 155g5.9 oz; 167g5.7 oz, 162g
Mobile software Android 7.1 NougatAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.1.1 NougatAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel12-megapixel + 2-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 1080p4K1080p1080p
Processor 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6251.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4302.1GHz octa-core Huawei Kirin 655
Storage 32GB32GB (UK & US), 64GB (US only)32GB32GB
RAM 3GB2GB on 32 GB (US model), 3GB on 32GB (UK model) or 4GB on 64GB (US model)3GB3GB
Expandable storage Up to 512GBUp to 128GBUp to 128GB128GB
Battery 2,620mAh3,000mAh3,000mAh3,340 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back coverBelow screenBelow screenBack cover
Connector USB-CMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features Dual 3.6-watt speakersDual-SIM, splash-proofDual SIMDual 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$350Converts to AU$300 (32GB) and AU$390 (64GB)Converts to AU$290Converts to AU$330

Alcatel Idol 5S

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 5