Alcatel One Touch Idol review:

Low-cost unlocked Android 4.1 phone, but no 4G

Alcatel One Touch Idol camera test
For shame! The Idol crashed and burned on this flower, whose central bloom suddenly grew a few shades hotter and indistinct. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Idol's 720p HD video took good, strong video at this resolution, though the microphone didn't clearly capture quieter sounds a bit further away. Strangely, videos I took on the Idol only played back in portrait mode on my device, never in the landscape orientation. That's clearly a drawback.

Ruffly leaves and petal edges are account for, but this photo once again lacks convincing focus and detail. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Idol offers 4GB total storage for your multimedia, though it's more like 2.4GB that's user-accessible. You can overflow onto a microSD card slot up to 32GB in capacity.

A flash flare, unintentionally soft focus, and rusty tinge around the edges are camera flaws in this standard studio test shot. Josh Miller/CNET

Call quality
It may not be billed as a top-notch device, but call quality on the unlocked GSM-compatible Idol (850/900/1800/1900MHz) using AT&T's SIM card was more than just fair in my tests.

Audio sounded fairly clear when I called my usual tester on a landline phone, but a little more jangly and harder to hear when I dialed into an customer service number. There was no background noise on the calls, a bonus, though they did sound slightly muffled, with a hint of distortion from time-to-time.

On the upside, voices came across totally natural. That was with the volume notched up to maximum, though. If the room grew any louder, I would have reached the phone's audio threshold.

On his end, my testing partner said that the call produced fairly good voice quality. Audio was very slightly distorted, but comfortably loud and good. He said that I sounded totally natural, and really likes the phone's performance.

One quirk surprised me. The Idol gives off a jolt of haptic feedback whenever a call connects. I think I like it, at least in theory. On the plus side, you know when you've connected, and when you need to snap yourself out of your ring-through reverie to actually speak up.

Alcatel One Touch Idol call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was very clear when I held the phone at waist level. It sounded strong and sturdy at three-quarters volume, then grew buzzy at high volume.

Again, it was loud enough indoors my quiet office, but if I were to take the phone outside or on a busy road while in the car, I'd struggle to hear clearly. Voices sounded natural at all volume levels, and there wasn't any background noise in my tests.

On his end, my test partner said that volume dropped a little, but otherwise, the Idol produced an excellent speaker phone with clear voice quality, strong clarity, and very little echo or reverberation. He ranked it as one of his all-time favorites from among all the phones I test.

It bears repeating that the Alcatel One Touch Idol lacks 4G in both HSPA+ and LTE configurations. That means that speeds creep as high as around 7Mbps down theoretically; that's even slower in real life when piped over a 3G network. As a reminder, I tested the Idol using an AT&T SIM.

Alcatel's entry-level One Touch Idol is indeed slower in terms of data and processing prowess than top-shelf phones. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I noticed the network pokiness right away, especially when trying to load Web sites that aren't optimized for mobile. Those that did still loaded in a reasonable length of time, though certainly not as quickly as over either flavor of 4G.

In addition to slower speeds, the phone also expresses more feeble processing power by today's considerations, a 1GHz dual-core chipset as opposed to the top phones' very speedy dual-core or quad-core processors with higher clock speeds.

As with data, the entire phone-operating experience is slower than I'm used to over 4G, I admit, and the processor speed shows definitely lag compared with the It phones of the moment.

Alcatel One Touch Idol (Unlocked, using AT&T)
Download CNET mobile app (3.7MB) 16.8 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 9.1 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 19.4 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 38.5 seconds
Camera boot time 2.7 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2 seconds, with autofocus and flash

The Idol's 1,800mAh battery promises a rated talk time of 7.2 hours of calling time and 17.1 days of standby time. That's certainly within range to give you a full workday of power before you need to charge it, though the ticker's efficiency will always depend on how much you use the phone and how long you'd have it.

Battery efficiency decreases notably over time for all electronics. I'll update this section with the results of CNET's proprietary battery drain test.

The One Touch Idol has 1GB RAM and has a score of 1.4 watts per kilogram in its digital SAR tests.

Should I buy it?
I hate to say it all comes down to price and features, but it all comes down to price and features. Alcatel's One Touch Idol isn't for anyone seeking a high-end device, but if you're on the lookout for something cheap that's a cut above the basics, you could do much worse than this $300 Android Jelly Bean handset.

Unfortunately for Alcatel, you can also do much better. For the same off-contract price, LG's Nexus 4 piles on the features, and also gives you 4G HSPA+ speeds. The Nexus 4's lack of LTE hurts it in a mature market like the U.S., which has been taught to clamor for high network speed, but if you're realistically in a Wi-Fi zone most of the time anyway, you may not fuss over the highest megabits per second down (Mbps). Besides which, HSPA+ is still much faster than straight HSPA 3G.

LG's device has the added benefit of being first in line for OS upgrades on account of its status as a Nexus phone running stock Android.

On its own, the Alcatel One Touch Idol is a decent showing for a relative newcomer. Thrown into a competitive landscape where it competes with a better phone for the same price, it doesn't stand a chance. Regardless, it'll be interesting to track Alcatel's next move.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.
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