Alcatel has built the One Touch Idol as a midrange phone for those who aren't fans of contracts. With an unsubsidized price of $299, this device features a thin and lightweight design with a 4.7-inch display, along with Android Jelly Bean. Does the One Touch Idol have the right touch for the money?
The Alcatel One Touch Idol has a classic but appealing design. It's a basic rectangle, with softly rounded corners and sides. The front is black, and the back and sides have the look of silver-brushed aluminum, despite being made of plastic. The back camera protrudes slightly from the body of the device. The word "onetouch" is printed in reflective silver on the middle of the back.
In addition to the silver version we had for our model, the One Touch Idol is available in a wide range of colors -- black, red, yellow, blue, green and pink -- making the Idol line about as colorful as the Nokia Lumia line of phones.
Both the Wake button and the 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the top rim of the device, with the SIM slot and the volume controls on the right edge. The left side of the One Touch Idol houses a microSD slot, while the microUSB port is on the bottom.
At 5.24 x 2.66 x 0.31 inches and 4 ounces, the One Touch Idol is roughly the same size as the Pantech Discover but is much lighter (4.8 ounces, 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches). At 5 ounces, the Google Nexus 4 is also heavier, and slightly bigger and thicker than the Idol, measuring 5.3 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches.
We found the device easy to use with one hand. We could reach the far corners of the screen without too much thumb stretching. We just wish the power button was on the right side of the handset instead of on the top.
The Alcatel One Touch Idol has an unusual pairing of display size and pixel density. Though this device has a decent-size screen, at 4.7 inches, its resolution is just 960 x 540 pixels, making the panel noticeably lower-quality than that of the 720p Pantech Discover. The Google Nexus 4 fits 1280 x 768 pixels into the same-size screen.
On the plus side, the Idol's screen uses IPS technology, which enables wide viewing angles. When watching the "Man of Steel" trailer on YouTube, we could make out explosions easily when viewing the phone from the sides.
The brightness of the One Touch Idol measured 359 lux, which isn't as bright as the 471 lux on the HTC One VX or the 400 lux on the Pantech Discover, but is better than the 301 category average. We had no problems using the Idol outdoors in sunlight.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Alcatel One Touch Idol's back-mounted speaker produced high-quality audio. We played Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and were impressed by the thumping bass and clear sounds of the saxophone riff. We switched to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and could clearly make out the piano and vocals in the intro, as well as the rich chorus of sounds once Queen really gets going.
The speaker's location on the back of the phone, however, meant that setting the phone on a table faceup muffled the audio. We either had to hold the phone or set it on the counter facedown to get the best results.
Software and Interface
The One Touch Idol runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which isn't the newest version but still has features such as Google Now, an enhanced notification drawer and numerous performance enhancements dubbed "Project Butter."
The One Touch Idol has capacitive buttons for Home, Back and Recent Apps, while the Nexus 4 features on-screen buttons. Other than that, the Android experience on the One Touch Idol is fairly pure, with a few cosmetic changes, such as rounded icons for apps and quick settings toggles in the notification drawer for things like Airplane Mode and Volume Settings.
There are five home screens that can be filled with apps and widgets, but unlike on skinned versions of Android, unused screens cannot be removed. A Google search bar is always available, no matter what home screen is showing, and includes a small Microphone button for voice searching.
The One Touch Idol supports live wallpapers, as well as video wallpapers for home-screen backgrounds, in addition to regular gallery images. We were able to choose a video that we had shot of passing traffic on the street and use it as our background. This feature looked really cool but negatively affected the phone's battery life until we switched back to a still gallery image.
The default keyboard on the Idol is stock Android and provides gentle haptic feedback. As we typed, word suggestions appeared in a small space above the keyboard, allowing us to type just the beginning of longer words and then select them from the list in order to avoid typing every letter. There is also an emoticon shortcut button on the lower left of the keyboard, allowing us to quickly add a smile to the end of a text message. Voice input on the Android keyboard worked accurately in our testing and did not require Internet connectivity to transcribe our voice.
Additionally, the One Touch Idol includes the SwiftKey 3 keyboard, which offers word suggestions to finish your sentences, and the Swype keyboard, which allows input through swiping through words.
Powered by a 1-GHz dual-core MT6577 processor and 512MB of RAM, the Alcatel One Touch Idol definitely doesn't push any performance limits. Fortunately, while this phone might not be the best choice for more demanding games, this handset proved responsive in everyday use. Swiping through the home screens and browsing the Web were smooth and fluid, and we didn't notice lag when exiting apps to the home screen.
The One Touch Idol didn't offer the best performance on the Quadrant benchmark test (measuring CPU, graphics and I/O performance); it clocked 3,018 against the category average of 4,040. The Google Nexus 7 -- with a 1.5-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM -- scored a 4,670, and the Pantech Discover (1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU and 1GB of RAM) did even better, with 5,440.
The AnTuTu benchmark had similar results, with the One Touch Idol scoring 6,431 against a category average of 14,094. The Idol got a 778 on the Geekbench test, underperforming the 2,121 of the Nexus 7 and well below the 5,719 average.
The One Touch Idol performed well on the AN3DBench test, scoring 7,404 against a category average of 7,194. The Pantech Discover scored just a 7,067, and the Google Nexus 4 got 7,318. The 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark, which also measures graphics, would not run on the Idol.
We played "Riptide GP," a Jet Ski racing game, and didn't notice any performance issues. Both the water tides and the other racers looked fluid as we raced around the track. When we switched to the more graphic-intensive "Super Monsters Ate My Condo," the phone's limitations started to show; the game stuttered but was still playable.
3G and Web
If you love blazing-fast downloads and speedy Web browsing, the One Touch Idol may not be the phone for you. Running on AT&T's HSPA+ network, this phone can't take advantage of AT&T's 4G LTE coverage. From Manhattan, we averaged 1.2 Mbps downloads and just 158 Kbps uploads.
During our real-world testing from Manhattan, NYTimes.com loaded in 8.5 seconds, ESPN.com in 9.2 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 7.8 seconds. All of these times are reasonable, but you'll notice more of a difference compared to 4G LTE devices when downloading songs, movies and apps.
In addition to the default Android apps, Alcatel has included a few applications of its own. There's a copy of AVG AntiVirus PRO, as well as Facebook, Evernote and MobiSystems OfficeSuite 7. From Alcatel, there's One Touch Cloud Backup, for backing up your phone to a remote server, and One Touch Share, which allows the smartphone to connect to a remote media server or DLNA device.
The One Touch Idol only has 4GB of storage space, which doesn't leave much room for movies and music or other apps. Fortunately, the Idol supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
Camera and Camcorder
The 8-MP camera on the One Touch Idol provided decent-quality photos, but some subtle details didn't look as sharp as we wanted. We took a picture of some buildings in New York City and found it difficult to make out the beautiful detailing at the top and bottom of the pillars in the windows. In another photo, a water tower's planks blurred together. Colors appeared accurate, but none of the pictures really popped.
The One Touch Idol also has a Continuous Shoot mode, which captures two images per second. We were able to use Continuous Shoot mode to capture multiple pictures in quick succession by holding down the Shutter button or either volume button. Each picture taken in this mode is saved to the camera roll; we would have much preferred if these pictures were grouped together in some way to make it easier to delete unwanted images.
The 720p video captured by the One Touch Idol also lacked detail. We recorded traffic flowing down a street in Manhattan, and edges looked soft and ill-defined in both moving cars and the still buildings in the background. A lack of image stabilization made the clip slightly jumpy, despite our best efforts to hold the phone still.
One cool camera feature on the One Touch Idol is the ability to pause recordings by holding down the Shutter button. This allowed us to take Vine-like videos, changing to different shots or locations and getting one stitched-together clip.
Battery Life and Call Quality
On the Laptopmag.com battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing with 3G connectivity, the One Touch Idol lasted only 4 hours and 45 minutes, much shorter than the 6 hour and 6 minute average. Carrying around a charger or an external battery would be a good idea for active smartphone users.
Call quality was decent on the One Touch Idol during calls to both a landline and another smartphone. The caller on the other end also reported good audio quality, although the noise of a busy street could still be heard in the background.
The Alcatel One Touch Idol delivers a lightweight design and good audio quality for an unsubsidized phone at this price. We also appreciate the multiple fun color options. And while the 1-GHz dual-core MT6577 processor isn't the most powerful, the fact that this handset doesn't use a heavily skinned version of Android makes it feel snappier than some competing smartphones. What prevents us from giving the One Touch Idol a higher rating is its mediocre battery life and lack of 4G LTE support. At $299, we prefer the identically priced Google Nexus 4, which has a sharper display and is guaranteed to get the latest software updates first.