Alcatel aren't the first company that springs to mind when I think smartphones, but they should be, as the Idol 3 is a terrific bang-for-buck device. When I rattle off this list of specs, keep in mind that the RRP is $379. 5.5in 1920x1080 IPS screen, 7.4mm & 141g, Qualcomm 615 SoC, 2GB RAM, f/2.0 13MP rear camera, 150Mbps LTE and a microSD card slot. For $379, outright.
You're probably thinking, “yeah, those specs sounds good, but how does it actually perform?”. Well the Idol 3 goes pretty damn nicely. Despite it's price, the fit and finish of the phone is great, with a nicely textured back, and for a 5.5in screen phone it's not too large. The screen looks gorgeous thanks to it being an IPS display, with fantastic viewing angles. I've never seen a display on a phone anywhere close to this price that looks so good.
Performance wise, it handled all my tweeting, web browsing, Google Maps, Spotify, email, Instapaper and basically everything I threw at it just fine. Scrolling in Chrome is virtually lag free and in all the apps I've used I didn't notice any glaringly obvious animation frame drops. Every now and then you notice an app take a little longer to load than you hoped, or switching apps jerks around, but this kind of thing is few and far between.
Battery life on it is great, surviving a normal day's usage just as well as any higher priced phone I've had in my hands. Reception and wi-fi/LTE speed are indistinguishable from more expensive phones too.
The Idol 3 has a few unique, if not gimmicky features that some people may be interested in. It's designed to be symmetrical, so you can grab the phone upside down or right side up and the entire UI will flip to suit whichever it's pointing. Whilst a nice feature that works as advertised, in practicality, having the volume and power button where you'd normally grip the phone results in locking the screen or changing the volume accidentally. The Idol 3 also packs dual front facing JBL speakers, which I will admit, sound much better than the internal speakers on most other phones - but they're still quite harsh and lack bass.
Despite all this praise, it's not perfect. The Idol 3 runs Android 5.0.1, which is practically ancient. I know it's a cheap phone, but there's no excuse for not at least providing a 5.1.1 upgrade. Alcatel have announced an update to Android 6, but not until June 2016!
The Idol 3 is also loaded with a fair bit of crapware. Whilst the UI is all pretty stock Android, there's about a dozen useless games and utilities that you can delete, and a couple that can't be deleted, such as a OneTouch branded App Store, that copies the standard Google Play store.
The camera is a bit of a letdown as well, with quite poor low light performance. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by Samsung Galaxies and iPhones, but the one area where there’s a significant difference between the Idol 3 and more expensive phones, it is the camera. At least the camera is quick and in good light, works fine.
It’s hard not to like the Idol 3 – it gets so many things right for a phone that’s $379. Great screen, smooth performance and a relatively uncluttered Android interface. Compared to the competition in the same price range, nothing comes close except the Motorola Moto G. If you can live with a poor low light camera and few of Alcatel’s apps lingering around, the Idol 3 is a great alternative compared to some much more expensive smartphones.