Alcatel Idol 4S Review: The best Windows Mobile phone for the average user

Alcatel Idol 4S windows 10 mobile

The Pros

  • Premium feel
  • Great sound
  • Vibrant display

The Cons

  • Average camera
  • Offset charging port
  • Poor VR support on Windows

It is hard to believe that anyone could be convinced to switch from Android or iOS to Windows 10 Mobile these days. Yet, in the two months I spent testing the Alcatel Idol 4S Windows 10 variant, it almost did enough to make me reconsider Microsoft’s struggling operating system.

Regardless of whether it’s running Windows 10 or Android, there is a lot to like about this phone. With its ever-so-slightly curved edges, glass front and back, and gold-tinted metal trim, it looks and feels like a premium phone. Alcatel Idol 4S front view

That’s commendable considering that in Canada the Windows version is currently priced at a little over half of what Apple is selling the cheapest iPhone 7 Plus for, $619 unlocked in the Canadian Microsoft Store

Tech specs

Processor: Snapdragon 820 Quad Core CPU @2.15 GHz
Display: 5.5-inch 1080 x 1920 pixel FHD AMOLED, Dragontrail 2.5D Glass
Memory: 64GB ROM, 4GB RAM microSD
Camera: 21-megapixel rear camera
8-megapixel front-facing camera
Batter: 3,000mAh
Continuum: Yes
VR: Yes
Windows Hello: Yes (Fingerprint)
Dimensions: 153.9mm x 75.4mm x 6.99mm
Weight: 152g
Wi-Fi:802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Quick Charge 3.0

Surprisingly good looking

Alcatel Idol 4S back

Complementing this aesthetic appeal are two features that would make me reach for the Idol 4S before my regular phone. Firstly, it has two speakers on the front. That means you don’t have to place the Idol 4S face down to avoid muting a rear-facing speaker. Consequently, you can actually see the album art while a song is playing. Moreover, the speakers are surprisingly loud when you pump up the volume. It might not do for a backyard rave but you can easily hear it over the revving of a food processor.

This phone’s other great asset becomes apparent when you switch it on. Every phone maker uses superlatives like “beautiful” to describe their device’s display. In this case, it’s not hyperbole. The Full HD screen resolution of the Idol 4S with Windows 10 might sound subpar.

Forget the marketing hype around battery-sucking Quad HD screens, though, because this phone proves that pixels per inch isn’t necessarily the most important metric when it comes to display quality. The colour reproduction on the AMOLED screen is as vibrant as anything I’ve seen on high-end phones. When compared side-by-side with HP’s Elite X3, it made that phone’s colours look distinctly muted.

High-end specs

Alcatel Idol 4s side

In addition to these pros, there are a couple of features including in the Idol 4S that are unusual. One is the camera shutter button, which is placed about halfway down one side. In that position, it can be pressed using your phone hand or free hand. Tapping it brings up the camera app or activates the shutter if that app is already open.

The second feature is less practical: the USB-C charging socket is offset on the bottom of the phone so it won’t work with most charging stands. This would be less of an issue if the Idol 4S had wireless charging but it doesn’t. It’s 3,000mAh battery does charge quickly with the included cable, however, and easily got me through a day with normal use.

Back of Alcatel Idol 4S

Most of the other specifications for the Idol 4S with Windows 10 are what you would expect on a top phone. The display is 5.5 inches across — the same size as the screen on a Pixel XL — with a thin bezel on each side. The Idol 4S is also slightly smaller all round than Google’s phablet and lighter. Inside, its Snapdragon 820 processor isn’t the most up-to-date CPU either, though it’s still competent. 

Nonetheless, the phone handled every task I asked of it without a hitch, including Microsoft’s Continuum platform. The Windows version comes with 4GB of RAM (although it only stated 3.5GB under Device Information on my sample unit) and 64GB of storage space. The latter can be expanded with a 128GB microSD card. If you are upgrading from a Lumia 640, therefore, the Idol 4S is going to feel liberating.

Underwhelming camera

Alcatel Idol 4S windows phone main view

One area where the specs are underwhelming is the phone’s cameras. According to the description on Microsoft’s Canadian online store, the main camera records videos at only 720p, which now feels like an old standard. Videos can be taken at 1080p with the front-facing camera but that’s hardly convenient unless you want a high-res selfie.

The main camera also has an impressive 21-megapixel image resolution but pictures I took in daylight and artificial light were not noticeably sharper or richer in colour than those from my old Galaxy Note 4.

To make this phone more appealing to consumers, Alcatel sells it packaged with a VR headset. This is more of a bonus with the Android version than with Windows due to the dearth of VR apps in the Windows Store. Even so, given the quality of the phone that you’re getting for around $600 CAD, the headset feels like a freebie.

Mind you, the presentation is more impressive than the headset’s functioning. It feels solid and comfortable and comes packaged in a plastic box that can be used as a storage case.

MobileSyrup also reviewed the Alcatel Idol 4.

A viable Windows 10 alternative

Alcatel has also made it easy to access the phone’s headphone socket so you don’t need to rely on Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the Idol 4S seems to be the only phone that fits in the headset’s slot and the apps that are preinstalled on the phone are underwhelming. It doesn’t help that the two buttons on the headset -- 'Enter' and 'Back' -- which are supposed to make the VR menu easy to navigate, didn’t always work on my sample. Using the headset was therefore a frustrating experience.

Notwithstanding the underwhelming VR component, the lack of readily available accessories and a few minor niggles with the phone itself, the Idol 4S with Windows 10 has a lot going for it, especially if you’re a Microsoft hold-out looking to upgrade.

For everyone else, it’s hard to recommend the Windows 10 version unless you think you can live with the limitations of the OS. This is no reflection on the phone itself, however. Hence, in the unlikely event that you do decide to switch horses, the Idol 4S could make you see Windows 10 Mobile in a different light.

"It is hard to believe that anyone could be convinced to switch from Android or iOS to Windows 10 Mobile these days"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        8/10

Comments

  • Christopher Huphman

  • fsjn

    Um, is this a finished review? For a phone that you tested for 2 months and almost convinced you to switch platform, it is surprisingly light. What made you want to almost switch over to WM10? Why is there not even a single camera sample, or was all the pictures in this article was taken with it? How was continuum on it vs a Lumia 950/XL or Elite X3?

    For an article that started off so positively, it sure is lacking to convince the reader why it warrant the leap to WM10. Was the link to the android version of the idol 4s mean anything? They have wildly different specification, mind operating system…I think a link to the Blackberry Dtek60 might be a better comparison.

  • I’ve had one for about 6 six weeks and have to admit i love this device. It’s now my daily driver.

    Regarding the vr buttons what i discovered is It’s almost like the phone isn’t held tight enough in the headset for the buttons to register. If you put pressure on the phone when in the headset the buttons will work. ( i.e. Press the phone towards your face)
    Even when the buttons do work VR is only a gimmick at best and the apps leave a lot to be desired.

    But overall the phone is probably the best Windows 10 mobile out right now.

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  • John Marshall

    On sale at the Microsoft store Canada for $249.00 today down from $619.00.