Once a highly popular brand back in the 90s, Alcatel steadily vanished from the mobile scene just as Samsung and Sony Ericsson began rising up the ranks. Today, anyone and everyone has a smartphone portfolio and every other day, we come across new brands coming out of the wood works. There’s so much variety now that even companies like Panasonic are fighting for a sliver of the limelight. More than the price being a critical factor, OEMs need to bring something unique to the table, as there are only a finite number of OEMs in China and a lot more brands that want to make it big. Thankfully, Alcatel has its heritage to fall back on, so a potential buyer would give it a second look rather than dismissing it.
Alcatel also happens to be the official partner for the latest Iron Man 3 movie, so they are hoping this move kicks it into high gear quickly. It’s not uncommon for smartphone companies to try and cash in on the hype of popular Hollywood franchises. The phone in question today is the One Touch Idol Ultra, which is priced in the very aggressive Rs 20,000 price bracket, a spot currently ruled by Samsung’s Galaxy Grand. Let’s see if the Idol Ultra has more to it than sharing the silver screen with Tony Stark.
Design and build
One of the best features of this phone is the aesthetics. The Idol Ultra has a unibody design with a glass front and a rubberised back, lending it a premium look and feel. The phone is very thin at just 6.45 mm and light weight too, at just 115 g. The soft textured back extends along the sides as well giving you very good grip. There’s a very slight protrusion towards the back due to the camera, but otherwise, it’s as slim as they come. The glass front loves fingerprints and hides the backlit capacitive buttons at the bottom.
We have a microSIM card slot on the side and a flap-protected microUSB port on the top. The power and volume rocker also have good placement along with good tactile feedback. The speaker grille at the bottom tends to muffle alerts if placed on a non-planar surface. The one thing that’s missing is a 3.5 mm jack, which strikes us as little odd. The slim chassis is not excuse enough for not adding it. If an iPod touch can have a headphone jack, so can the Idol Ultra. Alcatel does bundle along a microUSB to 3.5 mm adapter, however. Overall, we were very impressed with the design and build of the Ultra, although the lack of a dedicated headphone jack will be an issue since you’ll have to carry around the adapter everywhere.
Rubberised finish is good for grip
The Idol Ultra sports a 4.65-inch AMOLED display with a 1280 x 720 (HD) resolution. The colours and viewing angles are pretty good due to this. The display doesn’t have any scratch-resistant coating, or at least there’s no mention of one. Weirdly, the One Touch Idol, which is priced lower, sports a Dragon Trail glass as well as Oleophobic coating.
Neat looking UI
The handset is powered by a MediaTek MT6577+ SoC which runs at 1.2GHz. Along with 1GB of RAM, Jelly Bean is a pleasant experience on the Ultra. You don’t get any expandable memory, but there’s 16GB of internal memory, out of which 13.3GB is user accessible. Alcatel has done some pretty heavy skinning due to which there are some occasional slowdowns. The skin itself, however, is very pleasing to look at and functional too. The lock screen has shortcuts for calls, messages and camera and there are frequently used toggle switches in the notification bar. We didn’t particularly like the choice of custom icons as at times it’s difficult to find the app you’re looking for.
You have a choice between the stock and the custom skinned music player. There’s not much of difference between the custom and stock player. In fact, the stock player offers better features like equaliser presets and a lock screen widget, which makes us wonder why Alcatel bothered with another version in the first place.
Media playback is strictly ok
The video player defaults to hardware decoding due to which there’s stutter even in SD videos, and there’s no way to switch it off. Some videos play fine while some don’t, so it’s a hit or miss. We didn’t have any issues using MX Player, however. Videos play back smoothly up to 720p, but nothing beyond it.
The Alcatel One Touch Ultra is a single SIM quad-band GSM and dual-band 3G handset. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi ‘n’, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0 and A-GPS. There’s no GLONASS or NFC, which we feel is a bit of a deal breaker given the price point. There are plenty of bundled apps like AVG, Barcode scanner, Chrome, File Manager, LED Torch, OfficeSuite etc. Alcatel also adds support for OTA updates, which is nice.
Internet and productivity apps
You have a choice between the stock keyboard and TouchPal Input, both of which are strictly average and we recommend you switch to either SwiftKey or Swype. The screen sensitivity also feels a little off. At times, the phone doesn’t respond very well to your input, which can be really frustrating.
The 8MP camera manages to capture decent indoor and outdoor shots under varied lighting conditions. The time taken to focus and capture a still is pretty quick and the handset does well at macro shots. The flash isn’t too powerful, but it is just ok for close subjects. The front camera has a 1.3MP sensor, but the frame rate is quite choppy.
Video recording quality is strictly average too. There’s quite a bit of stutter that tends to creep into the video even if you’re hands are steady.
Image quality is strictly average
The Alcatel Idol Ultra is powered by a 1820 mAh battery, which was enough to last through our 8-hour loop test. At the end, we had about 18 percent battery to spare.
Verdict and price in India
The One Touch Idol Ultra had all the makings of a very good handset, but the minor issues and niggles stop it from achieving its goal. Apart from the good looks and build quality, there’s nothing else that really stands out. The display produces good colours, but the sensitivity of the screen should have been better. This issue creeps up when using the phone or even typing. The lack of a standard headphone jack is also a deal breaker. Finally, given the price, we expect GLONASS, the ability to do 1080p and a scratch resistant glass as standard. The handset could have used a more powerful dual-core chipset, if not a quad-core.
The handset retails online for Rs 19,000, which is too expensive given the Galaxy Grand is available at a similar price and is a much better handset overall. Even if Alcatel drops the price, we recommend you give it a miss.
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