After putting all their faith in VR with the Idol 4S, Alcatel is back with the 5S, a smartphone that focuses on being a phone. A shocker, I know.
At first, the 5S impresses just on looks. The mix of glass and metal on the body results in a phone that feels solid and looks nice. I particularly like the “speaker holes” at the top and bottom (in portrait mode). They sound as good as they look, too. A nice treat!
Including modern ports like USB-C while also keeping a headphone jack (yay!) is a plus. Sadly, Alcatel got rid of the button on the side that could be mapped to different functions. That was a favorite feature of the 4S. Instead you get volume buttons on right, power button on the left, and a very responsive fingerprint sensor on the back of the 5S. Oh, and gone is the dual-SIM slot. Sadness again.
Note that the same glass and metal that make this so neat looking also make it very slippery. I had the same problem with the 4S. The 5S isn’t quite as friction-free, but if you do buy this, please get a case.
Alcatel can join my list of companies that don’t trust Google’s UX team. With a skinned version of Android 7.1.1, the Idol 5s is not guaranteed to get all the latest updates. Alas, no sign of a custom ROM out there. I’ve caught some complaints online about their version of Android stuttering, although I myself have not seen it–although I did not use VR with it (the screen is lower resolution than the 4S, but it gets the job done). The Octo-core chip and 3GB of RAM should be able to handle most tasks other than that. Also, I’m happy to see 32 GB of storage.
There are three things about the Idol 4S that outright surprised me. The first is battery life, and not in a good way. Alcatel took the 3000 mAh cell of their last model and put a 2620 mAh in instead. It’s enough to get through the day with light use, but not heavy. With phone batteries getting larger everywhere else, this is a disappointing decision.
The good surprise is the camera. Technically it’s lower specced than last year’s (12 MP vs 18), but it does more than get the job done. I was also very pleased with video and low light shots.
Surprise number three? That’d be price. The 5S is available direct from Cricket for $179.99 (or $119.99 for a new customer who ports a number), but that involves tying yourself to a carrier. The unlocked model is $279 from Amazon, and gets all the way down to $185 if you buy the Amazon Offers version. That version has ads on the lock screen and you get special Amazon offers. It’s also, as of this writing, only being sold used. Guess people are snapping it up.
Would I buy the Alcatel 5S or recommend it? It’s a tough call. I haven’t reviewed a lot of under-$300 phones that have impressed me. I also haven’t tried any of the other Amazon Offer phones, so I cannot say how annoying it might be. But honestly, if they get more in stock, the Offers version is a good price for a solid phone. If you want something with good video, sharp sound, and don’t mind a slightly shorter battery life, you should strongly consider the Alcatel Idol 5S. It’s no flagship, but it gets the job done.
Note: Alcatel sent me their Idol 5S to review. Fingers crossed that they send me the phone they’re making with the Palm license.
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