Looking for a work phablet that fits into your budget? The Alcatel Onetouch Idol is a nice Android phone with a roomy 5.5-inch display and an affordable price. You also get long battery life and solid videoconferencing capabilities, all for just $250 — no two-year contract required. It's a great deal, but are other budget work phones better?
The Idol 3 certainly looks fancier than its budget price tag would suggest. It also feels extremely solid and well made, with a sturdy metallic frame. That's a perk for workers who want an affordable phone that feels like it can withstand a bit of abuse. I also like the look of the subtle weave finish on the phone's back.
Compared to rival devices, the Idol 3 is relatively thin and light. At 0.29 inches and 4.85 ounces, it's thinner and lighter than the Asus ZenFone 2 (0.43 inches and 6 ounces) and the Motorola Moto G (0.45 inches and 5.5 ounces).
My biggest complaint is the placement of the power button on the phone's left edge, instead of the typical right edge where I could more easily reach it with my right thumb. Fortunately, the phone can be woken up with a simple double tap on the display, but powering the display off still requires some finger gymnastics.
The Idol 3's gorgeous, roomy display is its standout feature. The 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel panel provides plenty of room to work. Basic productivity tasks like managing my email inbox felt comfortable, and so did screen-intensive tasks like editing documents and spreadsheets. Unfortunately, Alcatel didn't include multiwindow functionality, which lets you view two apps in a split-screen view on other phablets like Samsung's Galaxy Note 5. The feature is nice for taking advantage of the extra real estate on a big phablet screen, but its omission is typical for a budget handset.
Size aside, the Idol 3's display is really impressive, with vivid colors and generous viewing angles. And topping out at 736 nits of brightness, it's significantly brighter than the Moto G (464 nits) and about twice as bright as the ZenFone 2 (325 nits). That makes the Idol 3's display easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Performance and hardware
The Idol 3 is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 614 processor with 2GB of RAM, which provides plenty of speed for daily work tasks. Apps generally launched quickly, and moderate multitasking was smooth.
Alcatel's phone slightly outperformed most competing devices on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. The phone racked up a respectable score of 2,029, which beats the Moto G (1,591) and the Blu Life One (1,449). The ZenFone 2 was the fastest, though, scoring 2,832.
A decent front-facing camera is a perk for workers who want to use their smartphone to meet remotely with clients and colleagues, via a videoconferencing app such as Skype. The Idol 3's 8-megapixel front shooter performed admirably on that front, producing crisp, clear images with accurate colors. The phone also produced loud, clear audio from its front-facing dual speakers, so you'll have no trouble hearing the person on the other end of the call.
In addition to the standard Android security features — including password, PIN and pattern-based lock screens — the Idol 3 also comes with the cleverly named Eye-D security tool. It lets you unlock your phone by using the front camera to scan your eyes; it analyzes the blood vessel patterns in your eyes to identify you.
The feature proved to be reliable during my testing period, consistently identifying my eyes and failing to recognize impostors. In theory, it's a nice alternative for users who want to keep their work phone locked down without fussing with passwords. But, in practice, it's a bit of a pain, since you have to carefully line up your eyes with the on-screen sensor for the feature to work, which takes a few seconds and a bit of concentration each time. I suspect that most users will pass on Eye-D and opt for a less fussy lock screen.
The Idol 3 should have no trouble powering through your workday, even with heavy usage. The phone ran for an impressive 9 hours and 16 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That blows away competitors such as the ZenFone 2 (7:05) and the Blu Life One (7:49). The Moto G came closest, lasting 9 hours on our battery test.
The Idol 3 runs on a tweaked version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, with a variety of small interface differences from Alcatel. A handful of solid productivity apps come preloaded, including Evernote for taking and saving notes, Drobox for saving your files and documents to the cloud, and WPS Office for making light edits to documents and spreadsheets.
For business users on a budget, the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 is a steal. For just $250, the phone offers some impressive hardware, including a beautiful 5.5-inch display and long battery life in a sturdy frame. I was also impressed by the phone's solid videoconferencing capabilities.
The best alternative for workers is the Asus ZenFone 2, which doesn't last as long on a charge but does offer faster performance and a similar 5.5-inch display for just $50 more. But business users on a strict budget can't go wrong with the Idol 3, which is one of the best smartphone deals yet.