Almost 10 months after it originally launched in the United States, Alcatel's flagship IDOL 4S with Windows 10 Mobile is finally available in European markets under a new name, the IDOL 4 Pro. For the most part, the IDOL 4 Pro is identical to the IDOL 4S with Windows 10 Mobile, so this review is going to focus on not only the handset but the experience it provides in 2017.
At €480 (£420), this is a device priced in the mid-range with last year's high-end specs. Some would say this device is too expensive considering you can get practically the same device in the U.S. for $215. I'm inclined to agree, but considering the only other Windows 10 Mobile flagship available in Europe right now is the Elite x3 that costs above £600, this is what you get.
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro tech specs
|CPU||Snapdragon 820, Quad Core CPU @ 2.15 GHz|
|Display||5.5-inch FHD AMOLED
Dragontrail 2.5D Glass
|Camera||21 MP rear camera
8 MP front-facing camera
Quick Charge 3.0
420 hours standby
15 hours talk
|Windows Hello||Yes (fingerprint)|
|Audio||Dual speakers with Hi-Fi surround sound|
|Dimensions||153.9 mm x 75.4 mm x 6.99 mm|
Wi-Fi Calling 1.0
A2DP, OPP, HFP, AVRCP, PBAP
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro hardware
The IDOL 4 Pro is essentially identical to the IDOL 4S with Windows 10 Mobile. There are a few small differences, however, mostly for regional purposes. For example, the IDOL 4 Pro supports different cellular and LTE bands for the EU market and also doesn't come bundled with a VR headset.
It turns out, Alcatel isn't pushing the VR aspect of the U.S. version in European markets. That's not much of a problem, however, because the addition of VR with the Idol 4S in the U.S. was mostly a gimmick. So in the EU, the IDOL 4 Pro comes with a pair of high-quality JBL in-ear headphones, a USB-C charging cable, and instructions.
Differences on the phone's exterior include the "IDOL 4S" logo being switched out for a logo that simply says "IDOL," and that's pretty much it. Everything else is exactly the same, including the still-somewhat-relevant Snapdragon 820 processor, with 4GB RAM and a 1080p 5.5-inch AMOLED display. As we noted in our original IDOL 4S review, all of those specs are great with Windows 10 Mobile.
It's the best-feeling Windows 10 Mobile device out there.
The phone itself is probably the best-feeling Windows 10 Mobile device to date. It's all glass with a metal frame, which feels premium in the hands. It's definitely more premium feeling than the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. It's also extremely thin. Its thinness, combined with how light it is and the glass materials, make this device incredibly difficult to grip in your hand.
It's also easily damaged. If you drop this device on a hard floor, you will absolutely end up with scuffs, or a broken screen. I hate phone cases, I never use them, but on this device, I am, because I've already dropped it twice with the case on.
The buttons are very clicky, which I like. I dislike the positioning of the buttons, however. The lock button is at the top left of the phone, directly opposite the volume rocker meaning you're going to accidentally take screenshots often. Also, the camera button is essentially in the middle of right side the phone and isn't a two-stage button. It works, but it's in an odd place.
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro software
Not much has changed in regards to performance since our original IDOL 4S review. Since then, Microsoft has launched the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update, which includes its own performance improvements and other changes. The issue with that is the IDOL 4 Pro in the EU isn't receiving that update yet. This phone comes bundled with the Anniversary Update, not the Creators Update.
This wouldn't be much of a problem if the Creators Update were a ready and waiting update for the IDOL 4 Pro, but it isn't. It's not receiving the Creators Update officially, at least not yet. Now considering the U.S. variant of the device supports the Creators Update, this is frustrating. Luckily, you can still get the Creators Update by joining either the Insider Slow or Fast rings, which is what we did for this review.
It has a clean Windows 10 Mobile image with basically no preloaded apps.
Once on the Creators Update, you can reset the device or leave the Insider Program, and your phone will continue to be serviced like normal with production builds for the Creators Update. Our handset is now running 15063.540 with no driver issues or performance problems, which is great. We just hope Microsoft and Alcatel work together to get the update rolling out officially without the need of the Insider Program.
Windows 10 Mobile itself is a great performer on the Snapdragon 820. Continuum is quick, apps open fast and rarely do I encounter any lag. I say rarely, because I have encountered lag while using this phone, but it was only the once.
I like how the phone rarely gets hot, unlike my Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL that get hot all the time. The Snapdragon 820 is a cool performer, even when charging the device.
One issue I have with the software involves the way the OS scales the UI. UI scaling on this device is either too small or too large. There's no middle ground. By default, the phone is operating at 250 percent scaling, which I find to be too small on a 5.5-inch phone at 1080p. The next step up is 300 percent, which is just too big for a 5.5-inch display. It definitely doesn't make the phone unusable, but it's unfortunate.
The thing I like the most about the IDOL 4 Pro with Windows 10 Mobile is that Alcatel has bundled a basically 100-percent stock Windows 10 Mobile image on the device. There's only one preloaded third-party app on this phone out of the box, and it's the Uber app. There are no silly VR apps pre-installed or apps that automatically download in the background.
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro and Windows Hello
The IDOL 4 Pro supports Windows Hello via a fingerprint reader located on the back of the device. This is great, except the fingerprint reader on this device is flawed in many ways. The fingerprint reader on this device is incredibly small and really hard to find when you're not looking. As a result, you'll often find that the fingerprint reader misreads your fingerprint and as a result locks you out of the device.
This isn't helped by the fact that Alcatel has done little optimization to make it easier to detect. On the HP Elite x3 for example, the phone will vibrate when you touch the ID sensor, but on the IDOL 4 Pro? No such feedback. It only vibrates if it fails to recognize your fingerprint. It doesn't vibrate at all if it successfully authenticates you. It's very frustrating.
Some of these problems can be solved in two ways. First, buy a case that more prominently outlines the fingerprint reader. The other way to do this is to force Windows Hello to take multiple readings of the same finger. Windows Hello has a check built-in that will refuse to register a finger that's already registered, meaning you can't improve its recognition, but there is a way to force it. If you keep trying, at some point, the fingerprint reader will detect a different fingerprint, even though it's still the same.
The fingerprint sensor with Windows Hello needs some serious work.
This vastly improves ID recognition with the sensor, reducing the likelihood of the device failing to recognize you and forcing you to use a PIN to log in. There's still another problem with the fingerprint sensor, however; it's just so slow. It's the slowest fingerprint reader I've ever seen or used on a smartphone.
When the device is locked, with the screen off, it can sometimes take three or four seconds before the display is on and you're welcomed back to the Start screen. Touch ID on the iPhone takes a second, usually less. The same goes for any of the Android devices on the market with a Snapdragon 820.
This might be less to do with Alcatel and more to do with Windows 10 Mobile, however. The fingerprint ID sensor on the Elite x3, for example, is also pretty slow when the screen is off. It appears the ID sensor takes longer to function when the device is sleeping.
The fingerprint reader on this phone is the weakest point of the device. There's no iris recognition to back it up, so you have to use the fingerprint or a standard PIN.
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro camera and sound
If I had to describe the relationship I have with the camera on this device on Facebook, I'd describe it as, "it's complicated."
The camera on this thing is great when it behaves. It's s 21MP sensor, which is more than enough for me, and in daylight it takes clear and bright photos. It does not have optical image stabilization, which means unless you're standing still, your phone might look a bit blurry.
The camera on this phone isn't fast, meaning if you're trying to catch a moment that's happening right now, you might miss it. Also, I find that the autofocus on this device isn't always 100-percent accurate, which can lead to slightly blurry photos. Low-light photos are OK, but they're definitely nothing spectacular. The video quality is good. It has virtual image stabilization, which is helpful. It can also shoot 1080p or 4K at 30 frames per section (FPS), which is a nice addition.
The slow but usable camera should be fine for most people.
The lock screen and the camera don't play nicely on the IDOL 4 Pro. If I launch the camera with the camera button from the lock screen, then press back to go back to the lock screen. Windows Hello stops working so I can't log in with my fingerprint. I've also noticed the screen will flicker for about two seconds when launching the camera, an oddity that I haven't seen on other Windows phones.
Overall, the camera itself is OK. It's definitely a downgrade from the Lumia 950 camera, however, so keep that in mind.
Sound quality on this device is an entirely different story. In short, it's great. These are easily the best sounding speakers I've heard on a Windows 10 Mobile device. They're clear, crisp and very loud.
They're forward-facing and rear-facing, too, thanks to the design. This means that it doesn't matter if your phone is sitting on its front or back. Sound quality will always sound great, which is a nice touch. The comes bundled with a pair of JBL in-ear headphones, which are really nice. I'm no audiophile, but I have no complaints with the headphones that are in the box.
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro battery
Battery life on the IDOL 4 Pro with the Creators Update is good. I can get through a work day easily, and with the fast charger that comes bundled, I can top off my phone with Quick Charge 2.0 in about an hour. The device is rocking a 3040mAh battery, which isn't the largest, meaning your phone won't be lasting more than a day at a time. That's par for the course for most flagships on the market today.
In conclusion ...
This is a great Windows 10 Mobile device. But, that's where the problem lies. As with most Windows 10 Mobile devices, these phones are not recommendable to anyone who isn't already using a Windows phone. If you're an Android or iOS user, don't buy this phone. That's not because the phone itself is bad, but because Windows 10 Mobile itself is not up to par next to iOS and Android, with missing apps and rocky support from Alcatel and Microsoft.
However, if you are a Windows phone user today, and are interested in sticking with the platform, this is the best Windows phone you can buy right now.
Support for the IDOL 4 Pro is still something that is lacking. Alcatel hasn't released any firmware updates for the IDOL 4S with Windows 10 in the U.S., so I think it'd be silly to assume it will for the IDOL 4 Pro. What's more worrying is that Alcatel hasn't provided Microsoft with recovery images for the IDOL 4 Pro, and as such Microsoft doesn't yet officially support this phone.
The IDOL 4 Pro is a great Windows phone that simply arrived too late in Europe.
I just wish this device had shown up earlier in Windows 10 Mobile's lifecycle. This is the kind of device I wish Microsoft itself had built as the Lumia 950, instead of the plastic phones we got instead. This is the first real Windows 10 Mobile flagship for consumers to launch with Windows 10 Mobile in Europe since the Lumia 950. That's a long time. And with that, it's probably going to be the last Windows 10 Mobile device altogether, as Microsoft is planning to reposition its mobile efforts sometime next year.
I am enjoying the IDOL 4 Pro far more than I enjoyed my Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL and HP Elite x3. While the Elite x3 is the best Windows phone out there on paper, the IDOL 4 Pro is the best Windows phone for consumers, and as a result is the best Windows phone for me.
- Beautiful design.
- Great battery life.
- Vivid display.
- Stock ROM.
- 2016 specs.
- Slow camera.
- Slow fingerprint reader.
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