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Alcatel Idol 4S second opinion: A U.S. exclusive that needs to go global

To be clear, what I have is a pre-production, SIM-unlocked unit from Alcatel, not a retail-fresh one from T-Mobile. I feel it's important to get that out of the way immediately, because should anyone think about importing one from the U S of A you'll end up with one locked down to T-Mobile. And you don't want that.

But when it arrived I put down my daily hack, the Lumia 950 XL, took the SIM out of it and moved over to the Idol 4S. And I haven't gone back yet.

I really like this phone. And I really hope that it'll be sold internationally at some point.

Alcatel Idol 4S

My first experience of the Idol 4 family of phones was back in February at Mobile World Congress. I actually went to the launch event in Barcelona, albeit without a hint of Windows 10 in sight. What we've got is a little different, but different isn't bad.

This is the sleek, stylish consumer flagship

Visually it's the same phone. Two panes of glass with metal frames and all the electronic bits and pieces sandwiched inside. The Idol 4S has always been a good looking phone, and it stands out from the admittedly slim crowd of other Windows 10 phones. Where the HP Elite is the all-singing, all-dancing goliath for the enterprise world, the Idol 4S is the sleek, stylish consumer flagship.

The Lumia 950 XL is a great phone, no doubt, I wouldn't still be using it if it wasn't. But next to the Idol 4S it feels a bit boring and more than a bit utilitarian. A plastic rectangle with a screen on the front. The Idol 4S has a bit more glamour about it, and the black finish with gold metal trim looks hot. It baffles me why so many phone makers go with white and gold when, clearly, black and gold is much better looking.

Alcatel Idol 4S

Where the Idol 4S is impressing me the most is in the battery life department. A combination of better power management on the Snapdragon 820 and 'only' a 1080p display means that I'm able to use the phone all day, still have plenty of battery left, fall asleep at night forgetting to charge it, wake up, still have battery and then charge it. It doesn't have the largest battery you've ever seen, but it knows how to use it.

Incredible battery life, buttery smooth and always cool to the touch

What you also get from that Snapdragon 820 is buttery smooth performance and very little in the way of excess heat being generated. The 'Snaptoaster 810' as it was often dubbed that the Lumia 950 XL has is certainly prone to getting a little warm, but so far the Idol 4S hasn't been anything like it. That also includes when it has been strapped into the VR headset.

The VR headset that comes with the Idol 4S is both good and bad. It's good because it's both free and an excellent quality headset. But it's bad because for all the work Alcatel put into it, there's just no real content on Windows 10 to make use of it. That makes me sad and it's something I hope there'll be a brighter future for, even if I'm not holding my breath.

Alcatel Idol 4S

The headset is a neat little package that is its own box, which is also commodious enough to hold the head strap if you ever take it on the road with you. It's also only for the Idol 4S, since the tray for the phone is shaped to fit it perfectly and lock it into place. The strap has a good, very comfortable cushion for the back of your head, and there's virtually no light bleed when you're wearing it. The black interior also helps ensure minimal reflections in front of your eyes.

The lack of VR content is sad when the experience here is so good

It really is a terrific mobile VR headset.

That's what so sad about the lack of content. Even though the display isn't QHD, the VR experience is very good. The pre-loaded games look vibrant and are fairly enjoyable, if a little simple. Alcatel also built a VR launcher that activates when the phone is docked into the headset, a copy of the very same app it puts onto its Android versions. Again, it's very good, and you get a few other bits and pieces too, including Tube 360 for watching 360-degree videos from YouTube.

There are also a few apps in the Store, but nowhere near enough to take full advantage of what is actually a very good experience.

Alcatel Idol 4S

Back to using the phone as a phone, though, and another win for me over the 950 XL is the fingerprint scanner on the rear for Windows Hello. The Iris scanner is a neat thing to have and show off to your friends, but I almost never use it these days because it's quicker to just enter a pin. Touching the fingerprint scanner on the Idol 4S while the screen is off and having it just turn on and unlock the phone is so much better.

A fingerprint scanner is hands-down better than an Iris scanner

The scanner isn't perfect, and I think that's mostly because it's flush to the back of the phone and has a very fingerprint attractive surface. It's definitely easier to locate with the phone in a case, but it still needs a wipe pretty often to keep it free of lingering prints that can interfere.

Also on the back, naturally, is the camera. Starting with the good, and the front-facing shooter is decent. It's better than the one on the Lumia and has a dedicated flash for those night time selfies. Not that I take many selfies at all, least of all at night. But I'm never one to turn my nose up at features.

The rear camera isn't bad, but it's not a patch on that found on the Lumia 950 XL. It's not quite as quick to focus, and it doesn't seem to handle auto settings very well at all. Whip out the manual controls and it's still possible to get some good shots, but it does highlight how much Microsoft and Nokia spoiled us. I do like that there's a physical camera button, however unorthodox its placement is. But it's workable.

Shot on the Alcatel Idol 4S using manual controls

Shot on the Alcatel Idol 4S using manual controls

The camera is the only area of the Idol 4S that gives me any issues, too, just as it does on the Lumia 950 XL. The stock Windows Camera app remains to this day the biggest source of swearing at my phone. And now it's on another phone, so I'm not blaming Alcatel for that one. I sit and hope that one day it'll just work every time and let me take pictures when I want to.

These speakers are LOUD, really LOUD

But back to good things. I want to round out my thoughts on this phone with a look at the front of the phone. That 1080p display is really nice, it's very crisp and it looks terrific. Throw in the dual front-facing speakers and you've got a portable media monster. I often use headphones around the house just because my phone speaker isn't loud enough, and I'm a frequent Twitch viewer on my phone as well.

But the Idol 4S is LOUD. So loud that where other phones I'd turn up as high as possible, I avoid doing on the Idol 4S because I don't want my neighbors to join in the fun. I'm loving just setting it up in the kitchen to listen/watch as I do kitchen things. The sound is good quality too, easily the best of any Windows phone I've ever used.

Alcatel Idol 4S

The bottom line is that I love this phone (in case you hadn't noticed). Sure, it isn't perfect, there are things I'd change and there are still frustrations with software that aren't Alcatel's fault. I've mostly ignored any software quirks though because I use Windows 10 Mobile every day, and those aren't anything I haven't seen on a Microsoft phone. Alcatel launched this with the Anniversary Update and it's already been updated again recently (looking at you Acer), so it's at least the best it can be.

More than anything I want fans around the world to be able to buy this. It's a fair bit cheaper than the Elite x3 while still having things like a Snapdragon 820 processor and 64GB of internal storage. It's a stylish phone, very much a high-end device and in the absence of anything from Microsoft, the new consumer flagship for the platform. I'm extremely lucky to have one, and I want other people to be that lucky too.

More: Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10 full review

See at T-Mobile

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

104 Comments
  • Global would be nice, but it would also be nice on Verizon...
  • exactly,truly global release, this phone and 950/XL are great phones no doubt, elite x3 costs way too much and won't fit in everyone's hands comfortably.
  • Yes, new flagship-level phone for Verizon, please!
  • I'm sure if they do a partnership with Microsoft, it'll be very easy to sell it worldwide since MSFT have the distribution bit taken care of already.
    .
    The only MAIN issue with this phone is that super slow shutter (shutter lag actually). The 950XL is lightning quick at shooting pictures. But from the videos I've seen, this one is slow (check out Mr. Mobiles video review).
  • I do agree that it is shutter lag. You hit the button and it may take a full second to start the picture and then finish it a second later. The camera app also errored out once and couldn't open till after a restart. I think my 950xl did this once as well though. If this is somewhat firmware related, hopefully they are working on it.
  • well ms killed wp. so why bother ??!!
  • You are more correct then you even meant to be. Windows phone is dead, windows 10 mobile is in development.
  • The evolution of the amoeba on its way to becoming human was a faster development than is Windows Mobile currently.
  • DOes it get LTE in the UK too? what LTE bands those it have?
  • According to the literature it shouldn't work with my carrier. But I get LTE on Vodafone. However, as I said in the post. I don't have a retail version. There's no point anyone importing one and then finding out they can't use it.
  • Hell yeah!!! Bring it in Greece Alcatel!
  • indeed. We need this in Greece
  • Hell, just sell it unlocked....problem solved.
  • this vs. the xl????? which one?
  • 950XL for camera no doubt. Idol 4S for everything else (lack of heat really).
    .
    950XL also has better audio recording and Glance Screen. This one doesn't.
    .
    Subtract Windows 10 Mobile bugs (Anniversary Update) from both phones.
  • Alcatel... 820
  • The only think holding me back from dropping my 950 for this is glance. I don't care about wireless charge or NFC. But, as a business man, notifications are a MUST on the lock screen. I don't understand why MS is keeping glance a Lumia exclusive when they killed Lumia.
  • they haven't killed Lumia, don't worry about rumors, phones will still be availalble and future phones will have glance also.
  • They should still lift the whole exclusivity on glance screen, tap to wake and the equalizer. They gain nothing by keeping it a Lumia exclusive, at this point.
  • The Idol 4S does have tap to wake at least. So really they should just go ahead and put glance screen on here too
  • Why is there no double tap to sleep like the 950?
  • There is double tap to sleep also in settings. You have to turn it on as its turned off by default.
  • Ok, thanks! These settings are a little off it seemed when I was doing the set up. Now that you corrected me, I think I even remember seeing it in the lock screen settings page on my 950.
  • I still can't find it, which category is it in?
  • I really like the Idol, but I must say not having glance really bums me out. Didn't even realize how much I actually used it until it was gone. I hope they put on here especially since they aren't going to be doing any Lumias for the foreseeable future I'm guessing
  • I swapped out my 950 for the Idol 4s with Windows 10 and I don't even miss glace. This thing unlocks so quickly that glance is irrelevant now for me. I understand glance has its utility, but it is no longer essential. You really wont regret switching. The Idol 4s is so much higher quality despite the lower launch price.
  • I really can't. I have 3 businesses and I need a way to know if I have a notification without constantly unlocking it. I need either glance or notification light. A dead black screen will not work for me.
  • I've had this phone for 2 days now, and I love it! The fingerprint scanner can take a second or two to work sometimes, but it's nice not having to finagle with other buttons and what not. The screen is plenty good enough for me. I can't tell the difference from when I had a 950 XL. Frankly, when I had the 950 XL, I was kind of disappointed because I didn't see what the big deal was with the screen. It's extremely unfortunate that the camera doesn't have OIS. It makes taking photos a good bit trickier, even selfies! D:
    Overall though, the camera does a pretty nice job, and I'm glad my selfies won't be grainy anymore! Regarding the speakers, I wish they had some bass to them. Other than that, they're awesome! I actually broke my notifications on accident. For some reason banners and ringers would only work if the screen was on. If it was off, then I would have to turn the screen on and check the Action Center. I tried everything I could think of, but had to reset the phone, haha! I think it happened after I used Apps Corner for the first time, but I'm not sure. Everything on the phone works über smooth, and that's a nice change coming from my Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL.
  • And this phone specs allows Holographic support, if MS want it.
  • An Alcatel Idol 4 was released at Brazil, but it is a Android 6.0 cellphone https://www.alcatel-mobile.com.br/detalhe-produto/smartphone-alcatel-idol4-mais-oculos-vr-4g-preto-e-dourado/493375.   I hope an WP version comes here too.
  • OH yeah, this does not have NFC....deal breaker. I need that...xl it is!
  • Plus it's winter, that 950 will keep your hands warm too
  • I know that on Daniel's original review of this phone he said that it was unlocked and that his AT&T sim worked fine. He even said something like, "Don't tell T-mobile." That story has since been edited to not show this information. So, is it actually factory unlocked or are we just appeasing T-mobile by not mentioning that little fact here anymore?
  • This phone and Daniel's were both pre-production which were unlocked. Retail phones are currently locked to T-Mobile.
  • Correct.
  • I really love my 950xl, but maybe I'll get another WP, after reading your review. But really, I personally don't see what thestylutic issue with the 950xl is. I know everyone says this, but I look at other phones compared to mine and I think not only how much sweeter this is, bit how much better it is at taking pics, which isreal important to me. But I am definitely interested in the Alcatel.
  • Yes, as long as back is changed the premium is back, no plastic here. #mozo
  • I also don't quite get what the problem with the 950 and 950 XL design is. I have the 950 myself, and never have I found myself thinking along the lines of "this phone would be so much better if only it were made of aluminium". Not once. Seems rather pointless to obsess over what material the rear of the phone is made of when the display is in the front, and most smartphones live in plastic cases anyway.
  • It's not what it's made of more that it's a little boring looking in the world of 2016 smartphones.
  • As an Alcatel Idol 4S owner, I have to say I can agree with this writeup. It gets awesome battery life, yet it performs beautifully. I think it needs better recognition, as it truly is a wonderful device. Camera isn't the world's greatest, but that is okay with me. I love my phone though.
  • I just wish some of the apps performed better. I was hoping the 820 processor would make a huge difference compared to the 210 in my Fierce XL, and it has in the OS. Unfortunately, Facebook, and particularly Messenger, can still take awhile to load sometimes. Thankfully the performance in the apps themselves is better though.
  • Honestly, that is not necessarily on Windows 10 though. Facebook has made it a point to intentionally slow down their apps and make them unstable to test user loyalty. I don't really notice a problem with apps taking a while to open. There are a select few that have problems opening on occasion, but I fault that more on the app dev than on the phone.
  • I realize it's not a Windows 10 thing. I just wish Facebook would optimize them to load faster. The load times aren't consistent. Sometimes it'll only take a second or two; other times it can take up to 5-10. It's sporadic at best, and longer durations are usually rarer to come across.
  • Love this glad I bought it over the 950 XL. Camera is good enough for me everything else I like better on the Idol
  • When in India?
  • Who knows ?
  • Officially? - probably never.
  • I got to say I'm jealous about the metal frame lol not sure about glass. But hey it is a beautiful looking phone. But I have to ask. Where can we get the wall paper on the phone? Please share. :)
  • Excellent! I want this phone so bad. I am so close to switching my 3 lines back to T-Mobile. AT&T has been good for coverage but this phone is so much better than the Lumia 950 that AT&T offers and that my wife has and it is also much better than my unlocked 950XL. I haven't been this excited for a phone in years. Sure, I'd rather have an iris scanner AND fingerprint scanner (or just iris as I value security over speed) and I would like some element proofing like with the Elite X3 but the price and features of this device are too much to pass up. Must.....figure.....out....how.....to......acquire....the.....Idol 4S with Windows.....
  • U better hurry tomorrow is the last day u can bring 4 lines unlimited for $120
  • WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for the reply!!! I will definitely look into it today.
  • All things considered I will stay with Lumia 1020 and WP8.1, sadly.
  • If all things considered means "I can't afford a new phone", then I understand. Otherwise, there is zero reason to stay with the 1020 on 8.1.
    ​Win10 Mobile is better, these phones are better.
  • Well, the if portion of your statement returns false so I will disregard the rest.
  • I have agree with you on the W10 being better. I'm currently contemplating going back to the 1520. There are a few new apps that I like and some features like the background pic and folder features that push me towards W10. But the smoothness of the apps, the layout of Bing, the fact that features like favorites on the picture live tile actually works, and all my must have apps are still available on 8.1, plus the power of the 1520 which still rivals the latest and greatest at the price of $150. The good thing is that it's upgradeable when W10M base features have worked out its kinks. So sticking with the 1020 isn't a bad option...the camera alone is worth it at this stage of the W10M game.
  • I rolled back my 1020 to 8.1 because 10 is way too slow on a SD4.
    My 1520 keeps getting Fast ring, so happy with that.
  • Basic Microsoft services like Groove needs to go global first !
  • Music licensing is harder than selling a phone in a different country.
  • What about Bing rewards then and all those other US exclusive features ? and still Microsoft calls itself worldwide.
  • Same thing here... There is no service that is truely "global" due to licensing. Licensing always have to be agreed upon on all different markets independently.
  • Agreed. By Groove, we mean Groove Music Pass and all the auto features.
  • All things aside but that seriously looks Classy.
  • I broke the glass on my 950xl, so I think I'll be getting the droid version of the Alcatel and use my 950xl as back up.
  • Just ordered a 950XL after being with 640XL for a while. Was that a better deal?
  • I'm going to keep my 950XL for a long time, since it has an SD card, removable battery, and strong specs. Honestly, no other phones on the market tempt me. The 4S is nice, but really more of a side grade, not too much of a compelling argument to spend more money. VR and FF speakers are great, but at the loss of an incredible camera, super sharp and vibrant screen... I like my 950XL. Got the leather back for it and it feels nice. Seems like most phones are moving towards sealed backs and glass/metal, a trend I'd rather not invest in.
  • I don't notice any difference between the screen on the Idol and the XL. Not like suddently I'm counting pixels! Aside from the removable battery, everything else you talk about the Idol has which is why I'm happy on it. The battery life is so much better than my XL I don't care that I can't remove it because I never run out before the end of the day. Camera will split opinions but so long as it takes alright pictures of my 2 year old when he's being cute I don't mind.
  • Ahh, yeah. It is a bit smaller so pixel density @ 1080p should be a bit more compact on a 5.5in display. It's a good phone, but I really cannot compromise on the camera. I love doing macro photography, and the RGB flash of the XL. I find that the 4S would be more of a side grade than a true upgrade. I feel like we have gotten to the point where there aren't really bad phones. All have standard features and great performance, but it's the little things that differentiate them now. Plus...I haven't really noticed any games that push the limits of my phone. We don't seem to get many "Infinity Blade" or "Galaxy On Fire II HD" games. Though it seems like that high quality paid app model has kind of died across the industry. Bottom line: My main concerns are screen, storage, battery, camera, and durability. I'm glad Type C is picking up. I think all OEMs should focus on cameras and battery life. The new iPhone camera doesn't tempt me at all, though its artificial bokeh effect is interesting. If I was designing a phone, I'd probably go with the standard 820/4gb Ram/64gb + SD, 5.7in AMOLED screen at 1440p or 1080p but include Surface-esque front facing speakers with a small dedicated rear firing subwoofer, two 21mp OIS + Laser autofocus cameras on the back (L & R) to allow for parallax shots for 3D shooting for VR/tango and depth of field, with RGB or 4LED flash, a 10mp FFC with OIS and RGB flash, an IR camera sensor+LED for facial recognition. 4 mics for audio, plus the ability to select which ones or all to use, and improved slow motion video recording. Finally, a removable back, a massive battery, one headphone jack, and two USB type C ports (3.1 gen 2) so that we could bridge the gap between 3.5mm audio and type C audio.
  • Come to the far east Alcatel!
  • Cool wallpaper, can you share? (blue, white, red one)
  • I would like one get one. Especially a unlocked version. I guess time will tell.
  • I wholeheartedly agree about the hello iris over a finger print. I switched this off a long time ago. However on my Surface Book it works like a charm and is so quick and by contrast it's quicker than normal login methods.
  • Any info on sales? I picked one up for my wife, and the lady in the T-MO store said the Idol 4S with Windows 10 was selling "like crazy"...
  • Maybe its just me or maybe I use my phone more than u guys, I've switched my phone out once before but my phone heats up a bit not a whole lot but pretty often I notice when using Facebook, talk and maybe readit. I'm just guessing. Is there a app to download to see what apps are burning up the processor? Battery saver is no help at all Imo. I'm on build .448
  • Sedp23,
    Not just you. Me too. Forgot how atrocious the facebook app was on WM. Ive noticed some warmth coming from the top right of the phone when in "significant" use. Everyone is clamoring about how great the battery life is but I'm (was) disappointed. Mine was dropping 10% an hour with minimal use. (Minimal as in looking at a text alert or 2 I got.) I think I found it was the OneDrive auto photo syncing. I shut it off and here I am 5 hours after full charge and its showing 79% with moderate usage so far today. Much better.
  • But lf u cut off auto syncing ur photos aren't being backed up to onedrive tho right? I literally just did a hard reset and this time started clean with no backup, prior to this I was using a old backup from my Lumia 640 XL to see if it makes a difference. Hasn't heated up yet very minor heat from setting it up.
  • I noticed a little heat upon the initial setup and downloading of apps, other than that not much.
  • is the hardware between the 4S android and windows are the same? can we flash the android version with windows 10? that would be awesome...
  • CPU better on Windows 10 version I believe
  • The windows version is a upgrade in terms of the processor (sd 820) and the rear camera (21mp). The screen resolution got dropped to 1080p and the windows version is lacking NFC
  • The metal body being fancy and all sure can be a plus, but again, the same as happens with the iPhone, most everybody will end up using it with a case. Thinness and that material are for looks, not for endurance. IIRC Dan dropped it and it chipped?
  • Not me. I never use protection on a phone.
  • I have used a case for every smartphone I have used. Only recently started using screen protectors, and jumped straight to tempered glass. These phones cost too much for a careless mistake on day.
  • I've just never had that problem. I'm very careful with my phones. I know something could happen, but so far it hasn't. I hate covering up a good looking phone. It's like covering the face of an attractive woman.
  • Hi there, does any know if you just can get an unlocking code online somewhere for this phone? There a lot of sites who offer an unlocking code for almost any phone. Hope someone knows. Regards, Marc
  • Buy the phone from TMo and get them to unlock it.
  • Richard Devine, is there any possibility to unlock the phone by cracking it? Like others phones
  • I started as a new device and there was no backup to restore. I left vzw in January for tmo. Me and the fam went all iphone and I delete all my WP backups from onedrive. Tmo didn't have any "worthy" Wm devices Imo so I went apple for the potential of a good resale value. TBH, I'm doubting my idol purchase just a little bit. But I'm still re adjusting to the ecosystem change. It's like jet lag... when heading east. :/
  • Is it possible that Microsoft is bringing Windows Holographic to Windows 10 Mobile? That would bring more VR content to this device.
  • Idol 4S show on T-Mobile store would be nice, I try to see  on 3 differents  T-Mobile store doesn't have it !!! 
  • Really? I hear of stores displaying it and not having inventory to supply it, but will overnight it for you.
  • I have my eyes on the OnePlus 3T. I really wish Alcatel decides to release the Idol 4s unlocked, otherwise I'll have to either wait to see if Microsoft releases a new phone, or switch to android.
  • If you check the forum, one member has his on the latest insider build and it has significantly improved the photos.
  • Richard,  so lets say i had an opportunity to get a hold an HP elite x3 sans dock for $600, which would you say would be the better way to go? Really looking for some helpfull adivce here.   thanks.  
  • Shame about the giant ugly Alcatel logo on the back. But yes, make it global, getting bored with my 950XL
  • Richard, what version of the camera app are you using? It was reported in the forums camera version 2016.1101.21.0 improved the picture quality.
  • Not that one. I'm OK with picture quality. I'm not OK with the camera app being the only thing that ever crashes on any phone I touch.
  • I don't think anyone ever goes into deep optimization witht he iris scanner. I definitely can't beat my iris scanner with entering the pin
  • My 950xl still takes about 2 seconds from power on before it even starts to look, I can definitely beat it 100% of the time and use a 6 digit pin
  • I can beat mine all the time as well. Perhaps you have good eyes or know where to look?
  • I'm sick of trying to make it "more optimized." It's never as quick in my experience. Not to mention I have to hold my phone up to my face, with the fingerprint scanner I can unlock the phone as I pull it out of my pocket.
  • I do hope they bring this global WM needs more options everywhere.
  • International release would be greatly appreciated!
  • I'm enjoying using the Alcatel more than the 950. Just a better all around experience and I hope is a big win for the platform.
  • Great phone. had initial VVM setup issues because ATT did not recognize the IMEI as a phone in their database, so it defaults as a 2G device. Took a collaborative effort with me and the ATT person, but we got it to be recognized as an LTE phone. VVM now works.