Positives

Stunning design for its cost
Powerful front-firing speakers
Low starting cost
Fingerprint sensor

Negatives

Specs in some areas have been reduced over its predecessor
Glass construction makes it slippery
Laggy GPU performance

Rating
Battery
6.0
Display
6.0
Camera
6.0
Performance
6.0
Software
7.0
Design
9.0
Bottom Line
6.7
6.7
Idol 5s
by Alcatel

The Idol 5s is a gorgeous looking phone with a compelling price point, but is let down by a spec downgrade.

Last year’s Alcatel Idol 4S was a huge shift for the company in several ways, fashioning together a more premium designed smartphone without the premium cost. For its successor, however, some folks will be both surprised and irked at the same time by its new strategy. On one hand, the phone features specs that might be considered below its predecessor, and on the other, there’s a significant discount with the phone for those willing to tolerate ads and offers in their face. While $280 for the phone is already tempting on its own, how does $200 sound instead?

Design

Even though recycled designs aren’t a foreign thing in the world of smartphones, Alcatel doesn’t change up the recipe a whole lot with the Idol 5S’ design – one that’s rich with premium qualities. That’s a good thing, as it’s beautifully crafted from 2.5D glass, sandwiched together by an aluminum frame. In all honesty, it looks exactly like its predecessor, which isn’t a bad thing at all, given the premium look and feel. Although, you’ll want to be especially careful with handling it, just because glass meeting surface doesn’t mesh well. And trust us, the glass construction paired with its oleophobic construction makes it extremely slippery. 


Display  

One of the stranger aspects of the phone is related to the display, a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display. Not only has the screen size shrunken by a mere 0.3-inches, but the resolution too has been scaled back when compared to its QHD predecessor. Don’t get us wrong though, it’s plenty detailed at a pixel density of 424 ppi and produces pleasant colors, which can be adjusted in the settings to make it colder or warmer in tone.

Initially, you probably think it’s not going to be VR-ready like its predecessor because of that reduction in resolution, but it actually is! Yes, it’s not quite as detailed because those pixels aren’t as tightly packed together when your eyes are staring at the screen through a VR headset, but it at least offers a VR experience to begin with – one that has its own content store as well. It’s nothing ornate, as most of the experiences there are elementary as they get in terms of virtual reality. 


Performance  

Opting to go with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip accompanied with 3 GB of RAM and the Adreno 506 GPU, the only area where we experience any sort of performance issues is with heavy gaming. Obviously, this chipset isn’t meant for that kind of thing, evident by all of the laggy performances we see in some graphics benchmark tests. And even though it’s VR-capable, don’t have high expectations here because the duress placed by the intensity of VR causes much of the performance to stutter – something that really distracts from the overall VR experience. 

Hardware  

Call it the standard, the Idol 5s comes with a generous 32 GB of internal storage, which can be supplemented via microSD card expansion. 

Even with the budget-conscious nature of the phone, it features a fingerprint sensor in its rear, USB Type-C, dual 3.6-watt front-firing speakers, and yes, a 3.5 mm headphone jack as well. That’s a relief and something we’re grateful to see here – given the already svelte chassis of the phone, it’s great to see they opted to stick with having one. 

Going back to those dual front-firing speakers, they complement the video watching experience as audio is projected towards you. And there’s some serious substance to their quality too, producing rumbling low tones and sharp mids with exceptional fidelity. 

Battery  

Due to its slightly diminutive size over its predecessor, the Idol 5S is accompanied with a lower capacity 2,620 mAh battery. In our experience it’s able to last us for most of the day, but the battery is generally in the red by the time it’s lights out. Those who intend to be gaming a lot (or attempting it), or just power users in general, will find themselves having to recharge the phone routinely. It’s not abysmal per se, but just keep a spare charger on you at all times – more so when it doesn’t have some of the rapid charging technologies in other phones. 

Camera 

The phone’s 12 MP rear camera, which is flush with the surrounding surface, seems suspect enough given the nature of its predecessor’s 16 MP snapper, but that’s nothing to be alarmed about. And why’s that? Well, it snaps pleasant looking photos for the most part when the situation is ideal. There’s a fair amount of sharpness and vibrant colors in the shots, and it’s especially adept at handling macros. 

When it comes to taking selfies, the front-facing 8 MP camera offers a decent balance, conjuring up selfies with suitable details – albeit the muted tone of its color reproduction. Moving onto its low light performance, there are naturally hurdles in the way that prevent it from being THE go-to camera. Take for instance the noisier composition, which doesn’t help either when there’s heavier levels of artifacting. 

Capable of shooting videos up to 1080p resolution, the rear camera struggles with dynamic range, evident in how brighter areas tend to be overblown. Strangely, too, there’s noticeable evidence of artifacting when the lighting conditions are decent, which tends to soften the overall quality. Overall, while the Idol 5s’ camera performance will suffice for most people, just know that lighting is crucial in achieving the utmost best results. 


Software  

Purists will enjoy the fact that the Alcatel Idol 5s is running a mostly untapped version of Android 7.1 Nougat. There’s not too much in the way of customizations or bloatware with the unit we’re checking out. However, if you opt to pick up the Amazon Prime Exclusive version of the phone, just know that you’re going to have to deal with ads and offers in the lockscreen from Amazon – it’s just what you’ll have to endure to get the discount price. 

Call Quality  

Can you hear me now? You betcha with this one, seeing that its earpiece delivers authoritative power that makes it easily recognizable to listen to callers in noisy conditions. Switching over to the speakerphone, the result it yet again the same, as we didn’t have too many problems trying to decipher callers. 


Conclusion  

Before we get to our final word, just know that the Alcatel Idol 5s is priced differently depending on which model you select. If you decide to go with the unlocked, standard version that’s compatible with AT&T & T-Mobile (Sprint and Verizon compatibility is coming later this summer), you’ll have to fork over $279.99 to pick it up. Now, even though we’re bummed by some of the reduction in specs over its predecessor, the $280 tag is still a lower starting price. It’s an option worth thinking about if you’re just looking for something basic, especially when the design looks like it could command a much higher price. 

For the biggest savings, however, the Amazon Prime Exclusive version of the phone cuts down the cost to a mere $199.99. That’s not too shabby, made even more attractive given everything we’ve talked about already. Quite honestly, we wouldn’t be too distracted by those ads, so if you’re trying to cut down your investment into a phone, this option is going to be the best route for you. 

At the end of the day, the Alcatel Idol 5s is a gorgeous looking phone with a price point that makes it feel like you’re getting something far more premium. Still, it would’ve been even better if they managed to keep the specs on par to its predecessor – while still coming in at a moderate price level. 

John Velasco
Storyteller, ongoing health nut, persistent complainer of running, & religious flosser.