Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C review: the any-way-up phone is back

And it's got a whole new wardrobe

Written in accordance with our Reddit-inspired review policy.

One of the more innovative phones at Mobile World Congress earlier this year was Alcatel Onetouch’s Idol 3, a handset that has a microphone at both ends and can be used either way up. Then, at IFA this month, they unveiled a new version: essentially the same hardware but in a new body with snap-change back covers in a range of bright colours.

While we don’t have an exact price and release date yet, the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C should be coming to the UK for around £200. And we got an early preview: here’s our review.

1. The handset

  • 5.5-inch screen, 7.95mm thick
  • 150g
  • Pink, red, white, yellow, green

The Idol 3C is surprisingly light for a phone with a 5.5-inch screen, and although technically it’s not far off a centimetre thick, it somehow feels thinner than it is. The back cover shells easily clip on and off, and once you’ve clicked them into place (satisfying), they fit flush against the chassis and look like they were always part of the phone. The smooth matte shells include the sides of the handset, so there’s no metal band as we had on the original Idol 3 – but the 3C seems to have been designed to look a bit more fun, and it pulls that off nicely.

You’ll find the charging port on the bottom of the handset, headphones on the top. The power button is to the top left and there’s a volume rocker on the right, as with the Idol 3.

The bezels (black borders) around the screen are fairly slim at the sides but chunky at the top and bottom, which is to be expected on a budget phone. I’d have hoped for soft keys on the bottom bezel, but it wasn’t to be – it’s software buttons only on this one.

2. The speakers

The two JBL speakers on the Idol 3C are surprisingly powerful. They go loud enough for my housemate to put his head round the door quizzically, and even better, they’re front-facing. SO few phone manufacturers bless us with front-facing speakers, even though it makes so much more sense to have sound going upwards than muffling into your hand/desk/bed when you put the phone down on something.

There’s one on either end, in addition to the dual microphones that make the any-way-up thing possible.

3. The screen

  • 5.5-inch
  • Full HD (401 pixels per inch)

The Idol 3C’s screen uses the same Technicolor process as film production houses, which they say makes for more vibrant colours and realistic skin tones. We can’t say we noticed a difference from other full HD screens, but that said, it’s undoubtedly a bright and sharp screen with wide viewing angles.

Where the display does excel is in strong light outdoors – it’s completely readable even when the sun’s blazing (which, if we’re honest, is not often in September, so we hope you appreciate our diligence in finding this out). The screen’s pretty glossy, so you’ll still see a bit of your own face, but you can read Twitter on your sun-soaked lunchbreak (ha) without issue.

And it goes really bright. See?

Turn around, bright IPS

4. The hardware

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
  • Octa-core CPU (4 x 1.5 GHz & 4 x 1.0 GHz)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4G LTE

The specs for the Idol 3C are about where we’d expect for the price, although the inclusion of an octa-core CPU is a nice touch. Performance-wise, we had next to no issues in over a month of daily use – obviously it’s not one for hardcore gaming, but it can handle more intensive apps and multitasking with no trouble.

5. The software

  • Android Lollipop

The Idol 3C runs Lollipop with an Alcatel Onetouch skin over the top – which of course is necessary for the upside down feature. The transition is really lovely:

https://vine.co/v/eP1nPrHXg0x

OK, so it’s probably not necessary, but it is cool – and I’ve found myself handing the phone to someone upside down on purpose just to show off the effect. It’s surprising how often you pick up your phone upside down without noticing – it’s been quite liberating just to start using it as it is.

As Android overlays go, Alcatel’s isn’t bad, but the quick settings menu is a bit infuriating – rather than being able to long-press to access settings for eg. WiFi, long pressing the icon makes a pointless animation happen and then it toggles that feature off. If you want to go into settings, you have to press the text rather than the icon. It took me ages to work this out, and frankly it’s not great design. Insert my usual rant about why manufacturers feel the need to mess with Android here.

There’s a fair bit of bloatware when you first turn the phone on (games, mostly), but it’s removable. Bear in mind, though, that this phone is quite likely to be late to the Android Marshmallow party when it happens later this year – if being one of the first to have it is important to you, we’d recommend waiting to see what the two upcoming Nexus devices offer when they’re announced later this month.

6. Storage

  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It continues to boggle my mind that a £200 phone can afford to include a microSD slot and yet £600+ phones like the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S can’t. Sigh.

Anyway, 16GB is not a whole lot of storage (though it’s totally fair at this price point), so it’s good to know you can expand it by up to a massive 128GB with a memory card.

7. The selfie camera

  • 8 MP
  • Wide angle

An 8 megapixel front-facing cam on a £200 phone is good to see – although of course it all comes down to the sensor. In the Idol 3C’s case, selfies are quick, clear and colourful. Since this is a phone that will appeal to younger users, both in terms of cost and aesthetics, that’s a good move.

The camera software includes a beauty mode (called Face Beauty) that lets you tune up the tone and texture of your skin. As with most phones, the top levels are a bit Uncanny Valley, but it’s a useful feature to have on hangover days.

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C selfie camera samples:

I raided the silly hat box. #NoRegrets

8. The main camera

  • 13 MP
  • Aperture F/2.0

It’s fair to say the main camera on the Idol 3C isn’t its best feature. It’s not at all bad for a £200 phone – and as with the front-facing, snapping photos is very quick – but the pictures tend to come out like they were taken on a cloudy day, even if they weren’t. It’s like everything’s been slapped with an England filter.

The main camera struggles a bit with bright light, which you can see in the first photo, and with light backgrounds, as you can see in the second. HDR usually fixes that, but not in this case.

That said, the pictures are mostly clear and well-focused (even considering how quickly it snaps them), and colour reproduction is accurate.

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C camera samples

9. Battery life

  • 2910 mAh
  • Non-removable

Considering the price, battery life on the Idol 3C is surprisingly good. I found it lasted me most of the day, and I’m a heavy user – people who don’t Snapchat all day should find it lasts into the night.

That said, screen time depletes the battery faster than I’d hope – an hour of screen time on max brightness will cost you 23% of your battery. That means a 100% charge will last you about 4 hours if you keep the screen on (and don’t turn it down). That’s fine for everyday use, but if you’re on a Netflix binge, you’ll want to be plugged in.

10. Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 UK price and availability

This is the tricky bit. We don’t have a date for the UK (or even Europe) just yet, but all the other products Alcatel OneTouch announced at IFA are coming over either late this year or early next. The Idol 3, its predecessor, was announced back in March but hasn’t yet appeared in UK stores – although we know it’s definitely on its way.

We’ll let you know as soon as we do.

Gadgette’s verdict

The Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C is a slim, lightweight, good-looking phone that offers strong all-round performance for £200. We think it’ll appeal to the younger crowd, particularly with the snap-on covers and low cost. Compromises always have to be made on budget handsets, but Alcatel have been smart and made sure the high points are in all the right places for the teenage crowd: a slim and customisable design, powerful speakers and a really good selfie camera.

The upside-down feature is a nice thing to have, too: so many Android phones appear on the market without a talking point. It’s refreshing to see something original – especially at this price.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 280 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.