If you are looking for a very affordable smartphone that runs a pure version of Android, then you should consider one of the Amazon Prime exclusive phones. You can buy one with or without lock screen offers and ads, but they are not really bothersome and can save you $30 to $80.
A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the Nokia 6 and then switched to testing the Alcatel Idol 5S. I prefer the Alcatel Idol 5S, it’s only $20 more, due to the better processor, stereo speakers, and use of a modern USB Type-C port.
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
- Display: 5.2 inch 1920×1080 pixels resolution IPS LCD with 2.5D glass
- Operating system: Android 7.1.1 Nougat
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 32GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
- Cameras: Rear 12 megapixel with 1.2µm pixel, f/2.0 aperture camera. Front 8 megapixel with f/2.0 aperture and 1.4µm pixel
- Battery: 2620 mAh
- Wireless connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
- Sensors: Fingerprint, G-Sensor, Gyroscope, Compass, Ambient Light, Proximity
- Dimensions: 148.6 x 70.9 x 7.37 mm and 148.8 grams
The Alcatel Idol 5S is a GSM unlocked device that works on T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, in addition to other GSM carriers. There may be models for Sprint and Verizon coming later this year as well.
Hardware first thoughts
The Alcatel Idol 5S follows similar design language to the BlackBerry DTEK60 and Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10 produced by TCL within the last year. That is to say, it is a very well designed smartphone with glass front and back panels, aluminum sides, dual stereo front speakers, and rear fingerprint scanner.
The Alcatel Idol 5S is a bit smaller than those 4S designs with a 5.2 inch display, made from Asahi Dragontrail glass from Japan. The glass front and back have curved edges with a silver aluminum frame that stands out from the black front and back.
The bottom houses a USB Type-C port and 3.5mm headset jack, along with one mic. Another mic opening is on the top. Above and below the display you will see seven small openings in the aluminum frame that indicate where the stereo speakers can be found.
The power button is on the left with the SIM/microSD card tray above it. The volume button is on the upper right side. A round fingerprint scanner is positioned in the upper center of the back. The camera and flash are in the upper left corner of the back. Alcatel and Idol branding are found on the back too.
Software first thoughts
Like the Nokia 6, the Alcatel Idol 5S is close to a Google Pixel/Nexus device with a pure version of Google Android. I tested the Prime Exclusive version that comes with ads on the lock screen and Amazon apps installed out of the box. The ads are not intrusive and I would install most of the apps anyway so it is worth the cost savings, in my opinin.
Amazon apps installed on the device include; Amazon Music, Amazon Prime Photos, Audible, Kindle, Amazon Drive, Prime Now, IMDb, Goodreads, Prime Video, Amazon Alexa, and the Amazon shopping app.
There are a few other apps installed by Alcatel; compass, email, file explorer, image gallery, music player, sound recorder, Xender file transfer, and a couple VR apps. You can buy the Alcatel VR headset to use with this phone, similar to the one that came with the Idol 4S with Windows that I had earlier this year.
The default launcher is called the Joy Launcher. It is a basic Android launcher that looks like the Google Launcher without the Google Now cards display. I prefer the Google Launcher so installed that to use while testing the Idol 5S.
The Idol 5S runs Android 7.1.1 and currently has the June 2017 Android security update. The settings area is stock Android, as well as the application launcher.
Daily life experiences
Most of the phones I have been using lately have 5.5 inch or larger displays so it was a bit refreshing going back to a slim 5.2 inch device for a few days. I like Alcatel’s glass sandwich designs and the 5S is a pleasure to hold and use with soft, oleophobic glass that does well with fingerprints.
The front stereo speakers on the Idol 5S sound great, better than most phones I have tried with stereo speakers. I was enjoying some Amazon Music in my office when my wife walked in and couldn’t believe it was my phone playing the music. It is also great to see a standard 3.5mm headset jack still being used.
I thought the display was AMOLED at first because the colors are vibrant and the black on the wallpaper I am using is very dark. I understand it is a LCD though, but looks great with 1080p resolution.
The more I use these stock Android devices, the less tolerant I become of phones that have too much of their own customization of the software experience. It is nice to use a phone like this with the latest version of Android and an interface that lets you build it up from a core base.
Battery life was fine, but when I pushed it I definitely had to charge it up in the late afternoon to get through a long day of usage. I didn’t expect a multiple day phone with a 2620 mAh battery though.
At $200, $280 for the one without ads, you can’t go wrong with the Alcatel Idol 5S. I like it better than the Nokia 6 and it clearly shows that low cost Android phones today and so much better than those of the past.