A lot of manufacturers like to add their own skin on top of Android. For the purists out there, it can be a major annoyance, and in quite a few cases, actually slows the phone down. In the case of the Idol 3, Alcatel kept it simple.
The phone is running virtually stock Android Lollipop, and comes pre-loaded with a long list of third party apps, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Flipboard, Evernote, Adobe Reader, AVG Anti-Virus and WPS Office.
You can completely uninstall third-party apps like Facebook and AVG, but can't do so with the generic system apps. Of course, Google's usual suite of Play-branded apps are installed, along with Gmail, Chrome, Hangouts, Calendar, Email and more.
From a visual standpoint, most of what's been changed are the app icons themselves. The notifications drawer and quick settings menu has kept its Android 5.0 Lollipop roots. You can easily access quick settings by swiping down from the top with two fingers, and a gear icon takes you directly to Settings. And, because Lollipop allows multiple user accounts, you can tap the avatar to switch to another account.
On paper, the Idol 3 should scream through whatever you throw at it. After all, it has an octa-core processor and 2GB RAM. However, it's yet another reminder that optimized software is just as, if not more important, than great hardware. The "buttery smooth" first introduced in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean just isn't here. Scrolling can be a bit janky, and there's sometimes as much as a two second delay when opening or transitioning to other apps.
Navigating around the home screen and app drawer seems to be okay, though. To try and fix the lag, I enabled Developer Options, and turned off all animations. This definitely helped to speed things up, but is far from ideal.
In Geekbench, the Idol 3's multi-core score was 2066. This puts it just behind the Exynos octa-core version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, and nearly 800 points behind the Asus Zenfone 2.
The phone I tested was running Android 5.0.2, which is known to have performance issues. We reached out to Alcatel to find out if an update to Android 5.1 is planned, and will update this review once we hear back.
On the plus side, if you're one of the few who still use a phone to make phone calls, the Idol 3 offers no complaints. In fact, when talking with my dad, he said it "sounds like you're sitting right next to me."
When the OneTouch Idol 3 was announced back at MWC 2015, it was touted as the world's first "reversible" smartphone. Basically, even if the phone is upside down, you can use it as you normally would.
The display automatically adjusts as long as you have the "Reversible" icon selected under quick settings. It's a great idea. After all, how many times have you pulled your phone out of your pocket, and had to flip it right side up? I found myself taking advantage of it on a few occasions, but muscle memory usually kicked in.
Dual stereo speakers
When HTC launched the One, front-facing speakers were one of those incredibly simple, yet brilliant ideas. Alcatel apparently agreed, and teamed up with JBL to offer a similar experience.
The audio is crisp, and as someone who enjoys listening to podcasts in the morning while getting my day going, it's fantastic. Music doesn't sound 100%, and is missing some detail, but I don't expect perfection from such tiny speakers.
However, don't let the word "tiny" fool you. These speakers pack some serious punch. I quickly learned you'll want to keep the volume for notifications around ⅓ of the way, otherwise you may jump when you're "in the zone" working. And if you're going to talk to someone on speakerphone, you best not do it in a crowded public place. While the speakers do add a bit more to the bezel, it's a welcome trade-off.