Alcatel Idol 4S Review
A lot of fancy effects for a pretty standard camera
The Idol 4S has a 16MP main camera, with a Sony IMX 298 main sensor – the same as you'll find on the OnePlus 3 or the Huawei Mate 8. Around front, there's a wide-angle (84-degree) 8MP selfie cam with its own well-hidden LED flash.
Maybe more than anything, Alcatel's camera ambitions seem dictated by software. In addition to the standard auto/pro/panorama/video modes of your usual smartphone camera, Alcatel adds in its micro-video mode and software from Fyuse that creates “3D” photos by filming a subject from multiple angles and using phone sensors to let you twist the handset to view all those angles in playback. It's all a bit gimmicky, without significantly improving the camera experience.
Not a piece of junk, but don't expect to be wowed
It's so frustrating when you have what should be a very capable camera, and just can't seem to get consistently good pics out of it. So is the case with the Idol 4S; most of the time, images look fine – at least at full crop, as it doesn't take much zooming for things to become a noisy mess. But every now and then you'll get a shot that's not quite in focus, or looks muddled and dull despite an abundance of scene lighting.
That's particularly frustrating as Alcatel emphasizes the phone's fast auto-focus speeds. Fast is good, but sharp is better, and the Idol 4S let us down more than once. We also ran into issues with motion blurring in auto mode due to shutter speeds which should have been much higher – again, despite the presence of copious light.
A pleasantly surprising 4K experience
You no longer need a best-in-class flagship smartphone to record ultra-high-res 4K video, and between its 16MP sensor and Snapdragon 652 processor, the Idol 4S has what it takes to scratch your beyond-HD itch.
4K recording performance didn't let us down; we just wish we could say the same for 1080p and 720p, neither of which looked as sharp as we'd expect.
Re-focusing was also a bit of a slog during video recording, with the camera struggling to re-acquire objects moving into the frame.
Great hardware, unnecessary software
Front-firing stereo speakers are always a treat, and the Alcatel Idol 4S manages to implement them quite well. They're loud, crisp, just bassy enough, and with adequate stereo separation. Considering how incredibly conspicuous they are, jutting out from the sides of the phone's screen, we'd expect nothing less.
Alcatel bundles the phone with a set of JBL earbuds. With alternate tips to accommodate various ear canal sizes, they're a solidly made accessory, but they didn't manage to impress us quite as much as the on-board speakers.
All that hardware is fine, but then there's the software, where Alcatel offers Waves MaxxAudio tweaks. If you like fiddling with levels and equalizers, maybe this package is right up your alley – and there's even an auto-mode to handle those settings for you – but audio “enhancement” software in general feels misguided. Shouldn't a phone with a good audio system try to make its playback as quantitatively accurate as possible, and not what qualitatively sounds “better?”