Let the battle begin!

I’ve already covered the “why” of unlocked smartphones in my article, “Unlocked Android phones are the future of the mobile landscape.” Now, it’s time to examine it a little more closely, with the help of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. This isn’t your mother or father’s unlocked smartphone, this is a smartphone that anyone can enjoy, regardless of need or want.

The spec list alone makes it very clear that you’re not dealing with a scrub device best suited for kids, your grandmother, or least favorite person. Even though the Idol doesn’t offer flagship killer specs, this is a device ready and able to go toe-to-toe with the best of them. If you’re carrier runs on the GSM Quad (850/900/1800/1900) band, you’re good to go.

But it’s not just specs, the clean edges and design, the price, or the ease of use of the phone that makes it a viable candidate. There’s something out of the box that makes this phone a bit special: The initial setup.

I know, that sounds like pure, unadulterated crazy talk. How could a phone manufacturer use the initial setup of a device to make it stand out in a crowd of the same old, same old? What if I told you that Alcatel actually required you, during initial setup, to create a lock screen password/PIN/pattern? What if I told you that, during initial setup, the Alcatel device asked if you wanted it to enable an additional security measure (you should definitely enable this) to prevent others from gaining access to your data? That is exactly what Alcatel has done with the Idol 3… automatically add your device to your Google account device manager, so you can locate the device should it be lost or stolen. Let me say this again, enable this feature! This translates to more users enjoying a more secure experience, which is something every smartphone manufacturer should be doing at this point. That added layer of security (and the insistence upon a secured lock screen) could mean the difference between you keeping or losing your data.

All of this from an unlocked mid-priced smartphone being sold by one of the “small guys” (or should I say “smart guys”) proves that Alcatel gets it.

Beyond that initial setup, the Idol 3 continues to impress. How? First and foremost, the screen is amazing. I’d gladly put the Idol 3 display up against that of the Nexus 6 (a device that retails for nearly twice that of the Idol 3). The JBL-powered sound is also really impressive. Oddly enough, there’s only one setting in the sound that indicates you’re working with a JBL-experience, and that’s the ability to turn off the JBL-enhanced sound for the media player (Figure A).

Figure A

Enabling/disabling the JBL sound in the Idol 3.

If you take a close look at the upper and lower lip of the handset, you’ll notice odd indentions where the glass ends well short of the handset (Figure B). There’s a reason for this. The Idol 3 has two front-facing speakers that are placed off the glass. They’ve designed the handset so the sound can be heard clearly, whether the device is face up or face down. Believe it or not, the phone sounds even better (depending on the surface it’s resting on) when it’s face down.

Figure B

The handset was designed so the sound is good to go, regardless of position.

The included JBL earbuds aren’t top of the line, but they offer better sound than the majority of buds included with most smartphones.

Another nice touch is that Alcetel didn’t mark the device with their own, proprietary footprint. Other than a slight variance on the icons (Figure C) and a few added apps (that can be removed through Settings | Apps), this is stock Android (akin to the Nexus 6).

Figure C

The Idol 3 home screen.

One final (and major) upside to the Idol 3 is the battery life. The 2910 mAh battery on the Idol brought me a solid 14 hours without the need to charge. That’s impressive for a mid-range device. So, business users and consumers alike will be pleased when their battery isn’t sucked dry by a constant on-the-go life. Well done, Alcatel.

The downsides

Of course, with every piece of technology, there are downsides to be found. Once I walked through the device setup, the Idol 3 went through a platform update before I could even tap that first launcher. By the time I finally reached the home screen, none of the apps would open. After clearing the system cache five times, I was still faced with the same issue. To resolve this problem, I had to do a factory restore (from the Recovery menu) and walk through the setup a second time. Once this was complete, all was working just fine.

The next downside is that the device makes use of the mini SIM card. The mini SIM is a bit out of date. Most devices now use the micro or nano SIM, so this can be a problem. Fortunately, it’s not an insurmountable issue. All you have to do is purchase a SIM card adapter kit, and you can use pretty much any size SIM in any phone. Note: If the SIM is too big, you can cut it using a template.

Beyond those two “gotchas,” the Idol 3 is seriously impressive. Although the specs aren’t top-tier, the cost-to-performance ratio will open your eyes to just how far the unlocked device market has come.

I would recommend the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 to anyone. It’s cheap–$250.00 (USD)–and it offers performance that will challenge smartphones twice its retail price. Add to that the nudge toward security it offers during setup, and you simply can’t go wrong.

What’s preventing you from going the “unlocked” Android route? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.