In daily use, I was a little surprised that I could stack and stack applications in the background without any apparent slowdown, and everything I threw at the Idol 4S ran fluidly. As our benchmarks demonstrate, the powerful 820 chip places the Idol 4S neck-and-neck with the HP Elite x3 as the most powerful Windows phone.
We use a number of browser-based benchmarks (using the phone’s Edge browser) as a replacement for app-based benchmarks. The Idol 4S is at the top of all of them.
One of the only native Windows phone benchmarks is AnTuTu, which we’ve broken out for clarity’s sake. Again, the Elite x3 and Idol 4S report virtually identical scores.
I was also shocked at how the Idol 4S battery life excelled. The included non-removable 3,000 mAh battery is powered with a USB-C connector, the de facto cable for modern phones. Part of the long life is certainly due to the 1080p display, its relatively low light output (210 nits at full brightness) and the Snapdragon 820’s power management technology. Still, the Idol 4S lasted a whopping 9 hours, 48 minutes looping our 4K test video, topping the Elite x3’s 9 hours and 28 minutes.
Not everything about the phone was so impressive, though. One key omission is NFC support, meaning the phone won’t be able to use Microsoft’s tap-to-pay Wallet app. I also struggled with the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which logs you in via Windows Hello. My finger had trouble finding it, and when it did, its accuracy was unreliable.
The Idol 4S’s 1.2-watt front-facing speakers pack a solid punch, loud enough to comfortably fill a small room. Unfortunately, pushing the volume above about 20 (out of 30) introduces noticeable distortion at the high end. Earbuds are an option, but you’ll have to supply your own. Though Alcatel’s Android Idol 4S ships with JBL earbuds, Alcatel omitted them from the Windows phone bundle.
The Idol 4S doesn’t ship with a display dock, though Alcatel generously supplied a third-party Incipio Digital AV USB-C multiport adapter to prove that it could run the Continuum experience under third-party hardware. It’s a slightly awkward solution —there’s only one USB port, no ethernet, and the cables place the phone at an awkward angle—but the on-screen experience works.
The Idol 4S camera: competent, with a touch of lag
There are three things you should know about the Idol 4S camera: one positive, one negative, and another somewhere in between. First, the good news: its 21MP rear camera sensor (an IMX230 sensor from Sony) ensures crisp pictures. The other, unfortunately, is characteristic of some other Windows phones we’ve reviewed: When you tap the camera icon to take a picture, there’s a noticeable delay (about half a second) before the picture is actually snapped.
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