- Metal frame and back with thin form factor
- NFC for Android Pay functionality
- 3.5 mm headset jack and stereo front speakers
- Decent camera experience with quick photo capture in good lighting
- Low price
- Older Android software and security update
As flagship smartphones pass the crazy $1,000 price point, it's prudent to take a look at reasonably priced phones. There are a lot of solid choices that won't break the bank while providing most of the same functionality as the flagships.
Cricket Wireless has reasonable rates and good coverage in the US as a pre-paid carrier, functioning as a subsidiary of AT&T. The new Alcatel Idol 5 is available now for $199.99 and is one of the best mid-range smartphones now available from Cricket.
- Processor: MediaTek Helio P20, 2.2 GHz octa-core
- Display: 5.2 inch 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS, Gorilla Glass 3
- Operating system: Android 7.0 Nougat
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 32GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
- Cameras: 12 megapixel rear camera. Front 8 megapixel camera.
- Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, FM radio
- Battery: 2850 mAh non-removable with Pump Express 2.0+ fast charging
- Dimensions: 148.08 x 71.88 x 7.62 mm and 147 grams
The Alcatel Idol 5 retains a 3.5mm headset jack, employs a modern USB Type-C port for charging, and includes NFC. We often see microUSB and no NFC on low to mid-range Android phones so it is great to see these included. It doesn't have any kind of biometric mechanism to unlock the phone, which was a bit surprising since most phones have at least some kind of fingerprint scanner.
The Alcatel Idol 5 review unit arrived and I unboxed it and then set it up with the included test Cricket Wireless SIM. I was immediately impressed by the solid metal build and slim design that felt great in my hand and easily slipped in my front pants pocket. I looked up the price a bit later and was very surprised to see it available for just $199.99.
Unlike the unlocked Alcatel Idol 5S, the Idol 5 has a metal back panel with no front or rear fingerprint scanner. It has a 1080p LCD display with crisp fonts and good color on 5.2 inches.
There are dual front-facing stereo speakers and they sound better than the majority of smartphones I have tested over the last several months. There is a standard 3.5mm headset jack and USB Type-C port on the bottom too.
The power button is on the left side with the volume button and a customizable round button at the center of the right side, called a Boom key. There is nothing present on the top. The camera is positioned in the far left upper corner of the back with the flash adjacent to the camera lens.
I haven't used device with MediaTek processors very often, but found the Idol 5 to perform well with all of my typical apps and through daily usage. 2GB of RAM is rather low for today's Android smartphones, but I never noticed it struggling to get things done. Battery life was good enough to get me through a typical day too.
The camera is a 12 megapixel model and does fine in good lighting conditions. You can check out this Flickr album with comparison shots taken with the $400 Moto X4, and $930 Samsung Galaxy Note 8 to see for yourself.
Alcatel will soon be selling the Uni360 headset for $49.99 and I had the chance to test one out. Despite the 1080p LCD display, virtual reality is supported on the Alcatel Idol 5. I like the two large button on the top front of the VR headset that lets you select or go back in the interface. Unfortunately, there is no volume button so you need to adjust the volume before mounting the Idol 5 in the headset.
Performance was decent, but the experience can't match what we see with the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream and a high end phone. Moving your head caused lots of blurriness in the pictures. Once you stopped moving and looked, then the images were clear. There is no remote so the experience is only for viewing and there is limited content available. I suppose for $50 it's not bad to try out VR.
The Alcatel Idol 5 launches with Android 7.0 Nougat and the evaluation device I have in hand has the June 2017 Android security update. While it's not surprising to have the first version of Nougat on board, monthly Android security patches need to be more current than this. The UI is nearly stock Android, which is great for a low cost device launching as an exclusive carrier option.
There were five or six games installed out of the box, but I was able to uninstall each of them so as long as I have that capability then I'm not too concerned about bloatware that is installed.
Other apps installed, beyond the typical Google fare, include Camera, Deezer music, Gallery, Music, myCricket, NextRadio, Cricket Visual Voicemail, VR Home, VR Store, vTime, and WPS Office.
There are several modes includes in the Camera software, including slo-mo, video, photo, panoramic, manual, micro-video, 360 photo, cinemagraph, instant collage, and light trace. We don't often see manual support on mid-range devices so this was cool to find. There is also a dedicated Gallery app with its own editor and also the capability to create unique slideshows with your photos.
The notification area and settings are stock Android so you know what to expect there.
Price and competition
The Alcatel Idol 5 is a Cricket-exclusive, available for $199.99. There are other lower priced phones on Cricket Wireless, but the Idol 5 offers several current technology features that are often missing on less expensive phones.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
Cricket Wireless has several high end smartphones and many other low end ones available for less than $130. The Alcatel Idol 5 stands out as a solid mid-ranger with better specs and performance than most of the low priced models.
If you are considering the Alcatel Idol 5, you may also want to take a look at the unlocked Alcatel Idol 5S that brings you a Snapdragon 625 processor, more RAM, and a rear fingerprint scanner for $200 as an Amazon Prime Exclusive phone. It also has a newer version of Android and no bloatware or games. It does have a glass back, compared to the metal one on the Alcatel Idol 5.
These mid-range Android phones have come a long way and you get a decent experience without all of the frustrations we have seen with them in the past. In the age of $1,000 flagships, it's tough to justify paying five times the price of a solid smartphone that provides a similar application and functional experience.