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It was just about a year ago that I last tried using Windows 10 Mobile with my March Madness experiment. Since then we have seen very little from Microsoft in the world of phones and I had no plans to try one again, especially after Microsoft killed its wearable plan.
Last week I saw a Tweet that the T-Mobile Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10 was available for just $288. That price included a VR headset and apps to test out VR on Windows 10. I called up my local T-Mobile store and was able to purchase the last one.
The Idol 4S does not have NFC, but since there is still no payment system in Windows 10 that's really not an issue with this phone. The display resolution is also 1080p, but Windows Phone has always looked great on lower resolution displays and looks fantastic here with the AMOLED panel.
TCL made the BlackBerry DTEK60 I tested out in November and it turns out that the Alcatel Idol 4S is essentially the same hardware that runs Windows 10. The BlackBerry model has a higher resolution 2K display, but half the internal storage.
I loved the feel of the DTEK60 in my hand so as soon as I saw this available on T-Mobile for just $288 I quickly called up my local store to purchase the last one. The black front and back with Halo gold metal edges and highlights looks cool. This is a color scheme I've wanted to see on these new gold phones.
The 5.5 inch AMOLED screen has a 1080p resolution, but still looks fantastic with crisp fonts, vibrant colors, and dark black areas. Microsoft has always done well with its Live Tiles UI and it looks great on this 5.5 inch display.
The dual stereo speakers above and below the display sound loud and clear at high volumes, easily beating my iPhone 7 Plus and the Huawei Mate 9. There is also a front-facing flash above the display.
The gold metal trim has beveled edges on the top and bottom so it looks good and feels great in the hand. There is a USB Type-C port on the bottom with a 3.5mm headset jack up top.
The SIM card/microSD card tray is on the upper left with the power button positioned above that. The volume buttons are on the upper right with the camera capture button centered on the right side. I would prefer to see this camera button in the more natural bottom position on the right as I tend to hit this accidentally and it's centered too far to be easy to activate in landscape photo orientation.
The camera and flash are on the upper back with the camera trimmed in gold. There is a small fingerprint sensor on the back, positioned as we see most of them on devices today. While I've experienced fantastic response on other devices, the sensor misses about half the time on the first try and I have even ended up entering my PIN way more than I would like to.
Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10 review: in pictures
Alcatel and Idol 4S are on the black back in gold font. The black glass on the back does tend to capture fingerprints, but they are easy to wipe off and I like the color scheme.
Virtual reality headset
The kit you purchase from T-Mobile includes a very comfortable virtual reality headset and some included games and experiences. The headset looks a lot like a Samsung Gear VR headset, but connects to your Idol 4S via Bluetooth so is more like a glorified Google Cardboard headset.
There is a comfortable foam lined face piece and two lenses, along with a very comfortable head strap with nice padding and easy assembly. The Idol 4S easily clamps in place with two buttons serving as controls along the bottom.
If found the buttons to lag in response and often ended up removing the headset to try to activate a button. It's tough to complain when it was included, but the VR experience was definitely pretty basic. If you have never tried it before you may enjoy it, but you won't likely be spending hours in the headset.
Games included on the Idol 4S consist of Captain Fellcraft VR, Tube 360, VR360Gallery, VR360Video, and more. There is a VR store where you can find more content as well and overall I was satisfied with the entire experience.
The Alcatel Idol 4S runs Windows 10 Mobile. Version 107 is included on this T-Mobile phone and overall it runs as expected in 2017. The app gap continues to shrink with universal apps and I was able to get both Bank of America and USAA on the Idol 4S. Other apps I installed that are found on my iPhone and Androids include Alaska Airlines, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Fandango, Fitbit, Hilton Honors, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, OneNote, and more. The only app I noticed missing was Snapchat.
I did notice some issues with apps, but think that may be partially due to older apps and Windows 10. For example, while I am furious about Microsoft taking away the Star Wars: Battle for Hoth game I purchased a few years ago, I was able to find and install Fable Coin Golf. Unfortunately, after completing a level the game freezes so it is really not usable.
I also wore a Fitbit Blaze over the past week and was looking forward to a great experience since the Windows 10 Fitbit app is quite mature. The Idol 4S did a terrible job of maintaining a Bluetooth connection and even syncing was a hit and miss affair so the experience was less than optimal.
Email didn't seem to refresh and update as much as it does on iOS and Android while I was also left waiting for updates in other apps. You can definitely get by with Windows 10 Mobile, but the experience can't beat Android and iOS.
Pricing and competition
The Alcatel Idol 4S for Windows 10 is only $288 at T-Mobile and at that price I will keep it to test out even if it doesn't turn into a daily driver. The Microsoft site sells an unlocked model for $470.
There aren't many other options for Windows 10 Mobile and there is no way you will find an iPhone down in the sub-$300 level. There are compelling low-cost Android phones today, such as the Honor 8, Honor 6X, and Moto G4.
Daily usage experiences and conclusions
The Alcatel Idol 4S is a very well made handset and no one could believe I picked it up for just $288 as it feels like a $500 phone, which is what it does cost at the Microsoft store. It looks good, feels good, and overall performs reasonably well.
Last year Microsoft promoted using Messaging across phones and computers, but then killed that idea to pursue SMS in Skype. I could not get that to perform consistently on my Surface Pro 4 so my big idea of seamlessly transitioning between the Surface Pro 4 and the Idol 4S didn't pan out as I had hoped.
The camera takes decent photos in good lighting conditions, but can't compare to the smartphones today priced at double the cost of the Idol 4S.
Communications was good overall, but I did notice the volume on the handset speaker for phone calls was quieter than I would like. This was strange as the dual stereo speakers rocked and the headset jack also played loud and clear music.
The Idol 4S is a solid Windows 10 Mobile device and if you are looking for something different to try before all of the new phones start appearing in March and April, then you may want to consider visiting T-Mobile for one.