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(Pocket-lint) - Alcatel, formerly known as Alcatel OneTouch, announced the Idol 4 series of smartphones at Mobile World Congress 2016, succeeding the Idol 3 range.

The Idol 4 series comprises two handsets - the Idol 4 and the Idol 4S - both of which have an interesting main feature called Boom Key, among a couple of other juicy elements.

On first thought, you might not consider Alcatel to sit in the premium sector, but the Idol 4S is an exciting phablet and what Alcatel has done with the packaging is a genius idea so with that, here are our first impressions of the Alcatel Idol 4S.

Alcatel Idol 4S design

The Alcatel Idol 4S and 4 feature a very similar design, both with metal frames, glass touch panels and a glass back cover. They are just 6.9mm slim and they are lovely to look at, as well as comfortable to hold. Both ooze premium appeal with the main notable differences between the design of the two handsets being the rear panel's camera array, branding and their overall size. We will be focusing on the 4S but we'll mention the 4 here and there.

The Idol 4S has a large protruding camera lens in the middle of rear glass panel, very similar to the design of the Samsung Galaxy S6's rear camera. The Idol 4 on the other hand, offers a smaller camera lens in the top left of the rear panel, making for a more subtle design.

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The Idol 4 has a more obvious Alcatel logo, which sits in middle of the glass rear panel, while the Idol 4S has more subtle branding at the bottom of the rear glass panel. Both have the same buttons and ports however, all of which sit in the same positions around the lovely curved edges of the Idol 4 series handsets. 

The power button is on the top left-hand side edge with a SIM-card pull-out tray below it. This works fine when you use the phone in the normal position but one of the interesting things about the Idol 4 series is that it can be used upside down too. When used in upside down, the power button is in a much more awkward position and placing it in the middle of the left edge would maybe have worked better.

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The right hand side is where the party is at on the Idol 4 series handsets though. This is where the Boom Key sits, which is a small circular raised button in the middle of the right edge. Those familiar with the Sony Xperia devices will notice a resemblance and might also make the mistake of thinking it is the power button but it isn't on the Alcatel devices of course. Instead the Boom Key has several functions that can be customised. We will go into a little more detail on them in the software.

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The Idol 4 devices also do something a little different when it comes to their speakers. The speaker grilles are strategically placed with two on the rear and two on the front. This means whether the smartphone is on its front or back, the stereo sound from the two 3.6 watt speakers will always be on the correct side so you'll get a good pump out of sound even when the phone is face down on a table. We didn't get a chance to test the JBL speakers during our time with the devices, but we will do so when we get the devices in for full review.

In a nutshell, Alcatel has introduced premium and appealing smartphones with the Idol 4 series. Both devices have a lovely design that takes the metal and glass materials and runs with them, just like Samsung did with its Galaxy S6. It works well and they are worthy of your attention for sure.

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Alcatel Idol 4S display

The Alcatel Idol 4S is the larger of the two Idol 4 handsets with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display sporting a 2560 x 1440 resolution. From our brief amount of time with the device, the display seemed good with strong colours, deep blacks and good vibrancy, as you would expect from an AMOLED display. The viewing angles also seemed to be heading in the right direction, which is good to see. 

The Alcatel Idol 4 is a little smaller at 5.2-inches and it features a Full HD LCD display. It wasn't quite as punchy as the Idol 4S when it came to colours but it still seemed to do a good job from what we saw.

Displays are something that need real world experience to be judged properly so we will leave our final opinion until we spend a little more time with the two handsets but both were promising, especially the Idol 4S.

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Alcatel Idol 4S camera

The Alcatel Idol 4S comes complete with a 16-megapixel rear camera, along with an 8-megapixel front camera with front flash. The rear camera offers an aperture of f/2.0 which is a little narrower than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 for example.

The rear camera resolution drops slightly for the Idol 4 that comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera but the front-facing snapper remains the same at 8-megapixels. Alcatel claims the handsets offer ultrafast auto-focus between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds, as well as 360-degree photos and selfies. They are also said to produce "crystal-clear" images even in the dark. 

We could not test the camera performance at the show but it is a feature Alcatel seem to be pushing hard with the Idol 4 series so we will be sure to test each device out fully when we get them in for review.

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Alcatel Idol 4S hardware

The Alcatel Idol 4S features the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, supported by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage with microSD for storage expansion. There is also a 3000mAh battery on board. 

The Alcatel Idol 4 comes with the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, supported by 2GB or 3GB of RAM depending on the region. There will also be 16GB of internal storage, microSD support for storage expansion and a 2610mAh battery on board.

Like the camera and display, performance isn't something that can be judged in such a short amount of time but the Idol 4S appeared to be smooth and sleek to operate with no signs of lag.

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Alcatel Idol 4S software

The Alcatel Idol 4 and 4S will launch with Android Marshmallow from the box and it will be close to stock with a few enhancements. The interface will switch according to the way you pick the devices up, whether that's upside down or sideways, which is a nice feature. 

The Boom Key is the big feature when it comes to software though. This button, which we mentioned previously in design, will allow you to customise its function. You can turn it into a camera launcher and shooter, or put a video you are recording live for example.

It can be used to creates a more intense 3D effect for the launcher and a live weather display as part of the home screen, as well as enhance bass, volume and clarity of sound for audio. There is also a gaming function and gallery function you can select. It's a cool feature and the variety of functions that can be selected for it mean there should be something useful the Boom Key can do for everyone.

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Alcatel Idol 4S packaging

The last but certainly not least exciting feature of the Alcatel Idol 4S is its packaging. Rather than just being a standard smartphone box you put in a drawer never to be seen again, the Idol 4S comes in a plastic VR headset that is Google-Cardboard certified.

The Alcatel Idol 4S can be slipped into the VR headset to give you an experience similar to Google Cardboard and Samsung's Gear VR. Users will be able to download virtual reality content from the Onetouch VR Store, which is a built-in app on the smartphone.

It's a very clever idea from Alcatel and the headset, given that it originates from a plastic box, is actually pretty nice.

First Impressions

The Alcatel Idol 4 series is far more exciting than you might first believe. Both the Idol 4 and the Idol 4S come with a lovely, premium design that combine metal and glass in a great way.

There are plenty of exciting features on board both too, including the customisable Boom Key and the way the interface will switch according to how you pick the device up.

Couple all of that with the fact that the Alcatel Idol 4S is bang on trend with its packaging doubling up as a VR headset and you have yourself a smartphone well worthy of your attention.

 Read: Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10 review: Not Microsoft's mobile saviour

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 24 February 2016.