The cheapest route to virtual reality

by Goh De No
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In one of my year-enders last year, I mentioned that Virtual Reality (VR) is going to be one of the biggest things this year. The Alcatel Idol 4S that was launched last July may just be the cheapest smartphone to make it accessible for everyone.

Readers who’ve followed me throughout the years will remember that I got the One Touch Idol X when I busted my LG G2 about two years ago. I bought the Idol X as a temporary replacement, and because of it, I found out that I couldn’t live without a phone that doesn’t have two SIM card slots.

Dual-SIM phones are primarily used in developing countries, where you get many different telco’s offering attractive plans for data and calls, so you can have the best of both worlds. In my case, swapping in a SIM card and trying to keep track of where my Brunei SIM is has become a pain (I travel quite often). I find myself constantly having to report on my lost SIM and getting a new one.

Anyway, the Idol X was a very nice phone for the price, I think it was $399 and was flagship level. Now the Idol 4S comes packaged with a VR headset, making it the first phone to ship with its own independent VR Goggles.

The Alcatel Idol 4s pictured here next to its own VR headset. Image courtesy of Alcatel.

With a Quad HD screen, and two-way speakers along with a 16-megapixel camera, but it has a middle-tier Snapdragon 652 which is a 1.8GHz + 1.4GHz Octa-Core from Qualcomm.

The screen is an impressive 2,560×1,440 pixel AMOLED 5.5-inch unit, which is very attractive for a budget phone.

The front-facing camera is 8-megapixels and even comes with a flash, whilst the two-way speaker is a JBL with 3.6 watts. Overall, this is sounding like a pretty neat package so far. The Idol 4S has 32GB of storage built-in, with 3GB of RAM, it also takes a 512GB micro-SD card.

The Alcatel doesn’t have a USB-C though, instead it has a standard micro-USB port, however, it does have Qualcom’s quick charge on board.

Last year’s Alcatel Idol 3 had the right-side up on both ways feature going on (the Reversible OS remains) with a rather tacky “idol” brand on the back. This year, Alcatel stepped up its game. This slick smartphone now has a nice smooth glass back with shiny metal edges. This isn’t anything groundbreaking of course, but it is leaps and bounds better than the previous generation model.

I like how Alcatel doesn’t have any hardware keys so the phone can stay smaller with the screen carrying the soft keys, and the fingerprint scanner is nicely placed on the back where your finger lies naturally when holding the phone.

The Idol 4S VR Goggles comes as part of the packaging, and the controls are on the bottom of the goggles, and there is a threeway strap that allows the goggles to sit nicely on your head/face.

The phone has a built-in VR launcher that brings you to a navigation menu with floating tiles that you can select. There’s a tutorial of course, which will definitely help bring new users up to speed.

Alcatel has skinned Android’s 6.0.1 Marshmallow with its own icons, but has remained largely stock, which is really nice. There is also promise for Android Nougat on the way.

So far in specs and VR, the Idol 4S is doing well, but the 16-megapixel shooter might be a let-down for some. The colours don’t really pop on normal shots in broad daylight, much like my old Idol X. In the dark, it gets worse, as the 4S will struggle to lock on for a nice and sharp picture.

The Idol 4s running Alcatel’s proprietary mobile music app. Image courtesy of Alcatel.

Wrap Up:

The 4S is starting at US$399 ($540), which puts it in contention with the extremely popular OnePlus Three, and there are many other budget smartphones it will have to take on, such as the Vivo X7, Asus ZenFone 5 and the highly-rated Moto G4.

In terms of performance, the Idol 4S will lack behind the OnePlus Three and probably aforementioned.

So, if you are really want an affordable VR set, and if Brunei’s Alcatel dealer can start this at $600, it might be a really good deal and a nice first step into VR.

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