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First Look: Alcatel Brings VR To The Masses With The Idol 4S

Loosely-described as ‘a phone for real people’, Alcatel’s VR-enabled Idol 4 and Idol 4S made a hands-on debut to Australian tech journalists at a Sydney waterfront restaurant yesterday. 

Alcatel’s VP & Managing Director for ANZ, Skontos made the case for the company’s latest two smartphones and their positioning beyond competing on price alone.

“Everyone seems to focus on Apple, Samsung and that high-end of the market. Let’s not forget about the rest of the market.”

He’s talking about both people who can’t afford to keep buying the latest flagship from Apple or Samsung, people who can’t afford to burn a grand on emerging technologies like virtual reality and younger audiences who often damage and replace their phone. A target market that wants access to that experience – but on their terms.

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Skontos asserts that the Idol 4 and Idol 4S (both unveiled earlier this year at the 2016 Mobile World Congress) are “about giving those markets access to that technology.”

Appropriately, both the Idol 4 and the higher-end Idol 4S put virtual reality front and centre. Both come with a set of VR goggles included and a small-suite of OneTouch VR applications pre-loaded.

We played around with the feature a little and came away reasonably impressed. Though the current software line-up here is a little limited, it remains a cool component of the Idol 4 experience. It doesn’t really sit on the cutting edge of what virtual reality can offer, nor does it feel like a cheap knock-off.

However, the design of the headset (which can be snapped into a carry case with ease) isn’t too shabby – even if it is just a glorified Google Cardboard. It looks pretty much how you expect, and there’s an appeal to that quality – even if it’s a little unrefined in style.

The headset itself is reasonably comfortable to wear, the adjustable straps letting you find the best fit. With an Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor and 3GB of RAM behind it, the Idol 4S offers a window into what VR could be – even if it is just a window for now.

The other big feature Alcatel are touting for the Idol 4 and 4S is the “Boom Key”. A small, round metal nub, the Boom Key serves a different function depending on the context in which it is used.

It can act as a quicker way to take photos when the device is in standby-mode, generate collages of photos in gallery mode, summon a three-dimensional weather effect onto your home screen and optimize audio being played through the music player.

Some of these functions are more useful than others. Your mileage might vary but it’s an interesting addition – even if it’s likely to be only incorporated by a small number of applications. It’s a little early to tell.

The differences between the 4 and 4S are largely technical. The latter’s bigger on-board storage, superior camera and 5.5-inch AMOLED display makes it worth the extra $200. Though it still fits within that lower-budget space that Alcatel are known for, it still very much carries it’s weight as the Chinese manufacturer’s latest premium offering.

The Idol 4 is expected to arrive with RRP of $399 while the Idol 4S comes with the higher price point of $599. Both will go on sale in September, with Alcatel planning to sell directly online to customers if an arrangement with local carriers isn’t reached.

Look for our full review of the Idol 4S in the near-future.

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