Alcatel Onetouch Go Play: One Tough Budget Phone

Like many budget phones, the Alcatel Onetouch Go Play asks you to settle for some less-than-stellar specs in exchange for a lower price tag. But the $199.99 Go Play offers something most discount phones do not: the ability to withstand drops, water and dust. Buy a Go Play, and you'll get a device that will shrug off the bumps and bruises of daily life with aplomb. But you'll also need to accept a so-so camera along with a display that doesn't measure up to those on other budget phones.

Design: A Mixed Bag

Plastic budget phones may not get your pulse racing, but there's something appealing about the Go Play's look and feel. I credit the sharp crisscross pattern adorning the back of the phone, which not only gives it a hip look, but also helps you grip the phone.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsThe Go Play felt solid when I held it in my palm — so much so that I was surprised to learn that it weighs just 5.33 ounces. That's lighter than three other sub-$250 phones that are comparable to the Go Play: the 5.57-ounce Huawei Honor 5X, the 6-ounce Asus ZenFone 2 Laser and the 5.54-ounce Motorola Moto G. At 5.64 x 2.89 x 0.36 inches, the Go Play is more compact than those other phones as well.

But marring an otherwise strong design is Alcatel's decision to put the phone's power button just beneath the volume rocker on the right side. I often found myself pressing the power button when what I really wanted to do was adjust the volume. Putting some distance between the buttons would have made the Go Play much easier to operate.

Specs

Carrier: Unlocked
Phone Display Size: 5 inches
Display Resolution: 1280 x 720
Form Factor: Candybar touch screen
OS: Android 5.0.2
CPU: 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410
RAM: 2GB
Storage: 16GB
Memory Expansion Type: microSD card, up to 32GB
Bluetooth Type: Bluetooth 4.1
Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n
Size: 5.64 x 2.89 x 0.36 inches
Weight: 5.33 ounces

Durability: Don't Fear Damage

Easily the Go Play's most noteworthy feature is its ability to take a licking. The phone is IP67 water- and dust-resistant; it also can survive 5-foot drops. Normally, you have to pay up to get that kind of durability, whether it's from the indestructible $624 Motorola Droid Turbo 2 or the water-resistant Samsung Galaxy S7 flagships. That a sub-$200 phone can withstand a similar beating helps the Go Play stand out from other budget models that will crumple in the face of the slightest mishap.

Credit: Philip Michaels

I dropped the Go Play onto a hardwood floor several times, with the phone landing on its screen with an echoing thud. Despite those drops, the Go Play looked no worse for the wear. It also survived a dip in a bowl of water.

Credit: Philip Michaels

But the Go Play is built for more than just accidental dunks. Alcatel says the phone can last 30 minutes in 3 feet of water, and because the phone's volume buttons can control the camera shutter, you can take underwater photos with the Go Play.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsI went down to a local swimming pool and took a plunge in the shallow end with the Go Play's camera app open. I managed to take a few underwater selfies, though more often than not, the camera app would quit when I plunged below the surface. (We'll chalk that up to touch-screen interfaces not really being designed for underwater use.) I wouldn't count on the Go Play's camera to work flawlessly underwater, but it's nice to know that the phone won't stop operating after a dip in the pool, unintentional or not.

MORE: Alcatel Onetouch Watch Review

Display and Audio: A Disappointment

It's easy to see where Alcatel cut costs to keep the price of the Go Play below $200. The phone's 5-inch 1280 x 720 display is easily its most underwhelming feature. When I watched trailers for both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the images looked OK, but they were not as sharp as I'm used to seeing on other screens. (I watch things other than Star Wars — I swear!)

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsThe bigger problem with the Go Play's IPS display is that it doesn't offer much of a viewing angle. Things look decent when you're staring straight at the screen, but if you glance at it from the side, the screen takes on a yellowish tone. Every now and then, I'd glance over at the Go Play lying on my desk and wondered whether it had developed jaundice.

At least the display is nice and bright. We measured its brightness at 476 nits using a light meter. That brightness score tops the average smartphone's reading of 428 nits and puts the Go Play just ahead of the Moto G (463 nits). The Honor 5X is brighter, though, and the Go Play doesn't even come close to theAlcatel Onetouch Idol 3, which sets the standard at 736 nits.

The Go Play's screen reproduces 103.4 percent of the SRGB color gamut. That's pretty good but below the 136.3 percent average for smartphones we've tested. The colors on the Go Play's display are very accurate, though: We recorded a Delta-E error rating of 0.71. (The closer to 0, the better.)

The speaker on the back of the Go Play produces decent sound. On higher tones, you lose some of the finer details, particularly when listening to music.

The speaker on the back of the Go Play produces decent sound — certainly good enough to fill a room when you're streaming a movie or TV show. On higher tones, you lose some of the finer details, particularly when listening to music. The opening guitar strums on Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter" were rich and full, but the drums had a distinct hiss. Also, when you adjust the volume using the buttons on the side of the Go Play, the phone's screen dims momentarily — a distracting and unnecessary feature.

Performance: Subpar, Even for a Budget Phone

The Go Play runs on a quad-core, 1.2-GHz Snapdragon 410 processor, which isn't a lot of horsepower. I didn't notice much of a lag when opening and switching between apps. However, when I played Modern Combat 5, I noticed the occasional blip in the action when the on-screen carnage proved too taxing for the Go Play's components. If you don't plan to use a lot of processor-intensive apps on your phone, the Go Play's pokey performance won't be an issue, but there are budget phones out there that perform better under fire.

In the general-purpose Geekbench 3 test, the Go Play scored 1,440. Similarly priced smartphones outperformed this device, with only the Moto G turning in a score (1,591) in the same vicinity.

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Converting a 204MB video from 1080p to 480p using VidTrim took the Go Play 9 minutes and 34 seconds. Only the ZenFone 2 Laser took more than 9 minutes in the budget class, but its time of 9:17 still beat the Go Play.

The Go Play's 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited result of 4,381 was also uninspiring. The Honor 5X (7,792) and the ZenFone 2 Laser (7,502) turned in better results for budget phones. Again, the Go Play's result was more in line with the Moto G's lackluster 4,467 tally.

Camera: Decent Shots in the Right Light

The 8-megapixel rear camera on the Go Play won't wow you with its images, but it's good enough to get the job done — if conditions are favorable. In my well-lit kitchen, I took a shot of one of my daughter's toys perched on a fruit basket.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsBatgirl's red hair contrasted nicely against the oranges, while the yellow rind of the larger pomelo also stood out. However, light from a nearby window washed out some details on the right side of the picture.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsOutside in broad daylight, the Go Play's camera faithfully recreated the colors of pink roses, with details so sharp you could make out the fine print on a nearby No Parking sign.

The results became less satisfying as the amount of light decreased. A Wrigley Field souvenir hanging in my basement office looked a little fuzzy around the edges, as the Go Play's camera struggled to focus.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsThe phone features a rear flash, but that only helps a little bit. In another, darker corner of my office, you can make out my collection of mini-baseball helmets, but it's hard to spot the difference between the green Oakland A's helmet and the black Chicago White Sox hat. The logo on the Mets helmet second from the right is completely lost to shadows, and you can only get a hint of the red Diamondbacks cap next to it.

Credit: Philip Michaels

I was really shocked by how poorly the rear camera captured video. In both 720p and 1080p videos shot at dusk in a decently lit room, the camera struggled to focus on my daughter as she practiced violin. Any movement of the camera caused the video to blur, even as my daughter stood as still as a 5-year-old is able to. I shot some other videos in more favorable lighting that looked better, but any sort of movement — whether it was a baseball that I tossed against a flower bed or a car driving past me — looked noticeably fuzzy.

Credit: Philip MichaelsCredit: Philip MichaelsThe 5-MP front camera fared a bit better. A self-portrait taken in a well-lit hallway captured details such as strands of hair and stubble from my three-day growth. You can also spot the different shades of blue from both my shirt and my eyes. Colors were less vivid on that underwater shot, but the Go Play still produced a tremendously detailed photo with individual bubbles popping out of the picture. Because there's no flash for the front camera, selfies shot in low light looked murkier and less detailed.

Software: Very Little Bloat

The Go Play runs Android Lollipop, which is becoming an older version of Google's OS now that Marshmallow is finding its way onto more devices — but it's perfectly in line with the OS you'd find on other budget Android phones.

You will find Facebook and Twitter preinstalled on the phone in their own Social folder, but you're likely to install these popular apps anyhow.

The unlocked version of the Go Play is free from the carrier bloatware that often weighs down other Android phones. Google apps are tucked away in their own folder, and while the Go Play suggests apps to install when you set up the phone (such as Go Keyboard, The Guardian and Pandora), you can also opt to ignore these suggestions. You will find Facebook and Twitter preinstalled on the phone in their own Social folder, but you're likely to install these popular apps anyhow.

Credit: Philip Michaels

I really appreciated Alcatel's ViewMe app that comes installed on the Go Play. If you launch this app, you'll be able to record whatever appears on the screen, with the phone's front camera capturing your face and voice. Think of it as a way to share your gaming sessions on social media, though enterprising Go Play users might also be able to turn ViewMe into a collaborative tool.

Battery: Just Enough Juice

In our battery test, which involves surfing the web on 4G LTE with the screen set to 150 nits of brightness, the Go Play lasted 8 hours and 51 minutes. That's nearly a half-hour better than the average time of 8:25. Still, both the Honor 5X (9:22) and the Moto G (9:00) lasted longer than the Go Play.

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The average smartphone user can probably get through a workday on a single charge of the Go Play, if they don't place too many demands on the Go Play's battery. In a 4-hour period that included lots of gaming, streaming and photo taking, I drained about a third of the phone's battery. Still, I left the Go Play unplugged overnight when it had less than 30 percent battery life left, and I woke up to find it still had a charge in the morning.

Bottom Line

Too many budget phones feel like they're held together by hopes and well wishes, falling apart at the first sign of trouble. That's not the case with the Go Play, a tough phone that took an admirable amount of punishment and kept going about its business. The Go Play won't wow you with its performance or its display — certainly not like the Honor 5X — but you will get a durable phone that will last long enough to make you feel like you got more than your money's worth.

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