Months after first showing it off, Alcatel finally made its budget water and dust resistant GO Play smartphone available to buy unlocked in the US in March. We unboxed it when it first came out (video below), and have been using it off and on since then, and finally gathered our thoughts on the sub $200 durable device.

In summary, the IP67 certification is a welcome feature, and certainly gives peace of mind if you’re buying for your kids, but you can find better performing phones with less durability for the same price (or a little more).

DESIGN

As far as aesthetics and design go, the budget Alcatel phone is pretty unremarkable, but that’s not to say it has no appeal at all. It’s a relatively chunky plastic phone, which feels solid and has a cool-looking pattern on the back made up of rounded squares of various sizes dotted all over it. These ‘spots’ serve another purpose too: they add grip to the device, ensuring it won’t slip easily out of your hand, or off furniture. And even if it did, the durable build will likely protect it from the fall to ground.

The GO Play has IP67 certification, which essentially means it’s protected against most daily instances of contact with moisture and dust. Sadly, unlike some more elegant solutions, Alcatel went with the old plastic flaps covering all the access points. The 3.5mm jack, micro USB and SIM/SD card slots are all protected with flimsy plastic flaps which feel like they’ll come off if you pull too hard. That’s if you can get them off in the first place. Fiddly doesn’t even cover it. Especially when it comes to the card slots. I’ve never known a SIM or MicroSD card tray that’s so tricky to eject.

With all the said, it does well at surviving the everyday accidents. Granted, I wouldn’t take this scuba diving or drop it from the top of a cliff, but I’d happily let my youngest daughter run around with it and maybe encourage my older kids to throw it around. Maybe chuck it in their sandpit…

While I was sent the rather dull gray and black option, there are some other, more fun combinations like white and bright blue, black and red or bright teal and yellow. All of which play up the device’s aim to attract the younger smartphone owners. In that regard, Alcatel has succeeded.

DISPLAY

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Like the design, the display could be better. It’s 720p resolution IPS over 5-inches. While your kids (who this device is clearly aimed at) may not notice the lack of sharpness, I did. Despite having a pixel density approaching the supposed magic 300ppi number, the pixels were visible if I held the phone close to my eyes. At arm’s length, the screen looked decent enough.

Despite the imperfections, the colors look good. Whites don’t get overly tinted at angles, and other colors are far more vibrant than I’d expect from a low-end LCD panel.

The one issue that caused me concern with the display was brightness. Or lack thereof. For a phone built to last outdoors, on the beach, or in the garden on a summer’s day, it’s baffling to have a screen you can barely see in bright sunlight. Even indoors under bright lighting, the front surface is so reflective and content so dim that it’s hard to see a lot of the time. Apart from that, there’s very little to say about the screen. It’s okay, and it’s plenty good enough for casual use.

CAMERA

The 8MP camera on the back is about as average as you get. In good light, it can take some fairly well-exposed shots with good balance, but it’s not consistent. A lot of the time, during focussing I’d see it not just struggle with getting a lock on objects, but also have a tendency to massively overexpose shots, leaving you with a really bright image. Even shots that turn out okay don’t come without issues; there’s almost always at least a little noise and fuzziness even in the best of images.

Again, with kids in mind, it’s not a big deal. They can share their photos to social media and no one will care that their ten dozen almost-identical selfies don’t look like they were taken by a professional photographer.

PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY

As budget phones go, the GO Play is a reliable and fast performer. Despite having a low end quad-core 1.2GHz processor, the software — like all Alcatel phones — is a very clean, almost-stock experience. There’s no abundance of memory or processor-killing background processes or bloatware. Apart from the Alcatel app icons, it’s practically stock Android. That means animations are fast, and that important and frequently accessed parts of the phone’s UI load quickly.

While animations were generally smooth, I did notice some slight stuttering when scrolling or switching apps quickly. Loading games took a little longer than it would on a high-end powerful flagship, but you’d expect that from a low-tier device. With fast-paced games, the stutter was definitely more noticeable, as skipped frames become far more obvious.

The only area of the phone I would describe as terrible, and where corners have clearly been cut, is the loudspeaker. Now, phone speakers are traditionally not awe-inspiring, and don’t get much of a mention in my reviews. But these are in need of some real work. Audio is distorted, it’s unclear and has an almost static-like sound, crackling with anything turned up more than halfway. Apart from that, it’s tinny and muffled. It’s really not good. At all.

OVERALL

With the low to mid-tier market getting so competitive nowadays, I had high expectations of the GO Play. The Idol series last year left me so impressed, I figured the same attention to performance and quality would extend to the cheaper phones. Sadly, at $199, it’s hard not to recommend spending a little extra and getting something like the OnePlus X. The camera and display are — at best — mediocre.

With all that said, if you’re looking for a cheap-ish, durable phone for your kids to use to keep in contact with you, and play the odd mobile game here and there, the GO Play is a good choice. It’s just far from perfect.

If you want to, you can order the Alcatel OneTouch GO Play for $199 from the manufacturer’s own online store.

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