If you’re in the market for a new mid-range smartphone, then the news of another addition to the segment between R3,000 and R5,000 may, or may not, be good for. Last year Alcatel released a number of smartphones in the lower tier range and sold a great number of sub-R1,000 units. In 2016, however, the company has made sufficient strides with its ‘re-entry’ into the South African market to feel confident about moving into the mid-range space with the likes of the Go Play, launched a few weeks back.
Although the concept may not be new at all, there are still a surprising shortage of waterproof smartphones available on the market released in 2015 and 2016, with Sony one of the only OEM continually releasing IP-rated protection for their devices. Even more scarce is the offering of such capabilities on a mid-range smartphone, as the feature tends to be associated with pricey rugged variants of already premium devices. So how well-equipped is the Go Play in dealing with nature’s elements without breaking, while at the same time not breaking the bank either?
Build and Design
The Go Play is by no means beautifully crafted from a single frame of diamond-cut aluminium. Nor does it pretend to be. Instead, what you get is an all-plastic smartphone that is surprisingly light. It may seem odd, but switching between multiple devices throughout the day makes you appreciate the weight distribution on the Go Play. Often, a lightweight device may be synonymous with breaking quite easily, but this is not the case with this rugged unit. Alcatel has marketed the device as being punch-proof, which equates to robust unit that allows for dropping on almost any surface without worrying about any cracks and dings. Coupled with the ruggedity of the Go Play, it also has an IP67 rating, which means that users are able to submerge the unit in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes, while also being dustproof as well.
One aspect of the added IP67 rating is the annoying flaps added to the device. Everything has to be covered up before it gets anywhere near liquid, from the auxiliary jack to the microUSB port. But given the reasonably low cost of such a device, having flaps fitted to provide such functionality isn’t the end of the world.
Screen and Display
The Go Play is fitted with a 5″ IPS screen, which has a 1280x720p resolution display at 294ppi pixel density. On the face of it, this seems on par with many other mid-range smartphones, but there are a number of shortcomings with the 5″ panel. For starters, the viewing angles are quite poor. Tilting the device at any respectful angle starts to dim the screen and shift colour balance. In addition, the screen is fairly dim, making it near impossible to work on while outdoors in direct sunlight.
Watching a few HD YouTube videos provided decent imagery, although not as sharp as many other phones available. It’s not difficult to spot where Alcatel has saved on costs for the Go Play, the resulting screen the most glaring of options. I’m certain that a slight increase in cost for a better display would have been more welcoming, or even perhaps an option between two such variants.
Performance and Battery Life
Given its mid-range price point, performance wouldn’t be high on the list of priorities for the Go Play, although you do still want it to get the job done. The internals of the unit include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset with Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53 CPU, Adreno 306 GPU, 8GB internal storage, 1GB RAM and 2500mAh battery. Specifications-wise, these stats are very basic, and don’t produce the most outstanding of performances. Using the device as a daily driver to perform basic functions was pretty straight forward, although there were one or two lags and slow response times. There weren’t any major issues in this regard when running most apps, but there are a few resource intensive apps that just don’t perform well at all. Most games run fine with minimum settings, although there are a few games that require more resources, which the Go Play isn’t able to cope with, and either freezes upon opening, or stumbles its way through.
The battery life on the Go Play is sufficient to last most of the day with moderate usage. Using any apps, such as those mentioned above, that require more of the CPU than its able to produce, consume a lot more charge and won’t easily last through the day. Again, the flaps cause some annoyance when having to charge the device, something you may not always be in the mood to battle with in the dark when you’re about to go to bed. There are alternative methods for providing waterproofing without the need for a flap.
Fitted to the rear of the Go Play is an 8MP camera, paired with autofocus and an LED flash. The camera does a good job of taking a few snaps, but you’ll only achieve suitable results in preferable conditions with sufficient lighting. Anything outside of this results in a more grainy, blurry photo that won’t be ideal for any of your social media uploads. While good light provides good quality photos, direct and reflective light tend to wash out colours somewhat. With slightly reduced sunlight, the images the camera produced were sharp and colourful.
The front-facing camera also produced fairly good photos, but, again, in well-lit areas. The colour saturation is slightly less vivid, but the image clarity in good conditions are worth keeping. Since there’s no flash, anything outside of perfect conditions tend to become grainy, even more so than the rear-facing camera.
Video quality on the Go Play is not really worth mentioning. Since it doesn’t offer any image stabilisation, it often loses focus while filming, even when the object is largely still. Attempting to capture any moving event proves somewhat of a challenge, with any moving object becoming distorted and pixelised. Moving the camera itself means that the entire image then becomes distorted.
While most newer smartphones ship with Google’s latest Android firmware, Marshmallow, the Go Play comes pre-installed with Lollipop. It is worth noting that the unit was officially launched in other regions in late 2015, and the fact that many other low to mid-range devices still ship with Android 5.1.1. Upon first setup of the unit, a small security update was already waiting to be downloaded, which bodes well in terms of Alcatel’s release schedule for fixes and patches to security.
In terms of pre-installed bloatware, there is very little to speak of, minus the fact that many of the basic Android apps have been replaced with a Vodafone counterpart, such as the Caller and Messenger apps, along with other additions such as Video Play, Backup+, Protect, AppStore, My Vodafone, Vodacom e-School and Updates. As a result of this Vodafone customisation, there are a few duplicate apps, such as two browsers, two galleries and two email apps.
There are, however, some additions in software that I don’t mind, Alcatel’s Screen Share app (or ViewMe, as it is known in other regions) for one. The app provides an easy to use method for recording whatever is on display on screen, while at the same time recording yourself via the front-facing camera, and added to the video by means of a pop-up bubble of sorts. You do have the option to remove the camera feed, although the bubble still remains in the video. While the overall performance of the Go Play may be lacking, especially for certain applications, the Screen Share app works extremely well considering.
As a stand-alone smartphone, the Alcatel Go Play isn’t a great device by any means, but as a mid-range smartphone it is. The design is plain, but the build is rugged. The specs are on the low end, but it still performs admirably. The camera is not as flexible in all conditions, but you’re still able to take good photos in ideal settings. It also offers an IP67 rating with water and dust proof capabilities, and at the same time offering protection from bumps, knocks and drops, making it a suitable outdoor companion.
At an RRP of R3,499 there’s a lot to offer on the Go Play and is worth a second look if you’ve never paid it any attention previously.