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Hands On with Alcatel's New Phones

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Sep 3, 2015, 10:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Alcatel had a handful of handsets to talk about in Berlin this week. Alcatel is targeting consumers directly with these phones and hopes they'll find a home with budget-conscious buyers. Here are our first impressions of the Go Play, Go Watch, Pop Up, and Pixi First.

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Alcatel had a lot to talk about at the IFA trade show in Berlin this week. It announced one new phone for the U.S., and several others that might make it to the states eventually.

First and most importantly is the Go Play, a re-invigorated version of the Alcatel OneTouch Conquest, which is already sold by Boost Mobile in the U.S. The Go Play drops the drab exterior of the Conquest in favor of multi-colored outer shells. I like the new look, which is much trendier and more youthful. The colors and patterns generate a unique appearance for the phone that give it new life, so to speak.

The phone has a 5-inch screen, which means the footprint of the device is average for a modern handset. I found it to be light and comfortable to hold and use. The materials are mostly plastics and are made of decent quality. The pre-production units showed some uneven seams and didn't appear to be fitted together as well as possible. Even so, I was generally pleased with the effect of the handset as I used it. The shape is somewhat blocky, but the edge where the screen meets the side is angled a bit.

There is a kludgy hatch on the left side, but you'll be pleased to learn it is protecting a microSD memory card slot in addition to the SIM card. The volume toggle and screen lock button are on the right edge. I found them easily thanks to their good profiles, and travel/feedback was acceptable for each.

The Go Play is waterproof, which is nice, but Alcatel cut corners to make it so. Proof in point: the stereo headphone jack on top and the USB port on the bottom are protected by hatches. If the hatches aren't properly secured, the phone isn't waterproof. (Me dislikey hatches.) They detract from the phone's look only a little.

The display looks good for a 5 incher, and the panel was plenty bright. The 720p resolution matched the size well and allowed for a pleasing pixel density. The phone runs Android Lollipop, but has been given a light-touch user interface skin by Alcatel similar to what's upon the Idol 3 smartphones. The function is mostly stock, even if the fonts and icons look a bit different.

The Go Play is a solid middle-weight device and Alcatel expects to sell it later this year for about $150.

GoPlay  

The Go Watch is a new version of the Alcatel Watch Series, which launched about six months ago. The Go Watch has a new exterior and several new features that make it a fine companion for the Go Play handset.

To be frank, I liked the original better. The Watch Series had a classy look and feel. The Go Watch is meant to look and act sporty, but it comes off looking chunky and dated — like the Timex you stopped wearing in high school. The colors have been changed to match those of the Go Play series, which makes them go well together. The new Go button on the front turns on some funky emotion-based entertainment features that let you customize emoticons and social network statuses.

Still, the user interface is decent and it works with both Android and iOS. Alcatel has some good ideas for the operating system and it performed quickly. The wearable is lightweight, but could be made from sturdier stuff. The price point may be around $129.

Go Watch  

The Pop Up joins the Pop family and is an appealing low-cost handset. It has a personality all its own thanks to interchangeable rear covers that will come in a wide variety of colors, materials, and textures.

The rear shells are the bread and butter of this phone. The standard shell has a really neat radial pattern in it that's only visible in just the right light. Chrome accents abound and give the phone just the right amount of class. The sample covers on hand looked pretty neat, but I can't say I want a denim rear shell for my handset. The crocodile leather was all right, but the bamboo was the most interesting to me (Moto X, anyone?). Obviously, the Pop Up is meant to appeal to a younger demographic than myself.

The quality of the phone was quite good. I thought the metal frame was excellent, even if it evoked the iPhone a bit. The volume and screen lock buttons on the right edge were easy to find and I was pleased with the travel and feedback. The USB port is on the bottom and the headphone jack is on top. The hatch for the SIM card and memory card is on the right.

Alcatel gave the Pop Up the same 5-inch 720p screen found on the Go Play. It's a good screen that is more than adequate for this class of handset.

The neatest feature of this handset is likely how it earned its name. The phone can record video via the selfie cam — and record what you're doing on the phone at the same time. The idea is to (eventually) let other people see your real-time reaction to viewing content such as text messages and so on. It's a bit weird. You turn on the video camera and a small bubble appears on the screen. You can move the bubble anywhere you want and then use the phone normally. The feature records everything you do along with the little bubble of your face. Neat, yet weird.

Alcatel isn't sure if this phone is coming to the U.S. We'll keep you posted.

PopUp  

Last is the Pixi First, a puckish handset that targets first-time buyers in emerging markets. The sort of chubby black-and-silver design reminds me a lot of the original iPhone. The Pixi First even has a 4-inch WVGA screen, so the size is about the same as the 2007 handset from Apple.

This phone targets a specific niche. It has a classy look, so it caters to the style-seeking crowd, but it has entry-level specs and a low, low price point (~$70). The Pixi First features a metal-looking design, solid build quality, and good controls so it doesn't come off as too cheap.

It's a cute little phone, but is only going to be sold in Asian markets.

Pixi First  

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