Last year, one of my favorite lower cost phones was Bluís 5.0C HD. It combined Ďgood enoughí specs with an interesting, eye-searing neon pink case. It targeted the ďI want a decent phone thatís also funí segment and came through in spades.
Of course, the 5.0C runs Android so if you were looking for something of the Windows Phone persuasion there was the Blu Win HD. Now itís been updated with the added goodness of LTE, letís check it out:
Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3:
If you can swing it, the Idol 3 costs $50 USD more. If youíre a budget, this is a lot of dough. Still, I suggest you double and triple check your sofa crack for any extra change. The Idol 3 is worth the extra dough.
Unless you need dual SIMs or Windows Phone, the Idol 3 one or two-ups the Blu across the board. The display, performance, storage capacity, camera, speakers are all better.
ZTE Grand X Plus:
In Canada, another competitor is the ZTE Grand X+ which you can pick up on Fido for $199.99 CDN locked.
On paper theyíre quite similar: 5Ē high def IPS displays, 8GB of storage, 8MP cameras, LTE, etc.
The Grand X+ has double the RAM while the Blu counters with a slightly larger battery, space for 2 SIM cards and a newer Snapdragon 410 SoC (ZTE has a 400).
Nokia Lumia 635:
If youíre looking for a Windows Phone and are on a budget, you might consider the Nokia Lumia 635. Specs-wise, the Blu is one class ahead of the 635. It has a newer processor, larger higher resolution display, more RAM and more megapixels, a camera flash, dual SIM card slots.
However, for the money, the 635 is a pretty competent phone. While itís cheap thereís nothing inherently terrible about it. Itís just a well rounded package - just make sure you pick it up when itís on sale. They go on sale for a wallet friendly $99 - $109 unlocked every now and then.
5Ē IPS LCD display
Quad-core, 64bit 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 SoC
Adreno 306 GPU
8MP rear facing camera with autofocus and LED flash
2MP front-facing fixed focus camera
5.71 x 2.83 x 0.32 inches (145 x 72 x 8.2 mm)
Windows Phone 8.1 (upgradable to Windows 10)
The front of the phone really reminds me of a Blackberry Z10.
I really love how Blu makes their phones available in crazy colours like neon yellow.
Itís also great that they bundled a matching clear yellow TPU case and a screen protector.
Unfortunately, I wasnít able to photograph the brushed metal look on the top and bottom of the front of the phone.
Thereís a soft touch finish on the removable back cover. If youíre planning on putting the Blu in the back pocket of your jeans watch out, the dye in the denim will rub off onto the phone and is very difficult to remove so make sure you use the included case.
I wish the rear cover required just a tiny bit more force to take off. While I wouldnít go as far as to say it feels cheap, I found that removing the case often caused the back cover to come off too.
Taking the cover off reveals that the battery is actually TAPED in place. Note the 2 MicroSIM slots along with the MicroSD.
Notice the interesting finish on the buttons.
While I wouldnít say the the Blu looks cheap, aside from the terrific colour, it doesnít look terribly special either. I think a lot of it has to do with the thick black frame around the screen. I upsets the design a little.
Thereís something funny about about the screen, when you scroll the screen slowly, it stutters. The fact that Windows Phone requires a lot of scrolling up and down exacerbates this issue. Iím not sure if itís a wonky digitizer or maybe a function of the poor oleophobic coating but the problem is really noticeable.
If you pick one up, for the love of God, donít put the included screen protector on, it makes the stuttering much worse. I found this out the hard way, because before I started using the Blu I thought Iíd put the screen protector on.
If you do decide to use it, make sure your screen is very clean before once you put it itís very difficult to remove without causing bubbling.
This happens because the oleophobic coating on the screen is not very effective. You wonít be able to use tape to take it off to remove pieces of dust after the fact without having to lift it with your fingernail first and creating a spot where it wonít stick. This happened to me on the top right corner of the screen.
The screen is an absolute fingerprint magnet. Since the coating isnít up to snuff, cleaning the screen is not a trivial task. Youíll need to apply a lot of pressure when wiping it or youíll have to use a liquid cleaner.
As far as resolution goes, Iíve tested a couple of 5Ē Android phones with HD (1280x720) displays and Iíve always said that theyíre plenty sharp. Most people wonít notice that their 290PPI is just short of the 320PPI or so that you need for a really sharp display.
However, in the case of the Blu I do notice the jaggedness more. Windows Phoneís skinny white text on a black background is really brutal for screens and makes the steps in the letter ďAĒ and ďVĒ more noticeable.
While the Blu has an IPS display, itís more of a midrange panel. It looks fine straight on, but it loses a bit of light off-angle.
All in all though, aside from the lousy coatings, the Blu offers a decent display for the money.
I donít normally say much about input. These days, itís very rare to find a phone with a bad on-screen keyboard. The default iOS/Android/Blackberry and Windows Phone keyboards are all excellent and itís been a long time since Iíve had any reason to complain.
However, while the default Windows Phone keyboard is awesome, for some reason it works horribly on the Blu. I think the source of this problem is the same as why the Blu screen stutters when you scroll.
If youíre a slow typist you probably wonít notice it but if youíre typing really quickly, half your key presses donít register. Itís bad enough that the normally very capable Windows auto-correct canít work its magic with the Blu.
It used to be that all Windows Phones came with a dedicated camera button. It never occurred to me how important this feature was until models that lacked this started to hit the market. On Android and iOS this isnít a big deal because both allow you to launch the camera quickly - even when the screen is locked.
However, in the case of the Blu, youíll need to turn the phone on, unlock and and then look for shortcut to the camera app to launch it. This is really, really annoying and I suspect it may even be a deal breaker for some Windows Phone users who are used to this.
Otherwise, itís relatively fast for a Windows Phone in terms of both launch time and capture speeds.
To be honest, I wasnít expecting much from the camera, Bluís known for making colourful, affordable phones that donít take themselves too seriously, not for packing incredible cameras.
As it turns out, I was completely wrong. While it doesnít compare with a flagship I was shocked by how capable the Bluís camera is.
It canít freeze action indoors but if you hold it very still youíll get pretty decent results. The software is smart too so it knows when to push the sensor and when it doesnít need to. For example, when lighting is really bad it will max out the ISO but since the sensor is decent, it doesn't always need to do this indoors.
Noise is nicely controlled so that it balances colour, detail and grain.
I donít have the Idol 3 around right now to compare with but the Blu camera blows the Motorola Moto G 2nd genís camera out of the water.
Video quality looks good but there doesnít appear to be any image stabilization (digital or optical) so you have to hold the Blu really, really still. The microphone sounds alright but it picks up a lot of handling noise so again, you have to be really careful how you hold it.
The last few Windows Phones that Iíve tried were all Nokia/Microsoft Lumia models, all of them came with Nokiaís exclusive extras like their Pro camera along with a bunch of camera related apps, Mix Radio and a few others.
You might miss them if youíre coming from a Nokia Windows Phone and use them regularly.
Itís worth mentioning that the Blu is not able to download these apps from the Microsoft Store either.
Still, the only really important apps that arenít pre-installed are Here Maps and Here Drive which you CAN download from the store.
Otherwise, Microsoft doesnít allow OEMís much latitude when it comes to customizing the software on their Windows phone so in that sense, the Blu is just like any other Windows Phone.
This also means that the Blu will receive timely updates Microsoft when releases them. This is very different from Android where you typically have to wait and see if youíll get updates if ever.
I already mentioned this earlier but itís worth repeating. The Blu has a strange problem where it stutters when you scroll. This makes for a really bad first impression.
I usually run the Peacekeeper benchmark in Chrome on Android and iOS to compare different devices across the 2 platforms. Since Chrome isnít available for Windows Phone Iím stuck using Internet Explorer. Since weíre not doing an apples to apples or should I say, an Apple to Android comparison, I wouldnít make any buying decisions based on the results.
Still, Iím a bit surprised at the Bluís poor showing. Does it mean that it ships with a really slow browser? I didnít do side-by-side comparisons but I do find myself waiting more than Iím used to.
Recently, I noticed that GFX bench, one of my favorite graphics benchmarks for iOS and Android is also available for Windows Phone. However, while the iOS and Android versions use the OpenGL API, the Windows Phone version uses Microsoftís Direct X.
For some reason the Windows Phone DirectX scores are drastically lower than the OpenGL scores on an Android phone with similar hardware. Is this because DirectX for Windows Phone isnít as mature as OpenGL is on and Android? Possibly. Does the DirectX test have higher quality? Maybe. Is GFX Bench not as optimized for Windows Phone as it is on iOS or Android? Perhaps.
Anyways, I hate to say it but Windows Phone isnít the greatest choice if youíre a gamer. Sure, they have a few titles that integrate with the XBox but overall, youíre better off on iOS or Android if you game a lot. In general, it feels like gaming titles come to iOS and Android first. Windows Phone only gets it after Microsoft pays the developer to port it.
In that sense, the gaming benchmark scores are more of a curiosity than anything else.
The built-in speaker It has limited range and distorts when you turn it up. Itís one of the worst I have tried in recent years.
The headphone jack has slightly boosted bass. Audio isnít terrible but itís not as clear and crisp as most other phones Iíve tried. That said I think most will find the headphone jack to be adequate.
You get 8GB of storage which can be expanded using MicroSD cards.
As a Phone:
the speakerphone is pretty loud but it sounds over-driven so it sounds pretty annoying when you turn the volume up.
The earpiece is also pretty loud and fortunately, sounds much better than the speakerphone.
I tested the Blu on TELUS and found that its HSPA performance was below average.
The 2500mAh battery is well sized for the screen and SoC and should last most users a day.
If youíre looking for a fun Windows phone that doesnít take itself too serious you should take a look at Blu Win HD LTE. The bright case is interesting and unique plus its display and camera are both surprisingly good. If the bright colour isnít enough, the fact that itís only available at the Microsoft store means thereís a good chance youíll have something different.
That said, it has some significant drawbacks; the built-in speaker is mediocre at best and the display has some strange problems which cause it to stutter when you touch which also makes the keyboard difficult to use.
The Blu faces some stiff competition both north and south of itís $199 USD/$229 CAN price tag. If youíre looking for a Windows Phone then the Blu is well priced but if youíre willing to consider an Android competitor then there are better options.
2.5 Howies out of 5.
- Available in bright colours
- Dual SIM cards
- Back cover should be more secure
- Speaker sounds horrible
- Screen stutters
- keyboard has problems
- RF performance