BLU R1 HD
The BLU R1 HD might just be the first disposable smart phone, and with its $50 price tag, you might think it was a slow and laggy cheap plastic peace of crap… you, my friend, would be wrong. So for the kids, college students, older parents, or even your dog, the BLU R1 HD is actually a very decent phone. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you why.
My history with Android began in 2010 with the original Samsung Galaxy S, the AT&T variant called the Captivate. Since then, I’ve owned nearly every top spec phone on the market until my boycott of the Note 5. Now I own the Nexus 6P, which is a fantastic device, and despite the fact the Nexus 6P is half the price of a Galaxy Note, you could literally buy 10 BLU R1 HDs for the price of the cheapest Nexus 6P. So you can understand why my expectations of this phone were quite low, but to my surprise, replacing my Nexus for a week wasn’t really the pain I thought it would be. In fact, it was quite a pleasant surprise.
So what’s the catch? Well there is one, but in my opinion it’s probably the best catch you could ever wish for. The price of the phone is $50, IF you have an Amazon Prime membership, otherwise the price is $100. For those of you with Amazon Prime, I know you get it. I didn’t really get it until I got it.
For those of you without Prime, I’ll explain. Amazon Prime has changed my life. The original reason I signed up was to get the free shipping when I ordered the original components of my recording studio. With all of the things I ordered, the savings on shipping paid for the membership a few times over. If you sign up as a student, which I am, the Amazon Prime membership is only $50 for a year. That $50 gives you free 2-day delivery on most Prime Products. This was a game changer alone for me, because my biggest turn off of ordering online, before Prime, was always the lengthy delivery times. Recently they’ve started offering next day delivery one some items if you spend at least $35. And the real kicker that has made me fall in love with Prime, is that some items can be delivered on the same day. Sometimes for free, sometimes for an extra charge around $6. Prime also has weekend deliveries, but not just Saturday, Sunday too. I’ve also received deliveries on holidays like Independence Day, and once on Thanksgiving. I felt bad for the delivery driver, but I thought it was so cool to get a package when I needed it.
Obviously the level of delivery service you get will vary depending on your location, but here in Dallas, it’s pretty awesome. Also, I didn’t really go into the other services you get, like their video streaming service, their music streaming service, Prime Now, Dash, Photos, Pantry, Prime exclusive deals, and the list goes on. Prime is absolutely worth the cost in my opinion, and getting the $50 student Prime membership makes the phone $50 as well.
Back to the phone. Out of the box the BLU R1 HD comes with Android Marshmallow 6.0. Meaning, until this week, it had the latest version of Android installed, placing it ahead of many high end devices sold by Samsung, LG, and HTC. With the exception of a few Amazon apps, this is a vanilla version of Android. There is no manufacturer skin, and it uses the stock Android launcher. In fact, it really doesn’t get any purer than this. Also, if you were wondering, this is not an Amazon Fire device. The phone has the Google Play Store, and full support for Google apps.
The CPU is a 1.3GHz quad core Cortex-A53 by Mediatek, with a Mali-T720 GPU. The 8GB model has 1GB of RAM and the 16GB model has 2GB of RAM. Get the 16GB model. The model I have here is the 16GB model, which has 5.12GB of space used fresh out of the box. Both variants have a micro SD slot which supports up to 64GB of additional storage, and if you get the 8GB model, you will most definitely need it. Either way, get the 16GB model.
Size, Resolution, & Type
On the front, the R1 HD has a 5 inch 720 x 1280 IPS display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
Color & Quality
The color of the screen is good, but not great. It won’t be winning any contest vs Samsung’s SAMOLED display. Still, in most situations I found the screen quality acceptable. The resolution is low enough that you can see the scan lines, especially when the phone is near your face. But I found in most day to day use this was far beyond acceptable, especially given the phone’s price tag.
Indoor & Outdoor Performance
One of the common characteristics of IPS panels is their ability to produce very bright images, and the R1 is no exception to this rule. The brightness of the display is so powerful, I had to move the slider down to around the 20% range for average in door use. Doing so also improves the image quality significantly, as the images do not look washed out. While the phone has adaptive brightness, which is disabled by default, I found in bright sun light I sometimes had to move the slider up. However, even in the brightest of conditions, I rarely moved the slider much beyond the 50 to 60% range.
As with most IPS panels, the screen does well at extreme viewing angles... because people look at their phones from 178º. Except in dark rooms, you will likely run into glare problems from the Gorilla Glass before you reach an angle too extreme to be acceptable.
Capacity & Life
The R1 has a non-removable lithium-ion 2,500 mAh battery. In my opinion that’s a little on the small side, but you have to be realistic with a few things here. This phone isn’t likely for power users like myself. The average user isn’t going to have 50 apps checking for updates on a regular basis, isn’t going to be constantly checking business numbers, isn’t going to be constantly replying to emails and editing documents. With all of that said, battery life was never really a concern while I was testing the phone. It does die noticeably quicker than the 3,450 mAh battery in my Nexus 6P, but not enough to make it a problem. The smaller battery capacity also means the phone charges quicker, so it doesn’t have to stay on the charger as long. And if all of that doesn’t ease any fears about battery life, at $50, you could buy multiple phones, and just swap them out as they die.
The protruding rear camera is an 8 Megapixel sensor with Autofocus and f2.0 aperture, paired with a single LED flash. In video mode the camera will shoot up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. The camera is said to have a 4P lens which means it uses 4 plastic lenses. The front facing camera is a 5 Megapixel shooter, amazingly paired with its own LED flash. It also shoots 1080p video as well.
The quality is not the best by any means, but for a $50 phone, the images these two cameras capture are definitely acceptable.
The photos are pretty much what you would expect.
The colors are not very vivid, and the contrast is not that great.
The only time I was able to get a sharp focus was when I was taking photos in extremely bright light. Anything less would produce a picture with a lot of noise which creates a soft focus or blurry effect.
The flash gets the job done, and while not necessary most of the time, I had to use it in this photo taken in a very bright store to get the rear GTX 1080 to be visible.
Video was decent, but I wouldn’t shoot a documentary or any important videos with it. It’s perfect for capturing a moment while on the go, but if you need to capture a moment accurately and with more detail, definitely take a dedicated camera.
The camera offers 7 other modes which will help you get the photo you want. “Professional” mode gives you a little more control over the camera’s functions to get a photo to appear how you want.
Like any unlocked phone, the R1 is a GSM phone. It works with carrier services such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and other services which use a SIM card for operation. This means the device should also work with services like Metro PCS, which is owned by T-Mobile, and Cricket, which is owned by AT&T. There are also other services like TracPhone and Ting which should work, but check with your carrier for compatibility.
The R1 can hold up to two micro SIM cards, which definitely has its advantages. Perhaps you have a very cheap voice only service which is local to you, and your friends or family do not mind if you piggyback their data plan. You can use the voice SIM for phone calls, and the second SIM could be dedicated to your data services. Or perhaps you do something more travel oriented, and you frequent different countries. With dual SIM slots, you will no longer have to change cards, you can simply switch service providers in the menu.
Keep in mind, as with most GSM phones, it is not compatible with Sprint or Verizon. You will also need to remember this phone is designed to work with micro SIMs. Most flagship phones today use Nano SIMs, so I had to spend a few more bucks on an adapter kit to get my SIM to work with the R1.
My music source in my SUV is my phone, and with a Prime membership you will also get access to Amazon’s music streaming service. I use Bluetooth to connect my phone to my Pioneer head unit.
As my phone for the review period, the R1 had to step into the roll vacated by my Nexus 6P. The R1’s Bluetooth 4.0 reliably connected to my head unit on every trip I took, and worked just fine during phone calls. In fact, it connected to my head unit more reliably than my Nexus, with no sudden disconnects or loss of sound in the music. However, it did lack the on screen title info, meaning if I wanted to know what was playing, I had to turn the phone on each time and navigate to the music player.
I’m not entirely sure what the specs of the Wi-Fi radio are, but I know for a fact the R1 could not find my 5GHz network. If I had to guess, I would say it has an 802.11n 2.4GHz radio. Not exactly the best thing around, but it always got the job done, and I never had any issues streaming YouTube videos. Apps were notably slow to download and install, however, but I think that’s actually a result of the slower hardware used in this budget device.
NFC doesn’t exist on this phone. You won’t be using it to beam anything, and you won’t be using it for tap to pay with Android Wallet. Sorry.
So have you been convinced by the things you’ve seen so far? This phone actually feels extremely solid in the hand. There’s no body flex, no loose fitting parts, and for that matter, nothing that actually feels cheap about this device. The Gorilla Glass is tapered ever so slightly on the edges, giving the screen a wonderfully smooth feel that makes you want to molest it endlessly. The rear of the phone has a semi rubber feel, which makes gripping and holding the phone without dropping it a breeze. Something I couldn’t say for my Nexus with it’s all aluminum back. Premium materials are great, until you drop said device and premium metals make contact with premium street cement. During the entire review period, the only time I ever dropped the phone was while laying down and browsing the web.
The design is great. The phone has an understated design, which really makes it look more premium than it is. There’s no gaudy look or flashiness here. Simple black front, chrome text logo, dark gray sides, and a black back. It looks like a solid bar of great tech, and I defy you to put it next to a flagship phone and say it appears to be a lesser device.
The 3 phone buttons are all on the right side of the device, reversed order from the Nexus, with the volume buttons up top and the power and lock button below. The buttons protrude from a beveled edge that is nicely designed, adding to its already premium look.
The body of the phone is 5.63 x 2.78 x 0.33 inches, or 143 x 70.7 x 8.5mm. It’s definitely not the smallest phone on the market, but in this day of 6 inch phones, it’s not nearly the largest either. The 5” screen and narrow bezels make the phone the perfect size for holding comfortably for hours on end.
If there is a single let down on this phone, it is the speaker. The speaker at maximum volume is far softer than I’m used to. The Galaxy Note phones have some of the loudest speakers on the market. The Nexus, while better sounding and in stereo, are not quite as loud. However, the front facing design helps it tremendously. The R1, however, has a single rear facing speaker which is under the rear cover, and then under a cover of its own. When away from home, it was nearly impossible to watch anything on the device, and actually hear what was being played. Luckily the phone still has a 3.5mm jack, so traditional or Bluetooth headphones will work with it. Also it has an ok vibration motor that will help you feel the ringer while it’s in your pocket. The sound quality isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done in an indoor environment.
The real trick of this phone is being surprisingly cheap, but it doesn’t quite end there. The reason this phone is $50 with a prime membership is because Amazon is paying you $50 to show ads on your lock screen. When you turn on your phone from a sleep state, you will see a different ad each time you awake the phone. The good news is this method is very unobtrusive, and once you’ve passed the lock screen, you don’t see anything else on the device. If you’re curious to what this looks like, the Amazon Fire Tablet I reviewed last year uses the same ad method. To see that video, click here.
So what are the cons of this device? Honestly, not many. The camera works, but isn’t great, and the speaker leaves something to be desired. The screen’s resolution is low enough to see the individual lines, but it’s one of those things you forget almost immediately while using the device.
The price of the device, even at full price, is definitely a bargain. For the first time ever, I feel there’s truly a disposable smart phone on the market. If there was ever a time you needed an emergency device, a device for someone prone to breaking screens, a device you’d want to give to a person that isn’t a power user, or if you just want a backup device to get a change of scenery every now and then, I think the BLU R1 HD might be for you.
Here are my point break downs by category, with 1 being the lowest, 3 being neutral, and 5 being the highest.
Radio Capabilities: 4
Build Design & Quality: 4
Final Rating: 3.
A 3.2 on a $50 phone might as well be a 5.