Looking for a smartphone with a large display, decent specs and a price tag just shy of $300 unlocked and contract-free? It's not an easy thing to find here in the US of A, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. In fact, a little-known manufacturer out of Miami known as BLU is doing its darndest to get on the map and show off its brute handset-making skills at a reasonable cost. It's been a big player in the KIRF arena for quite some time, but its latest lineup of phones -- Life -- appears to have a bit of personality of its own. Of the devices in the Life series, we've received an early unit of the Life View, a 5.7-inch Android model, from our friends at Negri Electronics, an online retailer that recently began selling the device for $299. Take a closer look at our gallery of images below and then follow us after the break for a few impressions.
BLU Products Life View hands-onSee all photos
The Life View is an interesting mashup of good and bad components, all of which are likely combined in an effort to keep the price down below the $300 mark. First, let's start with the dimensions. Its 5.7-inch size means it's going to be a little larger than a Samsung Galaxy Note II and the same as the ZTE Grand Memo. Still, it can't really be called a KIRF this time around, as it doesn't necessarily emulate any mainstream phones from the big names -- heck, there simply aren't many 5.7-inch phones on the market at all (who knows, the Galaxy Note III may change that, but nothing's official yet). At 61 x 82.5 x 8.9 mm (6.34 x 3.25 x 0.35 in), it's slightly taller, wider and thinner than the Note II, and we feel that the 8.9mm frame helps just enough to keep it comparable in terms of comfort. Granted, we recently used the Sony Xperia Z Ultra -- a 6.44-inch device -- so our hands have been reasonably stretched out as a result. That said, the edges are straight enough and the plastic back has a gradual HTC One-like curve to make it easier to grip, so that's certainly a good help. The biggest sacrifice you'll have to make comfort-wise is its weight: 7.76 ounces (220g) is absolutely massive no matter how you hold it, and the extra grams take its toll on you almost immediately.
It features a 720p display, which means you'll enjoy a pixel density of 258 ppi.This isn't amazing by any stretch, but we're not expecting 1080p quality from a budget-minded smartphone of this size, so it certainly fits within the bounds of our expectations. It's brighter than we expected and the viewing angles are pretty good. Having an LCD panel, however, means that you won't see the level of color saturation that you'd get on an AMOLED like the Note II -- although that's not technically a bad thing. Despite the positive impressions, we can't shake the feeling that there's still a little bit of graininess when we have a more careful (read: nitpicky) look at the screen; most people likely won't notice and even if they do, they probably won't mind it so much.
Remember how we mentioned earlier that the Life View has a variety of good and bad components? Let's dive deeper into this. The device and its dimensions are smack-dab in the middle -- not amazing but not terrible either -- but it also features high-res cameras (12MP and 5MP on the back and front, respectively) and Bluetooth 4.0 while opting for a smaller battery and shunning LTE, NFC, dual-band WiFi and a few other features entirely.
The Life View comes with a 1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek SoC, which is a 28nm process that utilizes Cortex-A7 cores. MediaTek has cornered the market on lower-end devices, and our preliminary performance metrics are quite mixed. In real life, the phone does plenty fine when subjected to the usual less-intensive tasks, but there's a noticeable delay on more heavy workloads. It uses a PowerVR SGX544MP GPU, which again isn't going to rock anybody's world; a few quick benchmark tests indicated pretty slow performance, but it'll likely do the job for anyone trying to keep an eye on their wallet. Lastly, the handset also comes with 1GB of RAM.
Since the unit we received has preliminary hardware (and we suspect the firmware is as well, though the phone insists it's up to date), we don't want to give final judgment on build quality. The back is separated into three parts: an aluminum middle and plastic top / bottom for dual mini-SIM access (yep, it uses the old-school SIM cards) and wireless signal attenuation. It also features a metal power button and volume rocker on opposite sides of the device, but the keys jiggle around loosely in the pre-production version. We'll have to wait until we see a finalized unit before giving any feelings about its durability, but let's put it this way: we really want to give it the benefit of the doubt here, and hope some big changes have come about since our unit was built.
All told, it's important for us to remember exactly what kind of intended audience BLU has with a device like the Life View. The company, as it's done for as long as we can remember, is aiming to sell a respectable low-end 5.7-inch device for under $300, so we don't expect power users to be drooling all over it -- it's not a perfect device, but plenty of people on a budget won't mind in the least. And at this very moment, it's the best option you have for a larger smartphone without forking out twice as much. We've got a full spec sheet below for your enjoyment.
|BLU Life View|
|Dimensions||161 x 82.5 x 8.9 mm (6.34 x 3.25 x 0.35 in)|
|Weight||7.76 oz. (220g)|
|Screen size||5.7 inches|
|Screen resolution||1,280 x 720 (258 ppi)|
|Screen type||IPS LCD|
|Battery||2,600mAh Li-Polymer (non-removable)|
|External storage||microSD, up to 32GB support|
|Rear camera||12MP, LED flash, image stabilization|
|Video capture||1080p / 30 fps|
HSPA+ (up to 42Mbps) 850 / 1900 / 2100; quadband GSM / EDGE
|CPU||1.2GHz quad-core Cortex-A7|
|WiFi||802.11 b/g/n, WiFi Direct|
|Operating system||Android 4.2.1 (proprietary)|