Blu Vivo X review: Can you get a flagship experience for under $250?

Blu Vivo X

Miami-based Blu today launches its latest smartphone, the Vivo X. With a price tag of around $250, it’s actually on the higher end of things for the phone maker. In other words, this is what you might consider a flagship model for the unlocked device manufacturer.

On paper, and in practice, the Blu Vivo X stands toe-to-toe with a number of much more expensive phones. Blu lines it up next to the Moto X (4th Gen.) as a close competitor but that’s not quite a fair fight. The Motorola phone is considerably older by today’s standards, even if it’s still in its first year. While it certainly bests that particular model, it doesn’t stack up evenly to other “flagship” products from the likes of Samsung, LG, or Google.

We’ve spent the last few weeks using the Blu Vivo X as a secondary device to our daily driver. We tried to use it as often as possible, but never quite loaded up all of our day-to-day apps and games. If you’re looking for a TL;DR version of the review here it goes: We liked it a lot and even loved some of it. But, that doesn’t mean it was without problems.

Blu Vivo X Display

Key Specifications

  • 2.6GHz octa-core processor (MediaTek P25)
  • 64GB internal storage (with microSD slot up to 64GB)
  • 4GB RAM
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 6.0-inch display with 18:9 aspect ratio (720 x 1440 pixels)
  • Dual rear cameras (13-megapixel, 5-megapixel) with flash
  • Dual front cameras (20-megapixel, 8-megapixel) with flash
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 4,010mAh battery
  • 4G LTE: 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/28

General Impressions

Opening up the box we see that Blu gives us a little more than what we get out of them in its lower-priced efforts. Namely, the package includes earbuds and a reverse charge cable. Inside the box are the phone, a charger, a pair of earbuds, a silicone protective case, a screen protector, a sticker, and the paperwork.

Sadly, it’s not everyday that you get the headphones with a smartphone at this price. Moreover, Blu is the only brand we know of that routinely throws in a protective case and screen protector. Interestingly enough, this time the case has a distinct black and white pattern on it which mimics the design on the box. It’s eye catching, to be sure, and gives the phone a touch of personality.

Picking up the Vivo X, it calls to mind the Pixel XL or Samsung Galaxy S8+. It’s big, dense, and feels like a quality device. There’s a nice curved edge to it just about everywhere you look; the front screen has a curved display and the back has its own share of tapered edge.

Generally speaking, the Vivo X is comfortable to hold. It’s just a little bit bigger than what we normally use on a daily basis, but we came to appreciate the screen size that comes with it. There’s not much bezel to the sides of the screen so it comes across like a “long” phone. This is common, though, when dealing with the 18:9 aspect ratio in larger displays. More on that in a moment.

Blu Vivo X Powering On

Hardware

On paper, the Blu Vivo X lines up nicely with bigger name phones that fetch $400-$500, or higher. In other words, the phone brings more to the table than you’ll need this year and likely next. There’s nothing wrong with buying specifications you’re not tapping into anytime soon. All that means is your phone could last longer than expected.

Whereas many of Blu’s phones cater to first time smartphone buyers or those with light demands, the Vivo X is cut from a different cloth. It’s the beefiest handset from Blu yet and delivers some incredible hardware. With that said, it’s an excellent choice for customers who might be upgrading from an older phone.

Unlocked for the win

If you’re on T-Mobile, AT&T, or one of their respective prepaid networks and don’t need to buy based on a brand name, this is an excellent start. As an unlocked phone, the Vivo X is compatible with GSM networks [4G LTE, (1/2/3/4/5/78/12/17/38), 3G (850/900/1700/1900/2100), and HSPA+ 42Mbps]. Like other Blu models, this one comes with support for two SIM cards so feel free to mix and match, especially if you travel.

Strength comes from a MediaTak (Helio P25) 64-bit 2.6GHz octa-core processor with a Mali-T880 GPU and 4GB RAM. Storage comes in at 64GB internally, with a microSD card slot good for another 64GB.

It’s not the same as what we’d get from Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and there are phones with 6GB and 8GB RAM on the market. The flip side of that coin is the cost. Will you see the difference in performance? Assuming you even could, is it worth the money? We can’t answer those questions for you.

Blu Vivo X Screen

Physical design

The right side of the phone is where you find the power button and volume rocker. The power button has a nice textured feel to it so you can distinguish it from the others. Across the display, on the left is where you’ll access the SIM cards and microSD expansion card slot. Down below are the microUSB port, microphone, and 3.5mm headphone jack.

Yes, you read that correctly. The flagship experience for 2018 comes with a microUSB port. We’ve been somewhat lenient over the last year, giving Blu the benefit of the doubt for its seemingly arbitrary choices as to whether to go with the old standard and which use the new. We’re not as forgiving now. There’s zero reason to go with microUSB for something as big and powerful as this.

Above the display is where you’ll locate the front facing cameras, which are set to the left of the speaker. The back side of the phone has a fingerprint reader in the upper middle.

Display

At 6-inches, the display is both comfortable and gigantic. Its 720 x 1440 pixel resolution (282 ppi) screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 so it can withstand scuffs and scratches. The curved edge not only looks great, but responds to touch well. Would Gorilla Glass 4 or 5 be better? Sure. That’s part of keeping cost low, though.

One area where lower priced smartphones tend to cut corners is the resolution; often they’ll dial down to 720p to keep price down. While Blu went with a full HD+ image, it’s not the same as what you’d get in a pricier competitor. Noticeable? When you set it next to a phone that runs twice the price, sure. On a daily basis? Not so much. Suffice it to say, your eyes never strain and the picture is more than respectable.

Blu Vivo X Fingerprint Reader

According to Blu, this is a conscious decision. The phone maker tells us that it’s “balanced perfectly with customer preference for longer battery life.” So, while you could get a better picture or higher resolution, it’s going to come with a trade-off.

The Vivo X gave us an accurate picture in pretty much all lighting situations. Pictures and video leap off the screen and look great with 6-inches of real estate. Text is crisp and easy to read in the default settings. If you want or need larger text or different light settings, there’s plenty of customization under the hood.

Camera

When it comes to cameras, the Blu Vivo X offers up one of the company’s best experiences ever. And, when you factor in the $250 price tag, it’s an even better value.

Both the front and back configurations are dual cameras with flash. Combined with a fairly robust camera app, it gives users a lot of flexibility in shooting. We were impressed with the handling of photos before taking them as well as in real time.

Blu Vivo X Rear Camera

The depth of field was spectacular, and when using the bokeh effect in the app, it produced shots that you’d expect from a much more expensive phone. We enjoyed a number of the effects; however some are more novelty than practical. With that said, there are a few general modes to choose from including panorama, night, and professional.

Other modes included in the camera software include time-lapse, text recognition, smart scanner, mood photo, and translation. Text recognition lets one snap a photo of text in a magazine or book which can be converted to something to copy or share. Play around with them and you’ll find each is a little different and rounds out the experience.

As for the actual photos and videos, we had no major issues. There were occasional pauses when focusing and not all results were as nice as we’d like. But, it’s much better than you’d expect from a $250 phone and is really no worse than we’ve seen in other, pricier models. Oh, and that wide-angle front-facing group shot? Excellent stuff.

Software

As is the case with all other Blu smartphones, there’s little here that’s added to the Android experience. Nearly the default stuff you’d get from Google, we only found a few pre-installed apps and only hints of custom settings.

Among the apps that Blu installs on the Vivo X are Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Shopping, its own clients for music, sound recorder, notes, and file explorer. You’ll be prompted to update to the latest releases for each but it’s largely like starting off with a Nexus or Pixel in terms of software.

We didn’t find as many options for customization or added flair in the area of aesthetics as we’ve seen in other models. In the past we’d sometimes have a Theme Park or UI settings, but that’s not the case here. This brings us to another point.

Stock Android grab bag

As much as Blu tends to leave its devices largely alone, they each have varying degrees of change or customization. In other words, it’s always something different. Strangely, they’re always the same, yet they’re always different. Sometimes it’s not having a traditional app drawer, or a swipe up for notifications. Others it’s stuff like long pressing for triggering shortcuts on icons.

What’s the oddball feature for the Vivo X? It’s one we found the very moment we turned the phone on and went about configuration. Alas, there’s no access to settings. Zero. Zilch. Want to toggle on/off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a flashlight? Head to to the app drawer and look for settings.

At first we thought this was only going to be a minor nuisance. But, after maybe two or three days we found it maddening. We’ve taken it for granted just how much we hop in and out of settings like brightness, auto-rotate, airplane mode, and mobile hotspot.

A positive sign

In our time with the review unit we were prompted to install a software update. Hoping there was something in there to reconfigure these options, we were somewhat pleased to, instead, see an update for Google’s January 2018 security patch. This leads us to a final point about the software on the Vivo X.

We’re fast approaching the unofficial anniversary of Android 8.0’s debut. Google began offering a first look at the build last March and then formally released it with the Pixel 2 later in the year. Either way you look at it, enough time has passed for it to be the default build in a “flagship” phone.

To its credit, Blu has already pushed out a security update, addressing a concern of ours. As we see it, if you can’t keep up with the latest overall software release, at least stay pretty current on patches and security.

We’ve not heard whether the Vivo X will receive Android 8.0 but we’d certainly like to see it pushed in a timely manner. Sure, Android 7.0 Nougat is great and has plenty of awesome features, but it’s about to be two steps behind before we know it.

Performance

As a daily driver for a casual user or someone who will occasionally push their Android around, the Vivo X will do a great job. We’re always reluctant to install a bunch of apps and games until we’ve gotten a sense for the out of box stuff; as we mentioned earlier, that’s exactly what happened here.

A few weeks with the device saw us only installing the most pressing apps and a few recent games to review. In fact, we didn’t even add all of our email accounts. If we were to estimate the percentage, we’d say we were around 65% installed as compared to our daily driver. Given that, we did not run into any slow downs or performance issues. All of the games we played, even those more graphic intense, were handled with ease.

Blu Vivo X Charging Port

Battery

Battery life was great, which we fully expected when you’re talking about a 4,010mAh power source. Combined with one of the most efficient software builds available it delivers more than two average days of usage. While we admittedly didn’t load this review unit up with every daily app, it’s still running our heavy lifting apps.

We tend to throw our phones on a charger sometime in the afternoon, just out of habit. Our nightly routines vary so we like to preemptively top off the battery just in case we’re out for extended periods. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t take but a few minutes to add a sizable amount of battery life to the Vivo X. With that said, we never even came close to getting into the dangerous space of 10% or less.

We’re going to use this opportunity to revisit the topic of microUSB versus USB Type C. To us, if you come with your biggest device yet, you bring along any other tech you’ve used before, too. This means sticking with the Type C charging port that’s been used in other models.

The fingerprint reader was quick and very accurate. It’s in the right spot having moved around from the home button in other Blu phones. Launching into the phone, logging into apps, and using it for verification of purchases was just as good as we’ve found in handsets like the Pixel 2.

Similarly, the Face Unlock is a nice way to secure your phone, giving you one more way to lock things down. In our time with the review unit we dabbled with a number of ways to lock the device, dancing mainly between this and the fingerprint reader. We were impressed with both of these options and recommend using one to secure your handset.

Conclusion

As we were preparing our final thoughts for the Vivo X we learned that the pricing for the phone was going to come in considerably lower than initially expected. At first we were told the handset would carry a standard retail price of $299.99. A limited-time promotion would drop the cost to $259.99 for a short while, making it even more appealing.

Blu Vivo X Volume Buttons

At that price we were pretty content with the package and could see ourselves recommending it to the right person. There’s obviously going to be some reservation because of the questionable decisions along the way, but it’s a great bang-for-buck proposition.

On the night before this review was completed we learned that Blu will offer it for $199.99 at launch, raising it up to $249.99 later. That’s a full hundred dollars off if you’re an early adopter. And, even the standard retail comes in lower in the end, too.

At these prices we are much more forgiving of the shortfalls and corner cutting. Now we see the device not so much as a flagship killer or in a head-to-head comparison. At this price we’ve changed our perspective to “this is an insane amount of phone for only $200”.

There may be more exotic or sexier models out there, but you’ll pay a premium price for the experience. And, while there are phones with 6GB RAM or beefier specs, they’ll run extra for it. After nearly a month with the Vivo X we’ve come to appreciate it for what it is and what it does.

We thought that we’d need more than 3GB or 4GB of RAM for more than a year now. Instead, we’re more than content with that for our daily needs. And, based off of the apps and games we’re using, we don’t see ourselves scrambling for more anytime soon.

We often recommend that anyone considering their first Android phone might want to look into Blu. If for no other reasons, you get more for your money and an unlocked phone that lets you switch carriers without having to buy a new unit.

Let’s assume Blu set out to hit a home run with the Vivo X. Did it? We’ll give them credit for a triple. Let’s also say that it worked the count full and fouled off a couple of balls in the process.

You’re going to have a difficult time beating this phone’s specs at this price. And, if you do, you’ll probably be looking at something from a brand you’ve never heard of before. If you’re looking for a phone for T-Mobile or AT&T in the US, start here and work your way out. Likewise for those overseas considering something new for Orange Vodafone, O2, or other GSM carriers.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Build Quality & Design
Display
Software
Speakers
Fingerprint Reader
Battery
Camera
Price
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