We’re at the beginning of a new year which means we’ll be getting a lot of new gadgets and electronics from CES, Mobile World Congress, and other events. It’s the time of year when companies start to roll out their big products. Indeed, it’s also flagship phone season.
Blu, a brand that we’ve come to admire for its efforts, is back with its latest handset; however, it’s anything but flagship. Known as the Blu Life Max, this is an entry-level model that speaks to more basic user needs.
If there’s one thing Blu is known for, it’s offering unlocked phones at competitive prices. A year or two ago this was pretty much Blu’s space to own — at least here in the US. But, now that there are more brands jockeying for position, it’s getting more difficult to be the clear choice for budget-based decisions.
The Life Max launches at an interesting price point of $129.99. It’s just under what Motorola commands for its Moto G line, and it’s a step above Blu’s most basic model, the R1 HD. For a very limited time (three days), customers can purchase the phone for an introductory price of $79.99, or a hefty $50 off.
I’ve been spending a couple of days with the phone as it was sent to us ahead of time by Blu. By the time this is published we’ll have had spent just under a week with the device. Is that enough time to form a full review? Of course not. But, it’s plenty long enough to get a general feel for the phone.
Before going further, let’s talk about the hardware specifications. Considering the price, we shouldn’t anticipate all that much. Strangely enough, today’s low-end phone is actually strong enough for most people I know. I’m sure I’ll catch flack for saying it, but there’s no need for 4GB and 6GB phones for a lot of consumers. Not everyone wants or needs to play the cutting edge games. Most folks are far more passive in their usage.
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.5-inch HD display at 720 x 1280 pixel resolution
- Quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage with microSD expansion card (64GB)
- 8-Megapixel rear camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- Fingerprint sensor
- 4G LTE support for two GSM SIM card
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 3700mAh battery
As you can likely surmise from the specs, the Life Max is not going to set the world on fire. The 2GB RAM and quad-core processor are considered entry level in early 2017 yet it was more than enough to play the most demanding games all that long ago. To that end, the hardware still gets the job done for your mom, dad, and first-time smartphone users.
If you’re the type of person who likes to keep up with the newest tech and most powerful stuff, you’ve likely got your eye on something else right now. You’ve probably got a brand or model that you’re partial to and looking at its successor for your next upgrade. What about your less demanding friends or family members? I’m willing to bet they don’t have a strong allegiance to anything particular.
We live in a time when phones with big displays, large batteries, and a stock version of Android don’t cost as much as a good night on the town. At 5.5-inches, this is right in line with the bigger handsets of the day. The 3,700mAh battery is more than enough to get one through two days of basic usage. And, even though it’s a generation behind the times, the Android 6.0 experience is smart, secure, and user friendly. All of the above considered, it’s hard to say no, right?
Thanks to the standards supported in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, most phones include a fingerprint sensor. Present in the Life Max, it’s an added layer of security for accessing the phone, making payments, and protecting files.
Don’t be completely taken in just yet, though, there are some minor quibbles with the device, some of which are more pesky for seasoned users. The display, for instance, while big and spacious is only a 720p HD resolution.
When considering that most devices in this space are at 1080 pixels or 1440 pixels, you’ll know the picture is not as sharp as it could be. On the other hand, for your basic needs such as email, messaging, social media, and light gaming, the Life Max works just fine.
We’ve had no issues with brightness, color balance, or warmth in the phone in our time with it. It’s not remarkable by any stretch, but that’s also somewhat of a good thing. There’s nothing here that sticks out to us a troublesome. The screen works well in all lighting conditions, even outside.
The general design of the Life Max is somewhat puzzling; the microUSB charging port is on the top of the phone. We’ve seen plenty of devices in the early days of Android where chargers were plugged into the side, but the basic rule of thumb is to go with the bottom.
Speaking of chargers, Blu opted for microUSB here instead of the USB Type-C port. This wouldn’t be as much of a sticky point if they hadn’t already adopted the new standard for some of its other phones. Why? I’m guessing cost.
So what goes on the bottom side of the Life Max? It would appear to be a pair of stereo speakers. Appearances are deceiving, though, because this one only puts out sound from the left speaker. It’s a decent enough output with a generally appealing range, but a true stereo would have been just that much better.
As for the feel of the Life Max, I am reminded of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and its faux stitched leather case. The Blu phone has a removable back that bends and flexes like less expensive polycarbonate shells. It does feel a smidge more “real” than the leather of the Samsung line, but it’s still synthetic.
The camera situation is a mixed bag that swings back and forth from really excellent to unimpressive and washed out. Although the phone handles well-lit environments without much issue, it struggles to deliver an accurate color, even when on HDR.
I found multiple instances where coloration looks as if it was dialed down. It wasn’t in every situation, but it was often enough to where I noticed. In a word, it lacked pop when in indoor settings. Other than that, the range was represented well, and felt balanced.
The time from pressing the camera button to the time the image was snapped and stored was slower than I would have liked. As was to be expected, the problem was exacerbated when using HDR.
With those things out in the open, I should state that there were some really impressive shots captured by the Life Max. Still images worked better than motion, of course, but I was surprised by some of the final results from both indoors and outdoors. Moreover, throwing some of the photos through filters or post-processing in an app brought about some interesting final products.
One of my favorite things about Blu phones is that they are usually a stripped down stock Android experience. Some models might sprinkle in some customization and minor enhancements but it’s void of any carrier influence or major software agenda.
You’ll find a couple of Amazon applications, Opera, McAfee Security, NextRadio, and a Blu Help application pre-loaded. Also, a full suite of Google apps are installed: Play Store, Drive, Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, and others. Of the 16GB of space in the phone, you’ll have a little more than 10GB to play with — more if you install a microSD card.
The Life Max doesn’t have some of the custom touches found in other Blu phones. I am not sure why, as they generally don’t take up too much space or change things up. Perhaps this is the way they plan to go with handsets in 2017. With that said, I do enjoy playing around with color options and themes in other Blu devices and somewhat looked forward to it here. Nevertheless, the default Android experience, as designed by Google, is present and is excellent for first-time users.
One area that consumers would be wise to care about is the topic of security and updates. Just because a phone is stock Android doesn’t mean it’s impervious to exploitation or flaws. Moreover, major software updates or security patches are something that seasoned users have come to expect.
That the Life Max launches with Android 6.0 instead of 7.0 isn’t as big of a deal to its target demographic. What’s more important, to me, at least, is whether it keeps up with the security releases and patches from Google. The Life Max unit I am reviewing shows it is up to date but does list the Android security patch level as October 5, 2016. Without knowing ahead of time, I have to assume Blu keeps up with the most important releases. For now, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Another feature that’s common in Blu phones is that they are unlocked and dual-SIM ready. 4G LTE is supported on T-Mobile and AT&T, which also loops in MetroPCS, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile, Cricket, and others. Additionally, T-Mobile includes VoLTE and HD Voice support for enhanced coverage and better quality call performance. If you are currently a subscriber to any of the above, or are considering switching to one, you can rest easy knowing the Life Max can hop back and forth without a problem.
I didn’t run into any performance issues with the Life Max. Sure, it’s easy to open a bunch of apps and try hopping back and forth between them, looking for lag or dropped frame rates. It’s also not difficult to find some of the most demanding games and load them up, probing for vulnerabilities or weaknesses. The truth is, though, this is not the way I use my phone. I suspect it’s the same for most readers, too.
You don’t buy a new family car and take it out on the highway, switching gears, revving the engine, and pushing it to limits. You also don’t take it off-road into mud, snow, and other strange conditions. No, you just go about things normally. You go to and from work, the store, school, and other places. Once in awhile you might take a long road trip, but you don’t spend four hours zooming down the highway at 120mph.
While you might run into the occasional weird scenario on the road, or have to drive a little more aggressively from time to time, your family car is more of a passive experience. If you need a tuner car, or plan to do some off-roading, then you buy something designed for it. There are certain models and brands who rise to the top for that sort of thing.
I say all of this as an analogy to today’s entry-level phones. They work. They get the job done for most people in most scenarios. They don’t hold a candle to the top-tier stuff rolling out but that matters little to the basic user needs. Blu’s entry-level phones, including the new Life Max, does just as well as anything else in the space.
It’s hard to consider any Blu phone a disappointment, especially at their respective prices. There may be some questionable decisions or general inconsistency across the board, but they are largely solid value propositions.
The Life Max is an excellent choice for someone looking to get their feet wet with a smartphone. Additionally, if you are replacing a phone and don’t want to break the bank, Blu is a brand to consider.
Getting back to the car analogy in conclusion, if you’re looking for something to hold on to for years, go with a top-of-the-line model and finance it over a long term. Ride it until the wheels fall off. If you’re content with leasing and want to upgrade or switch out on a regular basis, Blu makes it easy and affordably to do so. It is easy for me to recommend the Life Max for what it offers at its price.
A friendly reminder: The Blu Life Max carries a $129.99 price tag and it can be purchased through Best Buy and Amazon. Best Buy, for its part, will have a three-day introductory sale that drops the cost down to $79.99. This, to me, takes it from “should consider” to “would be a shame to miss out” for those considering it.