It’s an exciting time of year for smartphone buyers. Samsung just rolled out the Galaxy Note 10, Google’s about to introduce its Pixel 4, and Apple’s on the verge of its latest mobile products.
If there’s one thing that all of these phones have in common, it’s high-end hardware and leading technology. If there’s another thing they share, it’s a lofty price tag.
Consumers may believe they want the so-called “latest and greatest” in phones. What’s more, they may be tricked into thinking they need it. Between ad campaigns, two-year equipment payoff plans, and incentives, it’s pretty tough to pass on the new flagships.
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- Best unlocked phones $150-$250
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Despite how attractive these handsets are, the numbers are starting to show that an increasing number of people are buying models that are a year old. And they are also holding to phones longer than ever. What does all of this mean? In short, most people are more than content to spend less for their phones.
Blu is a brand that plays in a different sandbox. Rather than going toe-to-toe with the top of the line, it tackles the mid-range and entry-level market. It has been in a race to the bottom for years and most of its phones fall in the $125-$250 price point.
September 2019 finds the brand spinning itself off to start another, premium experience with its new Bold brand. Early promises foretell a deliberate, slow pace of just a couple of phones per year with flagship and flagship-like specifications. Additionally, the Bold line is backed by a guaranteed Android update and two years of security updates.
The first phone from Bold is the N1, a 6.4-inch phone with Android 9 Pie with upper end hardware and a smattering of interesting tech. On paper it is everything that the masses need in a phone and at a price that’s nearly impossible to beat. The N1 costs just $250 through its website and Amazon.
We were among the privileged few outlets to receive a review unit ahead of the N1 debut and spent the last 7-10 days using it in tandem with our daily driver. Here’s what we think of the experience so far.
The moment we looked at the box we noticed Bold was flashier than the Blu brand. Sure, appearances aren’t everything and you shouldn’t judge books by covers, but we were intrigued.
Inside the box are the the phone, earphones, a USB Type-C fast charger, screen protector, silicone case, sticker, and guide. It’s more or less the same stuff Blu offers with its phones and in line with our expectations.
Looking the phone over we were drawn to the beauty and build. We’ve reviewed countless Blu phones over the years and sometimes it really gets design right, even when on a budget.
For the first Bold phone we think the brand knocks it out of the park. The handset is sleek at 8.6mm thick and the Raven Black color looks great in full metal and glass. At times it looks solid black and in other light it has hints of a dark purple.
We’re already at a point where we’ve seen the “notch” more or less come and go. Love ’em or hate ’em, they help to extend displays ever so much. We don’t mind them and get used to them, but we’re glad they’re on the way out.
A lot of phone makers are turning to the hole-punch cutout in displays for front-facing camera. Here, Bold opts for a camera that pops up from within the body of the phone, much like OnePlus does for the 7 Pro.
The rear houses a pair of cameras, a 16-megapixel Sony IMX499 and 5-megapixel depth sensor. On the right side of the phone is where you locate the volume rocker and power buttons. On left is the SIM card slot and the bottom is where the USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack are found.
Where’s the fingerprint scanner, you ask? It’s in the screen itself. Between this and the front-facing camera we’re already a step ahead of most phones at this price.
We’ve seen plenty of phones in the $200-$250 space with where the OEM uses large displays but cut the resolution down, some to just 720 pixels. The Bold N1, for its part, has a 2340 x 1080 pixel resolution and has a 92% screen to body ratio.
It’s refreshing to have a screen as large as 6.4-inches without any notch or cutout for the camera. Thanks to the 19.5:9 aspect ratio it’s easy to hold in one hand.
The picture is crisp, bright, and accurate; a software setting lets users toggle between different modes for warmth and color. The fingerprint scanner is located in-display which means you won’t find any physical button.
Like its Blu brethren, the Bold N1 comes with a stock Android software build with minimal extras. While it launches with Android 9 Pie, Bold promises at least one upgrade so look for Android 10 at some point.
Upon powering up the phone we found a really lean set of software, but all of the Google apps and features were present. Aside from this, we only had Opera, an FM radio app, a sound recorder, and a tool to manage the SIM card.
Once we connected to Wi-Fi and added a Google account, though, it loaded a number of other titles. Among the apps installed at this time were Coin Master, Games Hub, Reddit, Pandora, and Yahoo Mail. Each of these, we found, were easy to uninstall.
The beauty of buying unlocked phones is that you don’t get a bunch of carrier-branded apps and services. We appreciate being able to remove the apps and games that come with the Bold N1 but also understand that casual or new users would want or need them.
Let’s start with the Bold N1’s front-facing camera, a 13-megapixel pop-up shooter with an f2.0 aperture and 1/4 sensor size. Switching to selfies, the camera extends from the top of the phone at a moderate pace. It’s fast enough for us and and gives subjects a defined place to look for photos.
The camera’s field of view is generous and makes it easy to get small groups together. Gather up 4-5 of your buddies and you’ll have no problem snapping “groupies”.
It might take a little bit of playing around at first to figure out the right depth. We used the portrait shots and found it blurred the edges of hair at times. We suggest a few minutes getting to understand the right distance to hold the phone before going out into the world for these pictures.
The rear houses two cameras to the top left, a 16-megapixel SONY IMX499 AI sensor with f1.8 aperture and 1/2.8 sensor size, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. The two, along with the accompany camera software, combine for a variety of modes.
The AI helps for shooting portraits, foods, nature, and other subjects. It’s fun to play around with the different options if you’ve got time. Doing so can help punch up a photo and take your pictures to the next level.
Suffice it to say, we like the different modes presented here and the software is rich enough to make us feel like we’ve got a moderate amount of control over photos. It starts out a little clunky but once we got the feel for it, it makes sense.
One rule we try to abide by when taking pictures on phones is to avoid zooming in before snapping the photo. While the 96-megapixel option does allow for zooming, it still feels foreign to us. Nevertheless, we’ve taken a few zoomed in pictures and come away pleased with the results.
We’ll continue to play with the various modes and settings, capturing mode pictures to share with you. Keep an eye on this Google Photos link as we add new images over time.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about photo quality on phones without comparing to devices like the Pixel, Galaxy S, and Galaxy Note lines. Why? Because we know what can be had in a phone even though they come with lofty prices.
Staying away from comparisons and head-to-head shots, the Bold N1 produces consistent quality stuff. And, when you touch them up with a little bit of app editing or share them on social media, they’re just as good as anything your friends are posting.
Enthusiasts and early adopters will scoff at the “just” 4GB RAM and the octa-core MediaTek P70 processor, citing them for being mid-range. Because of course everyone needs to have hardware that rivals laptops, right? Hardly.
Most of the top phones from 2018 employ 4GB RAM and that much was bleeding edge not that long ago. Looking ahead, we don’t see anything that’s going to require much more from a typical user’s phone.
It’s not really until you get into desktop-like software experiences like the Samsung DeX that you might want to future-proof yourself with more memory. If that’s what you want to do with your phone, you probably had your eye on a different device.
We’ve had no issues thus far with the performance of the Bold N1. Admittedly, we’ve not thrown our full suite of apps and games on it; however, those we have run as smoothly as we’d expect.
As we see with cameras, you really need to get into benchmarks and head-to-head comparisons to see where things differ. Yes, you can get more, even if it’s only on paper, but it all comes with a price. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth the money to gain things that you may or may not use.
If you go looking for things like stutters or lags, you’ll probably find them in any phone. That’s where we are today, though — we have to seek out shortcomings and issues.
Consider what it is that you, or your friends, do with your phone. It really hasn’t changed all that much in the last few years, has it? This is why people are holding onto their handsets longer than ever.
Why bother throwing nearly $1,000 into a phone just because it can be lumped into your monthly phone bill? More specifically, why bother spending that much money when you can be just as happy with one that’s half the price? Or a quarter of it, for that matter?
Battery life is great as we found we still had plenty of power left over at the end of a day. Not only that, wireless charging is convenient and fast charging means we’re not plugged in for long.
When we look at phones for review, we subconsciously look at what’s missing. “Oh, this is nice and all, but it doesn’t have X.” Or, “Yeah, but for $100 more I’d rather have X.” Sounds familiar, right?
The Bold N1 ticks many of the boxes we, and most users, find important. In 2019 that list includes big screens and batteries with wireless charging, 3.5mm headphone jacks, and hardware that should last us at least 12-18 months.
Software should also be as current as whatever is available and we want support for as long as we plan to own the phone, particularly the bug fixes and patches. Oh, and we don’t want to spend much money for it, either.
The Bold N1 is all of those things.
Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a perfect phone. We have to get into quibble territory but there are a couple of things we’d like to see different or that give us pause.
We’d love to see support for CDMA (Verizon and Sprint) or band 66, making it a universally unlocked device.
There’s no NFC support in the phone, either, and that could be a deal breaker for those of you who use Google Pay.
Sound is okay and volume gets fairly loud, but we’d like it if there were stereo speakers or something that faced the viewer. Then again, now we’re getting back to bezels and everyone hates those. Right?
As much as we’d like to give Bold the benefit of the doubt, we have to wait to find out whether it sticks to its promise of a guaranteed Android update. Will it provide timely patches and security updates? Based on Blu’s recent history we suspect it will.
If you are an AT&T or T-Mobile subscriber, or are considering one of its prepaid/MVNO brands, you should definitely consider the Bold N1. Its price fits pretty much any budget, it has all the performance one needs, and it happens to look damn sharp, too.