Affordable. Bright display. Expandable storage and dual SIM slots.
Sluggish performance. No fingerprint sensor. Outdated software. Unimpressive battery life.
- Bottom Line
The Blu R1 Plus is an affordable unlocked phone with a sturdy build and a bright HD display, but performance issues and merely average battery life put it behind competitors.
By Ajay Kumar
Don't let the name fool you: The Blu R1 Plus isn't the successor to last year's Amazon Prime-subsidized R1 HD, one of our favorite low-cost unlocked phones. At $159.99 the R1 Plus is still quite affordable, but it's a much larger phone with a bright HD display and a sturdy build. Unfortunately, we encountered some performance issues in testing, there's no fingerprint sensor, and battery life is only decent. You'll get better performance for a similar price elsewhere, including Blu's own Life One X2.
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Design, Display, and Features
The R1 Plus is practically identical to the Life One X2 in both look and feel—it's only size that sets it apart. At 6.0 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 6.7 ounces, the Plus is a hefty slab compared with the X2 (5.8 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches, 5.9 ounces). Using it with one hand is a challenge due to the large top and bottom bezel and overall thickness.
A clicky volume rocker and power button are on the right, an off-center micro USB charging port is on the bottom, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is up top. As mentioned, the back cover is removable, requiring quite a bit of force to pry off. Underneath you have access to a pair of SIM card slots. There's also a microSD card slot that worked fine with a 256GB card. The 4,000mAh battery is sealed in. There's no fingerprint sensor like you get with the X2. But the overall build quality is sturdy and though the back cover is removable, there's no flex or creak.
The front of the phone is home to a 5.5-inch, 1,280-by-720 IPS display. It's a bright panel with good viewing angles and rich colors, but resolution is on the low side for the size. It works out to 267 pixels per inch, which isn't as sharp as the 5.2-inch, 1080p Life One X2 (424ppi). Text and graphics are reasonably crisp, but close inspection will reveal some pixelation. Outdoor visibility is decent, but not quite enough to overcome direct sunlight.
Network Performance and Connectivity
As with all Blu phones, the R1 Plus is unlocked and will only work on GSM carriers. It supports LTE band 2/4/7/12/17, giving it solid network connectivity when we tested it on AT&T in midtown Manhattan. The phone recorded a top download speed of 15.4Mbps, on par with other AT&T phones we've tested recently. Other connectivity protocols include Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band and Bluetooth 4.0. There's no NFC, a standard omission on more affordable phones.
Call quality could be better. Transmissions were understandable, but there's some garbling along with background hiss. Earpiece volume was also on the low side and noise cancellation didn't do well with traffic noises. The back-facing speaker is tinny.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
The R1 Plus is powered by a Mediatek MT6737 processor clocked at 1.3GHz. It's an entry-level chipset that scored 27,155 on the AnTuTu benchmark, a measure of overall system performance. That's lower than the R1 HD (31,847) and the One X2 (43,984). It's no surprise that the more expensive Moto G5 Plus (63,845) leaves all three phones in the dust with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor.
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There's 3GB of RAM, which allows for a decent amount of multitasking. We didn't have a problem running multiple apps in the background, but during the course of testing the Plus was plagued by persistent issues with touch-screen latency. Pulling down the notification shade required multiple attempts, tapping menu options didn't always register, and scrolling between apps caused significant stuttering. It was most noticeable when playing GTA: San Andrea—attempting to drive was like trying to wade through a lake of molasses.
Battery life is just average, which is disappointing considering the phone's 4,000mAh cell. The Plus clocked 5 hours, 25 mins in our rundown test, in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum brightness. You'll get longer use out of the One X2 (6 hours, 16 minutes) and the Moto G5 Plus (7 hours, 35 minutes)
There's a 13-megapixel rear camera sensor that takes solid photos outdoors. Most pictures we took in well-lit conditions had a good amount of detail. But images can get noisy, mostly around the edges. Autoexposure also had a habit of kicking in at inopportune moments, sometimes making sunny days look dark and dreary. Almost every shot we took indoors, including several under the controlled lighting in our photo test lab, ended up blurry. There are manual controls, but despite tweaking shutter speed, focus, ISO, and white balance, we weren't able to see much improvement. The phone records 720p video at a jittery 30fps. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is decent for selfies.
Like the rest of Blu's phones, the R1 Plus still runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, a nearly two-year-old version of the OS, and we wouldn't count on any future updates. The upside is that Blu's touch on Android is light. There are really no changes to speak of and the UI is largely identical to stock.
You'll find some minor bloatware, including six preinstalled apps from Amazon. Opera is the default browser. None of them can be deleted, but they don't take up too much space. Out of 32GB of total storage, you have 22.65GB available, allowing for a fair amount of more apps, photos, and video. You can always use a microSD card if you need more.
The $160 Blu R1 Plus is affordable, but beyond that, it just doesn't have much to offer. The phone is outmatched in nearly all regards by the Life One X2, which we think is well worth the extra $40 for its sharper display, faster processor, fingerprint sensor, and superior battery life. If you want to spend less, the R1 HD doesn't offer any marked improvements, but it's available for just a third of the price in its Prime-subsidized iteration. And if you have a higher budget, the Moto G5 Plus will get you the greatest gains in hardware, not to mention current Android software. It's a great balance of price and performance, and our Editors' Choice.
By Ajay Kumar Mobile Analyst
Ajay Kumar is PCMag's Analyst obsessed with all things mobile. Ajay reviews phones, tablets, accessories, and just about any other gadget that can be carried around with you. In his spare time he games on the rig he built himself, collects Nintendo amiibos, and tries his hand at publishing a novel. Follow Ajay on Twitter @Ajay_H_Kumar. More »
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