Blu Life One X2 Mini review

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We’re in that interesting time of the year where a lot of manufacturers are in the process of launching or announcing their flagship smartphones. Indeed, this is when the big name brands come out with the models which vie for those end-of-year lists. If you’re in the market for a killer experience, this is your time of year. But, do you really need a device that’s got an ever faster processor, more memory, and storage?

Suffice it to say, average phone users don’t demand much of their phones. Moreover, the hardware that comes with high end phones is outpacing the needs of the many. In other words, I’m willing to bet that you don’t need a new phone so much as want one. So, why spend $600-$800 on something when a $200 phone might do the trick for a year or two?

Blu, a brand that we’ve come to respect for its smartphone strategies, has launched another new handset. Known as the Life One X2 Mini, it’s a refreshed take on an already existing model, the Life One X2.

If there’s one thing we’ve come to admire in Blu, it’s that they almost always put out unlocked phones at prices that are very competitive. At one time, this was Blu’s space to own, at least here in the United States. But, with other companies making a push into the market, it’s harder to stand out.

The low-end, which is not exactly comprised of under-powered or terrible phones, is getting increasingly crowded. The devices that occupy the middle of the pack today are likely as powerful as that phone you bought only one year back. It’s somewhere in between this space where the One X2 Mini puts a stake in the ground.

About

The Life One X2 Mini launches at an every day price point of $179.99. However, if you are, or were quick enough to get in on the action on the first day, you can get the phone for only $129.99. There are a number of other models from Blu in this price range; notable competitors include the Motorola G4 Play, the Asus Zenfone 3, and Huawei Honor 5X.

NOTE: The $50 off launch deal starts at 11:00 EST on March 17 and runs while quantities last or until until 5:00PM.

I was provided a review unit of the Blu Life One X2 Mini and have spent much of the last month using it. I didn’t set out to make it my daily driver, particularly because that’s often a chore. What I found, though, was that I was slowly using it more each day, installing apps and games. By the time this review was published, I had used the phone almost as much as my main phone, the Google Pixel XL.

Hardware

Let’s talk about the hardware specifications. Considering the price, we shouldn’t anticipate all that much, right? Well, I think it’s time to reset the bar for what we expect out of an entry-level model.

Do we need 6GB RAM or 8GB RAM on a phone? No way. Nobody needs it, but we might want it. It’s always nice to future proof yourself and get more hardware, especially if you can afford it or justify spending the money.

Did we need 4GB RAM last year? No, but it was nice to have. There aren’t many apps or games that tax that much memory, but we like having reserves. Guess what. We’re at a point now where 4GB is just about standard. Indeed, the Life One X2 Mini comes with that much memory. Moreover, it has a few other specs that sound out of place when discussing a “low end” model.

Key Details

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.0-inch HD display at 720 x 1280 pixel resolution
  • Quad-core 1.4GHz MediaTek processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage with microSD expansion card (64GB)
  • 13-Megapixel rear camera
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 4G LTE support for two GSM SIM card
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 3000mAh battery

Pretty crazy, right? That’s an awful lot of phone — with an affordable price tag and no carrier commitment. Take a look at that phone you bought from your carrier in 2015. This one likely has more hardware and a newer version of Android. Sure, there are going to be differences in places like processors, screen resolution, or camera, but largely this would be better than a sidestep.

Display

Although I, and many other people appreciate a large display that pushes into 5.5-inches or larger, there’s something to be said about one-hand usage. To that end, I really enjoyed using the 5-inch screen on the Life One X2 Mini.

I should point out that the display runs at a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. If you’re asking why that matters, then it doesn’t matter to you. A majority of devices in 2017 are at 1080 pixels or 1440 pixels. By comparison, the Life One X2 Mini’s is not as sharp as it could be. On the other hand, we’re working with a 5-inch screen and the fine details don’t pop up or present much of a problem. If your needs include email, messaging, social media, and light gaming, the Life One X2 Mini’s display is more than sufficient.

In terms of picture quality, we were generally pleased with brightness, color balance, warmth, and contrast. As we’ve seen in other Blu models, there’s nothing in the display that really stands out. It’s one of the corners that are cut to help keep costs down, but it’s not a deep cut. More specifically, it’s as good as most people expect.

The Life One X2 Mini keeps pace with other companies in offering a curved glass around the edge of the display. It’s not on the order of what Samsung does for its “Edge” line, but it does make for a soft and appealing touch. It’s gentle in that it makes for an enjoyable holding or swiping experience without drawing attention. Look closely, though, and you see a nice tapered look along the edges.

You’d have to really look for the pixels in daily usage, but putting it into a Google Cardboard reveals why we prefer lots of tiny dots in our screens. With that said, even using it for Google’s entry-point VR platform works alright.

Design

Blu has again opted for microUSB for charging instead of the USB Type-C port despite the fact that it has used it in other models. It’s hard to say why they continue to do this, but we’re betting it comes down to cost and available parts. Hey, at least they didn’t put it on the top of the phone like they did on the Life Max.

The bottom of the Life One X2 Mini features what looks like a pair of stereo speakers; however, one of them is for show only. It balances out the look of the phone but don’t expect it to pump out some loud, stereo experience. It’s decent enough in its own right, but it just sounds like what you might think of when someone says “music on a phone”.

As for the feel of the Life One X2 Mini, we were immediate fans. This is a more premium design that rises above Blu’s cheaper materials and provides a classy and sophisticated appearance. The review unit we were sent is Rose Gold which we found to be appealing to both male and female sensibilities.

Camera

As often is the case with Blu phones, the camera situation is somewhat of a mixed bag. In some instances you’ll get tremendous pictures and in others you end up with blurred shots taken in the middle of the day. Although the Life One X2 Mini largely handles well-lit environments well, it struggled to deliver an accurate color in lower lighting.

The photos you see below were taken in a variety of lighting scenarios; each was uploaded to Flickr “as is”, and without editing. We’ve also uploaded a few dozen more to Google Drive if you’d like to look at them.

The camera app controls are arranged in pretty standard manner with the shutter buttons on the right side of the display. Swiping the viewfinder up brings up the settings while swiping the viewfinder down accesses the shooting modes. Swipe left and/or right to switch to the front-facing camera.

Blu Life One X2 Mini

The Life One X2 Mini camera app offers 8 different shooting modes including normal, pro, HDR, panorama, and night. As you might expect, the professional mode offers the most tools and settings, giving users options to adjust focus, exposure (brightness), ISO (speed), white balance, sharpness, and saturation.

Most people tend to stick to normal or automatic settings on their phone. To that end, we suspect users here will be generally happy with the results. The app is a little slower than we would have liked, particularly when focusing and capture pictures.

Low light really hinders the camera’s ability to focus, leading to a delay in getting the desired photo. Hoping to capture a puppy playing with a new toy in the living room? Turn on as many lights as you can. We noticed the Life One X2 Mini would generate a fair amount of grain in images taken in low light.

Switching to video, we captured 1080p HD clips that ultimately echoed the still camera experience. Footage is generally adequate for most people or rather acceptable in well-lit environments. Get closer to sunset or go indoors and you’ll start to see some degradation in quality.

Software

When it comes to Blu and Android builds, we feel like we say the same things over and over. Specifically, the One X2 Mini is no exception to its long history of an almost pure Android experience.

You’ll find that, while it does come with a couple of extra apps from Amazon, Opera, and Blu, it largely sticks to what Google intends for the platform. Interestingly enough, the experience differs ever so slightly from one Blu model to the next. Nearly every one of them has a different spin on the UI.

This one, for instance, gives users the option to animate swipes on the home screen where previous Blu’s don’t. The app tray is also presented differently here with a list instead of the rows of icons you might be familiar with. Taken as a whole, we like what we get here and think it’s as intuitive as anything else you might find on the market. Actually, because it largely stays with Google’s plans, it’s somewhat better than the skins applied by other phone makers.

Thanks to the standards supported in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, most phones include a fingerprint sensor. Present in the One X2 Mini, it’s an added layer of security for accessing the phone, making payments, and protecting files.

Speaking of security, one area where today’s consumers want to pay attention is in patches or updates. Because a phone is stock Android, or close, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impervious to tomorrow’s exploitation.

That the One X2 Mini launches with Android 6.0 instead of 7.0 likely isn’t as big of a deal to its target demographic. What’s more pressing, though, is that it keeps up with the security releases and patches from Google.

Without knowing ahead of time, we have to assume Blu keeps up with the most important releases. For now, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Should someone find a serious flaw or backdoor into Android, we’d like to hope that Blu pushes out the proper updates.

Other Details

Simply put, there’s more than enough storage and memory here to get you through another year or two of basic and moderate usage. I don’t anticipate the industry moving any quicker in the next couple of years; as long as your needs don’t change, this phone will get the job done.

Another feature that’s common in Blu phones is that they come unlocked with dual-SIM support. Moreover, they’re built to handle 4G LTE on T-Mobile and AT&T, and their respective brands like MetroPCS, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile, and Cricket.

Like other Blu phones, the Life One X2 Mini comes with a charger, earbuds, a USB cable, quick guide, screen protector, and silicone case. The case and screen protector are a nice touch if only because those are often the first two things users pick up when buying a new device.

We didn’t run into any performance issues with the Life One X2 Mini, even with its Snapdragon 430 1.4 GHz processor. It might sound as if a 430 would be far inferior to an 820 or 835 (and it is), but most casual users will never know the difference. Hell, I venture to say that the next person you ask couldn’t tell you who even makes processors for a phone, let alone which model is inside their handset.

When reviewing phones it’s easy to look for holes or places where things could be better. The whole notion of evaluating can be a slippery slope, though. Are you looking at the device on its own merit and how it stacks up in the scheme of things? Or, are you running benchmark tests and comparing it to specific models? If you’re the latter, then skip the Life One X2 Mini and pick up something else.

Conclusion

It’s hard for us to look at Blu phones as ever being disappointing. They’ve consistently helped set the expectation for what can be purchased for the money and the Life One X2 Mini is no exception. A few quibbles or random questionable decisions might pop up here and there, but it’s tough to knock the value.

The Life One X2 Mini is a a terrific option for someone who likes the freedom of picking GSM carriers, especially in the United States. If you’ve never owned a smartphone, we can easily suggest Blu as a brand to start with. As someone who has bounced from one phone to the next almost every three or four months, it’s hard to put the Life One X2 Mini on the shelf in favor of something more robust.

You’d have a hard time spending more money down the road. Yes, even when Samsung or LG comes out with something that’s waterproof and boasts tons of performance. Sure, you’ll almost always get what you pay for in smartphones, but at a certain point, you’re also just adding to a company’s bottom line.

A friendly reminder: The Blu Life One X2 Mini launches with a $179.99 price tag with availability through Amazon. A day one promotional price shaves $50 off the sticker, putting it down to a mere $129.99. At $180 the phone is certainly worth considering, but at $130 it’s more of a “what are you waiting for” situation.