Back at CES, Blu announced two phones: the Vivo XL and Vivo 5. While we've already taken a look at the former, the latter is the one we've really been waiting for. I've had it in-hand for about a week now, and there's honestly a lot to talk about with this handset. From the specs to the design, this definitely offers more than a $200 handset should, though there are definitely some quirks with the software.
But I'm getting ahead of myself now. Let's start at the beginning. And when we get to the end — stop.
|Display||5.5-inch 1280x720 Super AMOLED with Gorilla Glass 3|
|Processor||1.3GHz octa-core Mediatek 6753 64-bit with Mali T720 GPU|
|Camera||13MP rear shooter, 5MP front|
|Storage||32GB, microSD card slot|
|Wireless||3G: 850/1700/1900/2100; 4G LTE: 2/4/7; Dual SIM|
|Ports||USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone|
|Dimensions||151.9 x 74.6 x 6.9 mm|
|Buy||Amazon; Best Buy|
|Great performance for the money||It's hard to argue with what this phone is capable of for just $200. The processor is snappy, it's got 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. What's not to like about that?|
|Beautiful, elegant design||This is easily one of the sleekest phones Blu has ever done. The unibody metal design is incredible, and the gold model is absolutely gorgeous.|
|USB Type-C||Nice to see Blu adopting this feature early-on.|
|Software layer||While it's easy enough to change the Carefree Launcher to something more usable, the skinned settings menu is kind of a mess. Some of the features are also completely inaccessible unless an app or notification calls on it. More on that below.|
|Capactive buttons||Subjective, I know. But on-screen navigation is more versatile and generally preferred among Android users. The upside is that you get more visible screen area on the Vivo 5, and its thin bezels almost make the physical buttons OK. Almost.|
|No NFC||Look, we're getting to a point where this is just no longer acceptable, especially on something that could easily be someone's daily driver. We gave the One Plus X so much crap for lacking NFC, and it's time to start holding all manufacturers to the same standard. NFC is no longer an arbitrary feature that makes Bluetooth pairing or device communication easy, as things like Android Pay are legitimate services with actual real-world use.|
Appearance, Hardware, and Build Quality
If there's one word I can use to describe the Vivo 5's overall appearance, it's sleek. Super sleek. That's two words, but probably more fitting. This is a thin, light, elegant, visually striking, sexy-as-hell handset. For $200. I sometimes still can't believe where we're at in the "budget" market right now. It's mind-blowing that phones like the Vivo 5, Huawei Honor 5X, and Moto G can be had for around $200…but I'm getting off topic. That might be something we can discuss at a later date. *hint wink nudge cough*
Despite having capactive keys (which I really don't like), the Vivo 5's bezels are quite thin. The side bezels are basically non-existent, while the top and bottom are both very narrow, only offering enough space for the required hardware here (speaker, camera, buttons, etc.). The front of the device is just very minimal and classy.
The back, however, is where it really shows its stuff. Well, the back and sides. Because they kind of go together (in a non-literal sense). First off, the whole thing is made from a beautifully-machined aluminum, and my gold review unit is gorgeous. It's almost like a rose gold, especially compared to some other gold phones on the market.
The sides sort of "fold" into the back with a very elegant machined edge, and the back itself is very simple and clean. I really love how it looks — the Vivo line has long been my favorite from Blu, and this phone embodies everything that it should be. Sleek, elegant, minimal, and clean. I'm a huge fan of what Blu has done with the hardware and build on this phone.
Like the Vivo XL, you'll find the V5's USB Type-C port on the bottom, which again is both a blessing and a curse. It's nice to have because it's new technology, superior to its predecessors in basically every way. It's a downer because those 1700 microUSB cables you likely have are now useless. Still, you have to embrace the change at some point, so I'm glad to see Blu go ahead and make the jump to this new format. I hope they stick with it on all devices moving forward.
Back around front, you'll find the same 5.5-inch 720p panel that's on the Vivo XL. Like I said in that review, I know some people will be disappointed by the display resolution, but I honestly don't think there's much of a reason to feel that way. The density still comes in at a very reasonable 267 PPI, which is nothing to scoff at. I mean, it's not the 518 PPI of something like the Nexus 6P, but it's still very usable (and almost a third the cost of a 6P, too). On a display of this size, it's barely noticeable to my eyes, and the Super AMOLED panel looks great.
Like I said in the VXL review, the SAMOLED display's color reproduction is really nice — better than the Nexus 6. In fact, it's very comparable to the 6P when it comes to color balance, which is really impressive for a phone at this price point. The whites are actually a bit less dingy than the 6P's, and other colors are slightly more vibrant. In other words, there's a bit more range on the VXL, but ultimately it's really a wash. Just know that this is a damn nice display for a $200 phone, resolution be damned.
Finally, let's talk about the camera.
Basically, this is the same camera that's in the Vivo XL, but it has a couple more options in the software. Here's the full list of shooting choices:
- Normal: Basically this is auto.
- Professional: Enables advanced shooting features, like shutter speed, ISO, WB, etc.
- Face Beauty: Smooth edges to make ugly faces pretty and pretty faces prettier. Or something.
- Take anytime: Shoot a bunch of pictures and this mode will recommend the best ones.
- Magic Focus: This is essentially a smart depth-of-field control that easily gives images that shallow DoF look.
- Filter: Instagram your photos without Instagram.
- HDR: High dynamic range.
- Panorama: Um, panorama.
- Night: Improves shooting performance in low-light situations by reducing noise.
- PicNote: Automatically crops and optimizes pictures after shooting, best for taking pcitures of text, I guess.
- Ultra Pixel: Takes pictures at five times the normal resolution. It actually seems to work reasonably well.
- Smart Scene: Automatically chooses the best shooting scene, be it night, HDR, or one of the others.
- Scan: QR scanner. More cameras should do this by default.
- GIF: Take 20 shots in a row and this will turn it into a GIF. Welcome to the future.
OK, so there's everything the camera can do. Now here's some examples of how it looks doing that stuff. Pretty much all of those shots were done in the "normal" setting for comparison purposes. Overall, it looks pretty good. Pretty, pretty...pretty good.
It's also worth mentioning that I really like the vibration motor in this phone. It's crisp and very satisfying. That didn't fit anywhere else in this section, so I just threw it here at the end.
Software and Performance
Software is where I find my primary issue with the Vivo 5. Like with the Vivo XL, it's that orange and white theme that Blu sometimes uses and I oftentimes dislike (mostly for aesthetic reasons). This time, however, I found a bigger reason to be irritated: some of the settings options are simply inaccessible. They're still available, but you can't get to them.
For example, nowhere in the security menu will you find the option for Smart Lock. I often use this feature to disable the lockscreen when I'm at home (especially on review phones), but it's just not there on the Vivo 5. However, when you pair a new Bluetooth device, guess what option pops up in the notification bar? The option to set it as a trusted device in Smart Lock settings. So, like I said, the option is there, but I can't find another way to easily get to it. It's super annoying.
While I didn't immediately find other missing (or hidden?) settings, I'm sure that Smart Lock isn't the only one. I just didn't happen to stumble across the others during my time with the phone.
Really, for better or worse, the software on the Vivo 5 is pretty much identical to the Vivo XL.
Performance, on the other hand, is slightly different on the Vivo 5. Despite having the same display and processor, the V5 benchmarks slighly better than the VXL — that extra gigabyte of RAM just gives it the extra push that it needs to be a slighly faster device where numbers are concerned. In real world use, though, it doesn't feel any different.
That said, I'm absolutely certain that it will outperform the VXL on a longer timeline — the more you use it, the more apparent it will become that there's a third gig of RAM in this phone. That's pretty much going to be true across the board for any 3GB phone when compared to just 2GB.
But for those who like to see some numbers, I have some for you. You're welcome.
3D Mark Sling Shot
If you haven't already figured it out, this is a great phone for $200. The hardware and build quality are both excellent for this price, and the device has a nice, premium look to it. I have zero complaints about the hardware (though I would like to have seen a fingerprint reader on board).
The software, however, is where you'll start to find some quirks in the Vivo 5 — mostly just because of the wonky skinned settings menu that hides some of the options for no good reason. While that's frustrating, I don't feel strongly enough about it to say "don't buy this phone," because it's otherwise an excellent handset. I'm sure that ultimately there's a way to access the hidden options like Smart Lock, but I didn't spend the time to research and/or sort through all the possible answers. And who knows, this could be (and hopefully is) something that Blu will fix when the Marshmallow update rolls out.
Otherwise, if you're looking for a $200 phone that looks and feels like something much more expensive, this is an excellent contender. It's available today at Amazon and Best Buy — grab it from the appropriate links below.