We've talked about Blu phones a lot in the past, and I've personally gone hands-on with essentially every phone the company has released over the last couple of years. I've seen everything from the cheapest of the cheap to the higher-end stuff from Blu, but never anything like the 2015 Pure XL. Sure, it carries the same name as one of the higher-end devices that the company put out last year, but trust me when I say this one is nothing like that phone. This is on a whole different level. This is easily the highest-end, most flagship-quality phone the company has ever done. It's an impressive beast in its own right, but when you take into consideration its $350 price tag, it becomes something else entirely.
|Display||6-inch QHD (2560x1440) AMOLED with Gorilla Glass 3|
|Processor||2.0 GHz 64-bit octa-core Mediatek MT6795 Helio x10|
|Camera||24 MP f/2.3 sensor w/ sapphire +6p lens; 8 MP wide-angle front camera|
|Storage||64 GB, microSD card slot|
|Ports||microUSB 2.0, 3.5 mm audio, fingerprint reader|
|Wireless||GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100, LTE B2 / B4 /B7 / B17, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC|
|Dimensions||164 x 82.2 x 9.3 mm. 207 grams|
|Battery||3,500 mAh with quick charging|
|Available Colors||Gray, Gold|
|Buy||Available on Amazon beginning September 29th|
|Performance||This is easily one of the fastest phones I've ever used. I know that Mediatek has its, um..."quirks," but the Helio x10 is no joke. It's a beast. Also, it's got 3 GB of RAM.|
|Storage||64GB is the only option with this phone, which is how it should be. It's also got a microSD card slot for expansion. You should never be wanting for space on this phone.|
|Fingerprint Reader||Look, I'll be the first to admit that I thought fingerprint readers on phones were just stupid. But this one works, and it's impressive. I'm a believer...mostly.|
|Capacitive Buttons||Yeah, they're here. But I will say this: there is quick access to Google Now by long-pressing the home button, which is great. Because of that, I don't actually hate the capacitive keys...but I'd rather see on-screen navigation.|
|Mediatek Processor||While the processor itself is awesome, it is a Mediatek. That generally doesn't mean good things when it comes to updates (and mods). Maybe the company will change its ways with the Helio chips?|
|It's huge||It's got a 6-inch display and capacitive keys, so it's freakin' big. Bigger than the Nexus 6, which is just already big enough. I need smaller phones in my life already.|
|The Skin||The skinned settings menu is just annoying. Sometimes things are better off left alone, and this is one of them.|
|Uncertain Future||It's unclear how well Blu will be able to support this phone, which makes it difficult to give it a full recommendation.|
Design and Build Quality
While the Pure XL is unlike anything Blu has ever done before on the inside, the outside isn't quite as unique for the company. I mean, it is in some aspects - like the fingerprint reader, for example - but otherwise it's pretty par for the course.
My review unit is the gold model, and honestly it looks pretty damn good. Historically I haven't been the biggest fan of the gold phone trend, but it has grown on me over the past year or so, even to the point where I would consider one as my daily driver. The PXL's gold finish is classy without being flashy, and the materials feel premium, even if a bit surprising in places.
The back of the phone was the biggest shocker to me, because it's a removable plastic shell. It doesn't look like a removable plastic shell, so you can probably imagine my surprise after searching the outside of the handset for the SIM and microSD card slots and discovering the small slot to pry the back off. The seam here is blended perfectly with device's aluminum frame and the back is colored perfectly. The construction is very nice.
Despite having a removable back, however, the PXL doesn't actually have a removable battery. It makes sense though, since there's so much room on the back, it's just easier to put all the accessible bits under the hood, so to speak. Beneath the panel you'll find dual microSIM slots, as well as the microSD card slot for storage expansion. It's also worth noting that the SIM slots are spring-loaded, which makes it much less of a pain in the ass to get the cards out (and in turn makes my life easier).
Otherwise, the outside is pretty simple and clean. The 24 MP rear shooter is in the top-center of the back with the LED flash directly to the left and fingerprint reader just below, and the phone's speaker at the bottom. The right side houses the volume rocker, power button, and camera shutter. The microUSB port is on the bottom and headphone jack is on the top. Like I said, nothing exceptional about the layout.
While the volume rocker and power buttons both feel great - very responsive and clicky - the camera shutter button on my review unit feels a little bit loose and wiggly. You can actually feel it rocking back and forth when moving your thumb across it, which is slightly annoying. It's also the squishiest of the three buttons. I think it's worth mentioning here that my review unit is an engineering sample and not a retail unit, so small issues like this probably won't be found in the final version. Still, I'd be remiss to not mention it at all.
The overall feel and build quality of the Pure XL is on point, though. It definitely looks and feels like a premium piece of kit, and not something I'd be embarrassed to carry in public or let someone use. In fact, I'd probably want to show it off, if for no other reason than to show someone what kind of phone can be had for just $350. It's a premium phone without the premium price - there's no arguing that. I mean, I guess you could argue it, but you'd be wrong. And that's OK, you're entitled to having a wrong opinion.
I've seen many, many Blu phones, and the displays have consistently been something I'm impressed with across the board, especially for the price. Even at lower resolutions (like 720p), Blu has a way of making the display pop and look like a much higher res. But the PXL doesn't have a 720p panel. It doesn't have a 1080p panel. It's got a six-inch Quad HD (2560x1440) AMOLED display, basically just like the Nexus 6.
There are definite differences between the AMOLED display found on the N6 and that of the PXL, though. Basically, the PXL's display looks a bit better. The things that make AMOLED a little less than desirable to some - like the yellow-ish whites, for example - are mostly corrected on the XL. While colors are still vibrant and look nearly identical to the N6, whites are less yellow and a little more gray (which is an improvement in my opinion) and blacks actually look a little bit darker to me. The overall color balance on the PXL is very good.
It probably goes without saying, but this is one sharp display. At 490 pixels-per-inch, it's ready to take on basically every flagship on the market right now, and it's doing a good job of it - especially when you consider the price point. Aside from the impressive color calibration, text and images are super sharp on the PXL. It's exactly what you'd want from a six-inch display.
While I'm not sure it can compete with what Samsung is doing in its newest handsets, I'm plenty pleased with the Pure XL's display - the brightness is on par with that of the Nexus 6, the color is slightly better, and the pixel density is great. For less than half the price of Samsung's stuff, I'll take it.
Storage, Wireless, and Fingerprint Reader
As you've likely already noticed, the Pure XL has plenty of storage, with an option to add even more if you want. I love that Blu went with 64 GB as the only option here, because that really hits the sweet spot where storage is concerned - it's typically enough for most users. There really isn't a lot more to say about that: it's got storage-a-plenty, and if you're a digital hoarder, then there's an SD card slot for you.
As far as wireless capabilities are concerned, the PXL has basically all the goodies you'd want in a modern-day smartphone: Bluetooth 4.0, LTE, 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, and NFC. The only wireless feature I'd say that's missing here is wireless charging, which most people consider to be a "luxury" feature or novelty anyway. It does have quick charging...but that has nothing to do with wireless.
The fingerprint reader is on the back of the phone, which is the only place that really makes sense in my mind - especially on a phone this big. It's really the smartest place, because as soon as you pick the phone up, your finger just kind of falls where it's supposed to. That's probably a good thing since the main use of the reader (for now, anyway) is to unlock the phone.
I'd say it unlocked on the first try for me about a fifth of the time, otherwise it took two or three (or four) times to get it right.
Setting up the fingerprint reader and saved prints is pretty straightforward. In the security menu, there's an option for "fingerprint," which is where essentially everything dealing with the reader is found, and this is where fingerprints are added and stored. It requires some sort of lockscreen security to be set before it can be used, but after that adding a print is stupid-simple. You simply touch the reader on the back of the phone till it vibrates, then lift your finger and do it again. It does this ten times (for accuracy), but after that you're good to go. The next time you grab the phone, just throw your finger on the reader and it'll unlock almost instantly...unless you don't put your finger on it exactly right, in which case it'll vibrate and you have to try again. I'd say it unlocked on the first try for me about, um, a fifth of the time, otherwise it took two or three (or four) times to get it right. Those odds aren't the best, and it can be annoying if you're in a hurry. Call me old school, but I still prefer the security I have set on my Nexus 6: my Smartwatch is set as a trusted device, and as long as it's connected, there's no security on the lockscreen. Get out of range, and the pattern lock is activated. And it works 100 percent of the time.
Thankfully, the whole fingerprint thing is just going to get better from here. Mostly, right now, it's just for unlocking the device. Lastpass only supports Samsung devices, and I don't know of any other app that's doing much with fingerprint readers, which really makes sense. Marshmallow will bring unified support for readers, so things will get a lot better at that point. Let's just hope Blu pushes the 6.0 update as soon as possible to the Pure XL, which is of course the biggest question about this phone in my mind.
The PXL has a 24 MP rear camera, which on paper sounds pretty amazing. In practice, however, it's not quite as good. I mean, it's decent. Very decent. But it's not a super over-the-top flagship camera like you'll find on something like Samsung's newest phones...but then again, this phone is also less than half the price of those phones. And in that context, I think the cameras are definitely good - easily on par or better than other phones in this price range.
Since it's running Android 5.1, this is one of Blu's most up-to-date devices...to date. And that's kind of the problem: the company has promised updates that should've been available months ago and still aren't out, so it's hard to say what the future will hold for the PXL. Hopefully Blu will treat this handset like the flagship it is and prioritize its update schedule. Of course, there are a lot of factors here aside from just Blu (like Mediatek, for example), so that's a different story altogether. For now, let's just talk about how the phone is out of the box.
First off, it's running a skinned version of Android 5.1 (another one of those things that will potentially slow down updates), but it's mostly just in the launcher and settings. We'll start with the former.
The stock launcher is called "Carefree" and it just reminds me of other launchers we've seen on Blu phones - you know, the ones that don't have an app tray and just throw everything on the homescreens? Yep, it's one of those. I can't say I'm a big fan of that (I hate it, actually), but fortunately that's an easy fix with Nova Launcher (or whatever your preferred launcher is). Something as simple as swapping out the launcher immediately made this phone more usable and familiar to me. It is worth noting that the Carefree launcher does have support for widgets, so at least it retains that functionality from stock Android.
Otherwise, the settings menu is heavily skinned and re-organized in a way that basically drives me nuts. Instead of just leaving the default layout alone, someone decided it would be a good idea to give some settings priority over others (I cannot for the life of me figure out why, either). The "Wireless & Networks" section is basically the same, but from there it gets wonky. It looks a little something like this:
- Date & Time
- Sound and vibration
- Notification center
- Control center
- Power Management
- Advanced settings
- Smart gestures
- Suspend option
- LED Light
- Schedule power on/off
- Language & input
- Backup & reset
- Permissions of App
- About device
OK, so some of this makes sense to me - adding anything not in stock Android would be fine under "advanced settings." But if it's already an option in the stock OS, why bother moving it? It just drives me batty. I find Android's stock way of doing things makes perfect sense, and when anyone goes mucking that up in the name of organization or whatever, it just sucks. Google did a great job of making the settings menu more usable in Lollipop, so to change it up for no good reason just really bothers me. Blu isn't the only manufacturer guilty of this, of course - Samsung and LG are some of the worst for changing things like this, too. I hate it.
While most of the additions are pretty self-explanatory, there are a couple that I'd like to clarify a little bit: suspend option and permissions of app. When I first read "suspend option," I had no idea what that even meant. After checking the setting, I still don't understand why it's called "suspend option" - it's literally an on-screen floating navigation button. Tap it, it expands, and you can go back, home, or lock the screen. It can be moved around, but it always sticks to the side of the screen. It's kind of useless, but I guess it's OK if you actually want it. But I still don't understand the name.
The company has promised updates that should've been available months ago and still aren't out, so hopefully Blu will treat this handset like the flagship it is and prioritize its update schedule.
The "permissions of app" setting, which is just so oddly worded, is basically granular permission controls. It allows you to mark apps as trusted, as well as control each permission, so you can turn off the questionable features. Seems like we've seen something almost exact like this somewhere in Android already...
Otherwise, it's all pretty cut and dry from there. The notification center option lets you control how notifications are presented on the lockscreen and block app from producing notifications altogether. The control center option is just a couple of quick toggles for the control center features, which is basically a quick settings menu that is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. It's pretty finicky though - I couldn't get it to work consistently to save my life.
Past that, it's stock Android.
Performance and Battery Life
Performance is the big one here, because this phone is spec'd out better than anything Blu has ever done in the past. I know that a lot of you have reservations about the Mediatek processor, but the Helio x10 is a total beast. To put it simply, this is among the fastest Android devices I've ever used.
I've said it at least a dozen times before, but I don't invest a lot in benchmark scores. I see the value in them (even though it doesn't necessarily translate to real-world use), so I still use them as a way to somewhat gauge a device's performance level. My go-to benchmarks are of course Antutu and Geekbench, and the Helio x10 performs admirably on both. Take a look.
This is one time that I'll agree with the benchmarks - the PXL is a powerful phone and these numbers translate well into how the phone actually performs in the real world. I'm really impressed with the performance level across the board here.
Where battery life is concerned, the PXL is packing a 3,500 mAh juice pack, and it gets the job done. Before we get into the PXL's actual battery life, though, I want to talk a little bit about the charging situation.
This phone has fast charging, which I can only assume is Mediatek's "Pump Express" technology - basically, it's MT's answer to Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0, though it doesn't seem to be quite as dynamic. It looks like the XL will ship with a 9 volt, 2 amp charger instead of a 5 volt, 2 amp brick like most phones that don't support QC. While Qualcomm's QC 2.0 can technically support 12 volts at 1.5 amps, 9v @ 2A seems to be Pump Express' sweet spot. According to Blu the PXL can get "4 hours of talk time with a 10 minute charge;" or, in simpler terms, a 10-minute charge will bump the battery by 15 percent, and 30 minutes will add 43 percent. Either way you slice it, that's a pretty fast charge. It's also worth noting that it seems to respond well to any QC 2.0 charger since those can dynamically adjust output to perfectly accommodate the 9v @ 2A qualification.
With a 3,500 mAh battery under the hood, I hoped the Pure XL would offer pretty awesome battery life. Unfortunately, due to wakelocks and a variety of other things keeping the CPU awake, that wasn't the case. I mean, if you want a full day of use, then you should be able to get that. But with 3,500 mAh, I would love to see a couple days worth of juice here. And of course, your mileage may vary - in fact, I don't even really like putting a battery life section in reviews, because what I'm doing on my phones and what you're doing are likely two very, very different situations. And with whatever it is that Android OS is doing to keep the device awake, that automatically skews my results - if you don't have any wakelock issues, then you're going to get much better battery life. Unfortunately, I have no idea what's keeping the system awake here, so there's nothing I can do to change it.
All that said, I didn't have an issue getting through an entire day with the Pure XL.
While Blu itself has called a handful of phones "flaghips" over the past couple of years, this is the first one that really deserves that title. It's packing all the hardware it needs to be a great phone - which it is for the most part - and it's easily the most modern handset Blu has ever released. It's a little on the big and bulky side, but that's kind of par for the course where 6-inch phones are concerned, I guess.
All in all, I'm a pretty big fan of what Blu has going on here. It's stupid-fast, has a very good display, decent cameras, and is as ready for the next couple of years as any phone on the market right now. The question, however, is how well Blu will support it - will the company treat it like the flagship that it is, or will it sit idly and never see another update like so many other good phones the company has released? Unfortunately, only time will be able to answer that, and that's what makes it hard to fully recommend the Pure XL.
Don't get me wrong - I really like this phone, and if I could say for certain that Blu will be updating it quickly and regularly for the foreseeable future, then I wouldn't have a problem giving it high marks in the flagship race. In fact, I would readily say go ahead and put it on your shortlist of phones, right next to the upcoming Nexus devices, Moto X Pure Edition, and OnePlus Two.
But as it stands right now, it's hard for me to say that with any certainty. Is it a great phone? Yes. Do I recommend it if you only have $350 to spend and want the most phone you can get for the money? Absolutely. Just make sure you're comfortable with the possibility of staying on Lollipop forever before you make the plunge.