BLU released a new phone a few days back called the BLU Energy XL and they sent me one to take a look at. The XL in the title is there for good reason; everything about this phone is massive. It has a huge 6" HD screen, 64GB of on-board storage, and mammoth 5,020 mAh battery. The only thing that isn't enormous about this behemoth is the price, which is a very reasonable $300.
Sound pretty good on paper, right? Let's see how good it is in practice.
|Display||6.0-inch 1920x1080 curved Super AMOLED with Gorilla Glass 3|
|Processor||1.3GHz octa-core Mediatek 6753 64-bit with Mali-T720 GPU|
|Camera||13MP main, 5MP front|
|Storage||64GB, MicroSD card slot (up to 32GB)|
|Wireless||3G: 850/1700/1900/2100; 4G LTE: 2/4/7; Dual SIM|
|Ports||USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone|
|OS||Android 5.1 Lollipop|
|Dimensions||160.9 x 81.2 x 8.4mm|
|Screen||The Super AMOLED Panel is beautiful. Bright whites, rich colors, and a perfectly acceptable pixel density (367 DPI) make this the best looking display I've ever seen on a mid-range device. It's nearly as good as the one on the Nexus 6P, which is high praise.|
|Included items||BLU doesn't skimp on included accessories for the XL. In addition to the charger and cable, BLU also includes a clear case, a screen protector, and headphones. Man, I wish all manufacturers did that!|
|Storage||64GB on board storage for less than $300? Makes you wonder why Android's top players launch phones with only 32GB of storage for twice the price.|
|Performance||I'm sure this phone and its off-brand processor gets blown away in benchmarks by current gen super-phones. I, however, couldn't care less. With 3GB RAM and only a 1080p screen, this phone is plenty quick and hasn't slowed down at all after two weeks of use.|
|Software||Lollipop on a phone launching halfway through 2016? :/|
|Absent NFC||I asked my contact at BLU about this and was told that they their research indicates that most people don't use NFC so they have neglected to include it. What?! Come on guys, this is 2016, mobile payments are taking off and more accessories with NFC launch every day. No excuses, this should be a mandatory feature, especially on a phone that wants to compete with the big boys.|
|No Band 12 or WiFi calling||As a T-Mobile customer, these are both features I now consider mandatory in any mobile device I purchase. Magenta's network is seriously handicapped without access to these two range extending technologies and I miss them when using this device.|
|Non-standard charging technology||The Energy XL comes equipped with fast charging technology to rapidly fill its massive battery. Unfortunately, the charging technology is non-standard 9V/2A and only works with the included charger. Great, because what we really need are some more proprietary USB Type-C rapid charging technologies...|
Hardware and Build Quality
Since I use a Nexus 6P as my daily driver and it's another huge Android device I've decided to use it as a comparison for this article. It should help you gauge the size of the Energy XL.
This is a big ol' slab of a phone. With a 6 inch screen and capacitive buttons I expected it to be a lot larger than the Nexus 6P. Surprisingly, it is only a hair taller and a couple of millimeters wider. In hand, it feels very similar to the 6P, thanks to a nearly identical metal band that encompasses the phone, complete with chamfered edges. It's nearly 30 grams heavier than the Nexus, but the weight is evenly distributed and the increased heft is hardly perceptible.
The glass on the phone's face is slightly rounded, sloping down to the edges of the device. While the screen is 'just' a 1080p panel, it looks lovely to my eyes. The colors are vibrant and punchy, and, as an AMOLED device, blacks are luxuriously dark. From more than 6 inches away it looks every bit as good as the screen in the Nexus 6P, which shouldn't be surprising since both of the panels are sourced from Samsung.
The screen gets plenty bright to be read outdoors and dims super low, which is perfect for late night reading. It's only .3 inches larger than the panel on the 6P, but with the buttons moved off the screen to the bezel, it feels a lot larger than that. All told, this is a fantastic display, especially on a $300 device.
Below the screen a home button doubles as a fingerprint reader, which, by the way, is very fast and accurate. Capacitive buttons sit at either side of the home button, with the back button on the right. That took a little getting used to after 3 years with a Sony or Nexus device, but will feel normal to anyone used to a Samsung phone.
While the arrangement of the buttons may be the same as Samsung's phones, they are not back-lit like the Galaxy series, which makes it impossible to see them in low light. That, combined with the backwards placement, had me hitting the wrong button a lot my first week with the phone. Though, eventually, I did get used to it.
The back of the phone is an expanse of aluminum with plastic caps at the top and bottom which house sensors and antennas. A single loudspeaker lies near the bottom and the very slightly protruding camera module is at the top. The speaker is not as loud as the dual front facing speakers found on the 6P and is pretty tinny, with almost no bass presence.
The USB Type-C port and headphone jack are found at the bottom of the device – the top is entirely bare. The dual SIM slot near the top on the left side of the phone, the Micro SD card tray is similarly placed on the right. The volume rocker and power button are located about a little more than halfway up the right side of the device. They are raised just enough to be distinguishable and have nice clicky feedback.
The BLU Energy XL runs a heavily modified version of Android Lollipop. Yup, Lollipop, when Nougat is just a couple of months away from launching. The rep at BLU told me that the XL will be getting Marshmallow by the end of the year, but it's a let-down to see a brand new phone launching with year-old software.
Cam covered BLU's latest software in-depth in his article about the BLU Vivo XL so instead of rewriting his already thorough review, I'm just going to point out a few things I like about BLU's take on Android and a few things I think are kinda weird. Let's start with the odd.
- No app drawer: Yup, all the apps are spewed across your homescreens, no app drawer to be found. I can't tell you much more about the launcher because I Nova'd it after about 3 hours. I saw no point in using the default launcher when it is so easy to replace. If you don't care for it, then I'd recommend you do the same.
- Notifications and quick settings in different places: Notifications are shown by a swipe down from the top of the device, but the quick settings shade launches with a swipe up from the bottom. It's actually kinda nice not having to reach thethe top of the massive screen, I just would have preferred that both settings and notifications be accessible in the same screen.
- Can't change quick settings: On the quick settings page is a button you can hit to make a fake call to yourself. Hit it and 15 seconds later your phone rings. You can even answer it to hear a recorded voice. It's really bizarre, but I guess it could be useful. If it's a feature you know you'd never use, too bad, you can't edit which settings appear on the shade or their arrangement.
What I like.
- Scheduled on and off times: You can schedule a recurring time for the BLU XL to power off and back on. I can't recall seeing this feature on any other Android devices I haven owned. In fact the last phone I had that sported this feature was the Blackberry Curve 8900. There's no do not disturb mode, but this more or less works the same way.
- Suspend button: The suspend button is a movable translucent toggle that floats at the edge of the screen. When pressed, the circle expands with shortcuts to a few actions. There's a home button, a back button, a menu button, and most interestingly, a pinch button. When you press the pinch button the screen shrinks down to about 4 inches making one hand operation easier. With only a little over half the screen illuminated, I'd also assume that using this mode would conserve battery life. The suspend button is optional, it can be deactivated.
- Dismiss all button: At the bottom of the page in the recent apps tab is a button that will close all apps that are currently running which is handy to free up RAM or to just clean up your recent apps. It's a feature I miss on my Nexus 6P. Sure, other companies have this feature, but it's one I was happy to see included.
There may be some quirks in BLU's software, but at least it is stable. I can only recall 2-3 occasions in my time with the phone have I seen an app force close, which is impressive considering Hangouts force closes on my 6P at least once a day.
The XL is also a pretty snappy device. Apps may open a touch slower on it than the 6P, but the difference is barely noticeable. I didn't benchmark it, because I think benchmarks are silly (they have never impacted my decision to buy a device), but I imagine its scores are similar to the Vivo 5 since they both have the same processor and 3GB of RAM.
I didn't experience any appreciable delays when switching between apps and the XL plays games like Hearthstone and Riptide smoothly. The phone hardly heats up at all when running an intense application. In fact, I can't recall it ever being hot, and it takes a lot of stress to make it warm up at all.
There are a fair amount of pre-installed apps on the XL. They are mostly Google apps, along with a few Amazon apps, and some other odds and ends like a picture gallery, note taking app, and some theme/customization apps. A few can be deleted by the user and with 64GB of built-in storage and a MicroSD card slot capable that can handle an additional 32GB (I don't know why only 32GB, that's pretty low), you really won't have to worry about bloatware filling your phone's storage.
While the screen and build quality are both very good on the XL, the main selling point, in my opinion, is its remarkable endurance. This is, by far, the best battery life I have ever had on any Android phone I've used, and I don't say that lightly. The gargantuan 5,020 mAh battery paired with the power efficient AMOLED screen and efficient, if perhaps a bit under-powered, processor combine to create absolutely epic stamina.
I didn't run any specific battery run down tests, but let me tell you in real world terms how excellent the battery life is on the XL. I am an extremely heavy phone user, with 3-4 hours of screen-on time a day. The only Android phone I have ever owned that could make it through an entire day without having to recharge is the Sony Z3.
On a typical day I hit 15 percent battery on my Nexus 6P by about 5pm, about 10 hours after taking it off the charger. The BLU Energy XL would routinely last over four times as long, going an entire day, night and well into the evening the next day. BLU's marketing material states that the phone can last three days. For a power user, maybe not, but for a light to moderate user I think that is a realistic expectation.
The camera on the BLU Energy XL is ok, but not great. Two years ago I probably would have thought it was pretty good, but cameras in Android flagships have really improved over the last couple generations of devices and it takes a lot to impress me anymore.
I took some pictures with both the 6P and XL for comparison. The first image in each pairing was taken on the Energy XL, the second on the Nexus 6P.
As you can see, colors are a bit more muted and much cooler on the XL. Zooming in on the images also reveals that the images are not as sharp, blurring fine details. In adequate lighting the photos are ok, but in moderate to low light (the last 2 images were taken in low and moderate light, respectively) the camera struggles.
Video capture is not great on the XL. Videos have a fair amount of noise and distortion. Light changes cause jagged steps in brightness correction and rapid motion of the subject or camera can cause dropped frames. The phone is also not able to shoot in 4K or able to capture slow motion video, which is a bummer if you use those features.
With some touch up in Snapseed the phone is capable of producing some decent looking photos in ideal conditions, but I wouldn't say that the camera is a marquee feature of the XL.
For $300, the Energy XL is a lot of phone. With double the storage of most flagships, a gorgeous screen, and incredible battery life, there are quite a few things that make this phone worthy of your consideration. I wish there weren't as many missteps, like the outdated OS, missing NFC, and mediocre camera performance, but I think the pros will still outweigh the cons for many Android users.
The bottom line is that no phone is any good once the battery dies. If longevity and a massive screen are your biggest concerns when shopping for a device, and you can overlook its quirks, then add this big boy to your list of phones to consider. It's available for purchase now at Amazon in gold and silver for $300. Questions? You know where they go.