Blu Life Play (Unlocked) review

At $229, the Blu Life Play is a good unlocked Android smartphone for people who want an affordable device with a large screen, as long as they can give up LTE.
Photo of Blu Life Play (Unlocked)

While it isn’t the fastest horse in the race, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more colorful Android phone than the Blu Life Play. At $229 (list), it’s a good option for a first smartphone, with its dual-SIM capability and high-quality 4.7-inch display, but our Editors’ Choice for unlocked phones, the Google Nexus 5 blows it out of the water.

Design
The Blu Life Play is pretty sleek for an unlocked smartphone. At 4.4 ounces, it’s quite light compared with other unlocked phones like the 5.29-ounce Verykool S470, or the 4.59-ounce Nexus 5, and it comes in at 5.39 by 2.69 by 0.31 inches (HWD). The phone has a plastic body and glass front, and it’s available in black, cyan, pink, white, or yellow. It’s flat-backed with rounded corners and a tiny ridge encircling the rear camera in the top left corner, next to the LED flash. From the front, the phone has both the Power button and volume rockers on the right side. The headphone jack and micro USB port are on top. Underneath the screen is a trio of dedicated capacitive buttons. The Life Play, just like the S470, uses the old Menu button design instead of the Recent Apps button that most Android phones now ship with.

Pop off the plastic back to see the microSD slot, 1,800mAh removable battery, and micro SIM and mini SIM card slots, as the phone supports both sizes of SIM cards. In the box is a headset, a screen protector, and a silicone case that matches the phone’s color.

The screen measures 4.7 inches and has 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution (about 313 pixels per inch). The bright IPS LCD has a great viewing angle for movies and games, and text looks sharp, besting lower-resolution phones like the Alcatel One Touch Idol but still underperforming against the Nexus 5.

Connectivity
The Blu Life Play doesn’t have LTE, a shame considering the beautiful screen would be perfect for viewing high-definition videos online. There’s HSPA+ 42 on the 850/1900 bands, so here in the U.S., 3G coverage will be more widely available on AT&T’s network than on T-Mobile’s.

The dual-SIM slot lets you hold a “personal” and “work” number in the same phone. You can specify in the Dual SIM Settings page which SIM handles actions like phone calls or data connections. In the U.S., dual-SIM phones are relegated to using AT&T, T-Mobile, and virtual carriers that use those networks, such as H2O, Simple Mobile, and ReadySIM. Sprint, Verizon, and other carriers on those networks don’t support dual-SIM devices.

The Life Play also has Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, but only on the slower 2.4GHz frequency.

Call quality wasn’t extraordinary. The earpiece was loud enough, and didn’t drop out or sound robotic. My voice sounded muffled and distant according to the person on the other end, though. Noise cancellation was poor, with every honking car in New York audible on the other end. Speakerphone quality wasn’t much better, and wasn’t loud enough to be audible on city streets. In our talk time test, the Blu Life Play lasted 8 hours and 48 minutes.

Performance, OS
The Life Play is running a MediaTek 1.2GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor with 1GB of RAM and powered by a relatively stock version of Android 4.2.1, save for a few apps added by MediaTek, the chipset manufacturer. Odd translation and grammatical errors in the UI made us wonder if it hadn’t been proofread by a native English speaker. Extra apps include an app manager, file explorer, FM radio and recorder, and flashlight, none of which are removable. The phone performs fine during casual use and Web browsing. There was no stuttering or lag in Chrome, and switching apps was definitely quick. There’s only 1.74GB of internal storage, but the phone also supports microSD cards up to 64GB.

This MediaTek chipset can’t handle the latest high-end games. Testing with GFXBench yielded 14 frames per second, unsuitable for hardcore mobile gamers. The new standard for unlocked phones, the Nexus 5, scored 59 frames per second in the Taiji graphics test, while the Life Play scored 13.96. The racing game Asphalt 8 ran, but was choppy and hard to manage with all the dropped frames. More casual affairs like Fruit Ninja and Temple Run 2 work better.

As far as media is concerned, the Life Play plays everything except WMA and WMV files, up to HD resolution. When playing music with a pair of Apple earphones, the music quality was degraded drastically. Every other pair of headphones worked just fine.

Camera, Conclusions
The 8-megapixel rear camera isn’t very good. Pictures are sharp enough, but color saturation is poor. Dark grays become blacks, making contrast an issue. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is a pretty good one for such an inexpensive phone. It often overexposes photos, but does a good job in capturing more detail and contrast than its competition. The Life Play records 1080p video, but the quality wasn’t adequate enough to recommend filming anything with it. Frame rates dropped as low as 17 frames per second, and low light made videos look noisy.

For under $250, the Blu Life Play is a solid phone for budget-minded consumers, with a great display for watching movies. The Google Nexus 5 adds a larger, higher-resolution display as well as LTE for $120 more, and it’s our current Editors’ Choice for unlocked phones. While we think the Nexus 5′s LTE support is worth the extra cash, the Life Play will still serve you well if you’re on a strained budget.

Specifications
Service Provider AT&T, T-Mobile, Unlocked
Phone Capability / Network GSM
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
Screen Resolution 720 x 1280 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 5.39 x 2.69 x 0.31 (HWD) inches
Weight 4.4 oz
Screen Type IPS LCD
Operating System as Tested Android OS
GPS Yes
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8-megapixel Rear
2-megapixel Front
microSD Slot Yes
Screen Pixels Per Inch 312 ppi
Video Camera Resolution 1080p Rear
Processor Speed 1.2 GHz
Bluetooth Version 4
Screen Size 4.7 inches
Battery Life (As Tested) 8 hours, 48 minutes
Form Factor Candy Bar

Verdict
At $229, the Blu Life Play is a good unlocked Android smartphone for people who want an affordable device with a large screen, as long as they can give up LTE.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc