Blu Studio 5.5 (Unlocked) review

The Blu Studio 5.5 is a large, unlocked Android smartphone that rings up for less than $200. But in the bargain, you get a low-resolution display and mediocre performance. Better options are available.
Photo of Blu Studio 5.5 (Unlocked)

The Blu Studio 5.5 ($177.99 list) is a cheap unlocked phablet. But don’t let the big screen fool you; Blu cut so many corners to get to this price point that this is a hard phone to love. Our Editors’ Choice for unlocked smartphones remains the $349 Google Nexus 5, but there are other good, cheaper options both already out on the market and coming soon.

Design
The Studio 5.5 is a big deal, and not in a good way. At 6.52 ounces, it’s .06 ounce heavier than the 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and much heavier than the 4.6-ounce Nexus 5. It measures 6.19 by 3.12 by 0.37 (HWD) inches, which will make it too wide for some people to use one-handed.

The phablet doesn’t creak or flex and it’s solidly built. It’s rounded near the edges and has a flat back, with a raised camera and an LED flash cutout on the upper portion. On the right side of the Studio are the plastic volume rocker and Power button, and the headphone jack is on top. The micro USB port is on the bottom.

Pop off the back to see the microSD memory card slot, large 2,250mAh battery, and two mini-SIM cards (inaccessible without removing the battery), ideal for prepaid SIM cards, but not for swapping out micro SIMs from recent smartphones.

The Studio’s display is disappointing. The 5.5-inch TFT LCD has a mediocre 854-by-480 resolution that amounts to about 178 pixels per inch. It looked grainy and visibly low-resolution compared with other current phones. Viewing angles were deplorable; the screen was either too light or dark if not viewed straight on. Since you don’t get more working real estate than on smaller phones, the big screen is really only useful here for people who need larger type and touch targets.

Underneath the phone’s display are three dedicated capacitive buttons. The Studio, like the related Blu Life Play, uses the old Menu button instead of the now-common Recent Apps button.

Connectivity
The Studio 5.5 lacks both LTE and the next step down, HSPA+ 42. It does support HSPA+ 21 on the 850/1900 bands, giving it pretty good AT&T coverage and limited T-Mobile coverage. Expect download speeds of 2-5Mbps.

The phablet makes room for two mini-SIM slots, making it easy to have a personal and business number on the same device. The Dual SIM Settings page lets you relegate each SIM card to certain actions like making calls or handling data connections. AT&T, T-Mobile, and virtual carriers that use those networks are able to use dual-SIM phones like the Studio 5.5, but carriers like Verizon and Sprint are not. The Studio also has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.

If you’re mainly looking for a phone to make calls, I would suggest something a little smaller than the Studio. As far as call quality is concerned, you want to use a Bluetooth headset here. With the earpiece, there were no major issues, but a slight hissing could be heard by the person on the other end, and noise cancellation wasn’t particularly impressive.  Noise cancellation is nonexistent when using the quiet speakerphone. When using a Jabra Style Bluetooth headset, I sounded much clearer, and noise cancellation improved. In our talk time tests, the Blu Studio 5.5 lasted 9 hours and 25 minutes, not particularly long for a phone this size.

Performance and Multimedia
Inside the Studio 5.5 are the same MediaTek 1.2GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor and 1GB RAM we saw in the the Life Play. The phablet is running Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean, which functions very smoothly. Thanks to MediaTek, there is very little bloatware—just an FM radio app, a flashlight, a file explorer, and an app manager. None of them are removable. MediaTek also added a bunch of quirky translation errors that native English speakers may find a bit odd. Casual browsing through Web pages in Chrome or in the Play Store didn’t elicit any hang-ups in performance.

Benchmarks were disappointing. The GFXBench graphics benchmark only produced 14 frames per second, making the Studio 5.5 unusable for high-end gaming. It couldn’t run Asphalt 8 at all, and Asphalt 7 was practically unplayable due to sluggish and choppy performance. Fruit Ninja ran with occasional fits and starts, and Candy Crush Saga ran without issue.

Media playback wasn’t particularly great in any respect. The phone handled most files just fine, but only up to 720p resolution. WMA and WMV formats also aren’t supported. The rear speaker was underpowered, and applause devolved into what sounded more akin to white noise than clapping. The phone has 1.75GB of free storage, so a microSD card is strongly recommended. The Studio 5.5 reads up to 64GB cards.

The rear 5-megapixel camera takes photos almost instantly, which makes capturing things quickly a breeze. Unfortunately, the image quality makes it less suited for being your preferred camera. There’s a lot of noise in low light shots, and outdoor shots are often overexposed, destroying detail. The front-facing VGA-resolution camera isn’t good either, and looks too washed out for any Instagram-worthy selfies. Video recording at 720p is a poor experience. Whether indoors or out, significant image noise was visible. Inside, frame rates dropped to as low as 13 frames per second, making it unusable.

Conclusions
If you’re looking for a quality device at the sub-$200 price point, the Blu Studio 5.5 is not the one. Sure, it has a physically large display, but the low resolution and poor viewing angles simply ruin the media-consuming experience. It doesn’t do anything particularly well. Blu has a range of other devices that we’re working through testing right now, including the 4.7-inch Blu Life Play; the Verykool S470 is also available for around $230. And let’s not forget Motorola’s just-announced Moto G, a quality midrange phone for $179.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM
Screen Resolution 480 x 854 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 6.19 x 3.12 x 0.37 (HWD) inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720p Rear
VGA Front
Processor Speed 1.2 GHz
Colors Available Black, Blue, Pink, White, Yellow
GPS Yes
Service Provider AT&T, T-Mobile, Unlocked
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
High-Speed Data HSDPA
Weight 6.52 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android OS
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 5-megapixel Rear
0.3-megapixel Front
Screen Pixels Per Inch 178 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1900, 2100
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 5.5 inches
Capacities Available 4GB
Bluetooth Version 4.0

Verdict
The Blu Studio 5.5 is a large, unlocked Android smartphone that rings up for less than $200. But in the bargain, you get a low-resolution display and mediocre performance. Better options are available.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc