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Blu Life Play Review: can a $230 Android phone still be high-end?

Review by Andrew Kameka on Monday July 22, 2013.

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Blu Life Play Home screen
Blu Life Play Home screen

Android phones contradict the "you get what you pay for" ideals of consumerism because the phones tend to cost about the same but offer wildly different packages. The Blu Life Play seeks to shatter that idea altogether and deliver a near cutting-edge Android smartphone at half the cost of what the larger companies pay.

Full retail costs for today's top smartphones regularly exceed more than $600, and more affordable smartphones just can't keep up with more demanding schedules. The Blu Life Play attempts to reject the rules of that spectrum and deliver a high-quality phone at midrange prices. It's an ambitious goal, but is it a reasonable one?

Hardware and Design

It's clear from the moment that someone touches the Blu Life Play that this isn't an average phone. Bucking the trend of black and white slabs of plastics that typify smartphones today, it comes in bold colors that wrap around the device's rounded edges. Grey and white options are available for someone looking to remain low-key, but hot pink, highlighter green, and cyan blue colors make the device standout. The Life Play has a surprisingly suave feel and a very thin profile. The coating on the back is fingerprint resistant and suffered only slight chipping when I dropped it 10 feet down the stairs of the subway. It's only 7.9 mm thin, 68.3mm wide, and 136.9mm tall. (0.31 x 2.69 x 5.39 in). With a great feel and capacitive buttons for Menu, Home, and Back, the Life Play can hold its head high against the competition.

The Blu Life Play has a peculiar limitation on headphone compatibility. The 3.5mm headphone jack sounds great when I use the earphones that ship with the device, but plugging in any of the four other headphones I have leads to muffled and distorted sounds that makes listening to music untenable. It turns out that headphone jacks have two standards, and the Life Play supports only one of them. That unfortunately means that users will face a challenge if they ever decide to upgrade their earphones or have to buy a replacement.

Blu Life Play back
Blu Life Play back

Performance and Key Specs

Though it can definitely hold its own externally, the Life Play trails the competition when it comes to internal hardware. The Life Play has a quad-core processor, but it's a 1.2 GHz CPU using ARM's Cortex-A7. The Mediatek processor is perfectly capable of handling the average task but is noticeably not as quick as devices running Snapdragon or Exynos chips. The 1GB of RAM present also doesn't do the phone many favors when running multiple apps at once. It won't break any speed records but the performance returned is usable.

The Blu Life Play has only 4GB of internal memory, but it makes up for that by having a microSD slot that supports up to 32GB. Having dealt with so many devices recently that place hard limits on storage with no option for expansion, it's been good to be able to plug in my microSD card and have all of my videos and music files readily available, something that takes more time on the internal-only devices that are prevalent today.

Blu Life Play right side
Blu Life Play right side

Screen Quality

A colorful 4.7-inch HD display goes on a long way towards making the Blu Life Play more attractive. The 720p screen is bright and accurate with a solid color profile paired with 320ppi density. The display doesn't have as much details as the high-end smartphones on the market but it's a quality screen. The screen can be viewed outdoors and you won't find a display to rival the Life Play at this price point.

Software and Apps

It might surprise you to know that while bigger companies like HTC, Samsung, and Sony routinely release smartphones running months-old software, the Blu Life Play has Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The Life Play's software is a modified version of Android that looks like stock Android in some places but definitely has its changes. The lock screen remains untouched, allowing for widgets and quick unlocking to the camera or home screen. It's strange to see the Settings menu have a Common Settings tab that highlights the most important settings; most of the options can be access via the notification drawer just as easily. The changes prove more valuable with options to automatically schedule to auto-wake or sleep, or disable some features when the phone reaches a certain power level. The Calendar app also shows how Blu has re-themed some apps to have different color schemes with white, black, and orange rather than the white and blue typically seen in Android. The easiest way I can describe some aspects of the changes is to picture a subdued Go/MIUI style with most of the flash stripped out. The changes aren't exactly refined when looking at the modified messaging app, but I have no problem with the adjustments made to the Contacts or Clock apps.

Google Play has plenty of ways to get the experience closer to stock Android, though it might not be necessary. The standard Android keyboard with word prediction is present, but users should download the Google Play version to get a more up-to-date app with gesture input. The launcher doesn't alphabetize apps, so downloading Nova Launcher or Action Launcher should fix that problem and add more features in the process.The Life Play has no carrier bloatware or manufacturer intrusions. The only additions are a middling music player, a file explorer, a flashlight app, and a compass. An FM Radio app relying on headphones is also included.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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