Want a cheap, high-end Android smartphone? The recently released $350 BLU Life Pure strikes a great balance between price and performance for an unlocked phone. But can it beat out stiff competition from similarly priced superphones, such as the Nexus 5?
To find out, we purchased a review unit. Now that we’re done with testing, we’re giving it away to one very lucky reader. Read through our review, then join the giveaway to win this BLU Life Pure smartphone for yourself!
Pricing and Comparison to Nexus 5
In terms of price-to-performance, the BLU Life Pure offers great value. But how does it stack up to the comparably-priced Nexus 5?
- GPU: PowerVR SGX 544MP
- CPU: MTK6589T, scales between 497.2MHz to 1.5GHz, quad core
- Screen display: 5-inch IPS screen with 1920×1080 441 PPI
- Glass type: One Glass Solution with scratch protective lamination
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 32GB
- Camera: 13 megapixel 4032 x 3224 with LED flash
- Front facing camera: 5 megapixel
- Battery: 2020 mAh Lithium Ion
- Wireless: Single band 802.11n rated at 65 Mbps
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, Micro-USB
- Networks: 850/1900/2100 MHz, HSPA+ 42 Mbps
It uses a relatively poor GPU for a high resolution screen. The MediaTek CPU, while good, doesn’t stack up against the powerful and sophisticated Snapdragon 800 inside of the Nexus 5. On the other hand, the camera, RAM, screen quality and storage capacity match or handily beat the Nexus 5.
Overall, especially considering the low cost and quality aesthetic design, the Life Pure feels like a much more expensive phone. It comes inside a high quality box, seated on a felt-lined tray. It includes a large number of peripherals – a screen protector, manual, microUSB cable, SIM card ejection tool, a reasonably high quality earphone and a polycarbonate case of very dubious quality.
The BLU Life Pure appears similar in design to the Nexus 5 (our review of the Nexus 5). They offer approximately the same thickness, although the sloped edges of the Nexus 5 make it appear slimmer. The BLU Life Pure, however, uses a polycarbonate unibody construction, which gives it an edge in aesthetic appeal. The Life Pure uses the same speaker and microphone design as the Nexus 5. Its speaker appears on the right side of the phone while the microphone shows on the left.
The Life Pure departs from many other smartphones in its button positioning location of its LED notifications light. The LED light sits on the top-right side of the phone. It turns blue when charging and green when fully charged.
Value for Money
As mentioned prior, BLU Products packages a screen protector, earjams and a case with the Life Pure. This lowers the total cost of ownership by around $10-20, which is the lower end pricing of peripheral devices. The actual cost of a 32GB Nexus 5, if it includes shipping and peripherals, comes out to around $470-480 and the 16GB version costs $370-380.
Personally, I believe that the 32GB Nexus 5 offers poorer value as flash memory costs generally $0.50 per GB and Google charges $50 more for 16 additional gigabytes. However, I must point out that the Life Pure case immediately began fracturing at its corners – if you want better protection, buying either a flip case or a silicone protector is a necessity. These exist on eBay and Amazon for between $10-30. For example:
Comparison to Nexus 5
The Pure Life dispenses with the frills offered by rival firms and instead focuses on the core functionality of a smartphone: Display resolution, performance, storage space and general functionality with GSM networks. Compared to the similarly priced Nexus 5, the BLU Life Pure offers both advantages and disadvantages:
- Camera: The Life Pure doesn’t offer an app capable of taking HDR pictures, unlike the Nexus 5. However, you can download an HDR app such as Cymera. In a head-to-head matchup with the Nexus 5’s 8MP OIS camera (left), the BLU Life Pure’s 13MP camera (right) comes out ahead, offering significantly more detailed pictures.
- Screen size: The Life Pure’s screen (5-inch) is slightly larger than the Nexus 5’s (4.95-inch).
- Lighter weight: The 128g weight of the Life Pure only slightly represents a lighter weight compared to the Nexus 5’s 130g weigh-in.
- Aesthetic design: Our readership might find it surprising that the BLU Life Pure offers superior aesthetic design compared to the Nexus 5. However, the polycarbonate unibody case might pick up more scratches than the soft-touch plastic of the Nexus. On the other hand, the unibody design gives a sleeker and more durable appearance.
- Software features: The custom version of Android used in the Life Pure offers a lot of additional features over standard Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and the latest version of Android 4.4 (KitKat). For prepaid customers, the clear winner remains BLU’s custom build, which offers a one-click solution for restricting background data. Android 4.2 to 4.4 allows the restricting of background app data on an app-by-app basis, which takes a lot of time to configure. It also offers a low-power mode, which scales the CPU’s frequency down, saving battery life.
- Price: The MSRP of the BLU Life Pure starts at $349.99, although it sells from Amazon for about $315, $35 cheaper than the Nexus 5.
- Battery life: While good, the BLU Life Pure (2,020 mAh battery) doesn’t offer the same battery life as a Nexus 5 (2,300 mAh). I get about a full day more battery (if not more) from the Nexus 5, with heavy use. With the same usage, I can’t get a full day out of the Life Pure without enabling its battery-saving feature.
- Performance: The Life Pure doesn’t feel nearly as snappy or fluid as the Nexus 5. I suspect that this performance differential extends from the use of the outdated PowerVR SGX GPU combined with its large, high resolution screen.
- Feel: The soft plastic used by the Nexus 5 provides a great deal more grip. The polycarbonate unibody of the Life Pure doesn’t provide much traction and will suffer from a higher rate of drops. Using a silicone rubber, or TPU, case is an absolute must.
- TRIM support: Without TRIM support (why TRIM matters?) the Life Pure will slowly lose performance over time, requiring a factory reset to restore performance.
- User serviceability: Unfortunately, I don’t have the slightest idea on how to break the Life Pure down. Other unibody phones require a suction cup to remove the glass faceplate from the phone, but there’s no obvious means of doing this.
- Lack of root: BLU Products’ customer service does not root, or provide instructions on how to root, their phones. Their warranty agreement does not cover viruses or damage inflicted by the user, so ostensibly, rooting will void the warranty. I do not advise attempting to root.
- Lack of custom ROM support: Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be custom ROM support. This will discourage many seeking to squeeze better performance out of their devices.
- Lack of LTE: There’s no LTE support of any kind.
The BLU Life Pure’s performance is good for a budget platform, but it falls short of the buttery smooth screen transitions and user interface performance of the Nexus 5. It also features poorer battery life, although by most standards, the battery performs quite well.
As always, AnTuTu scores aren’t very accurate due to rampant cheating. Overall the Nexus 5 (which doesn’t inflate its AnTuTu scores) outscores the Life Pure in almost all categories. The Life Pure scores a 15,505 General Score and the Nexus 5 scores around 20,000. In performance (according to AnTuTu) the Life Pure scores more closely to the Nexus 4 (our review of the Nexus 4).
BLU’s Custom Version of Android
BLU’s implementation of Android 4.2.1 is visually pleasing and it offers many features only available in custom ROMs – such as USB debug mode enabled without tweaking required. However, the performance of the smartphone’s moldering PowerVR SGX GPU on a 1920×1080 display screen causes choppy page turns and screen transitions at times. Many of these issues might be resolvable with a better GPU. As it stands, the user interface performance falls short of the excellence of the Nexus 5. But it’s by no means bad — it’s just not comparable to more expensive devices.
Its biggest win over vanilla Android remains the reboot option – instead of shutting the phone down and manually starting the device, the reboot option shows up by holding down the power button.
Another useful feature for prepaid MVNO users (what’s an MVNO?) is the ability to disable all background data activity with a single click. In vanilla Android, to the best of my knowledge, disabling background data transfer requires tweaking each app’s data permissions. A single click makes this process much simpler.
After a month of use, the BLU Life Pure offers an excellent 75 score on Carat (which can be used to save your phone’s battery life), my favorite battery analysis app. It’s possible to further optimize the phone’s battery performance by enabling its built-in power saving features, but this comes at the expense of performance. Turning on power-saving mode causes its Carat score to rise to 85. While I didn’t perform a complete evaluation of its battery, I received about three-to-five days of battery life during normal use. With heavy use, it doesn’t last all day, expiring after around four hours.
Remaining Elements to Consider
BLU Products uses a customized version of Android 4.2.1 which offers a lot of additional features that I wish Android would offer by default. For example, when the Life Pure connects to a PC via USB, a switch appears allowing USB debugging to enable. For prepaid users, BLU includes a feature that allows the disabling of background data transfer. This can substantially reduce data costs and greatly enhances its value with limited data plans.
As stated earlier, the phone can enter battery saving mode, which as the name suggests, can save battery life. By simply flipping two toggles, you can put the phone into a low-power mode, which automatically switches off WiFi when not in use. It also underclocks the CPU. In my experience, this gives substantially improved battery performance when idle and a fairly good boost to active use at the expense of performance.
Interesting enough, BLU Products’ Android skin dispenses with Android’s App Drawer. You remove apps through the launcher. This feature is something of an acquired taste, but overall gives the UI a distinctive flavor and doesn’t substantially detract from the user experience. However, ultimately, these elements change the function of Android enough that it may confuse veteran Android users. While I found them to be improvements, not everyone would agree.
Lack of TRIM
I spoke to a BLU Products representative regarding the BLU Phone’s lack of TRIM support. The solid state storage solution used aboard smartphones, mostly eMMC modules, slows down after periods of use. The more data transferred to the device, the faster its descent into lag. After time without TRIM storage optimization, phones become laggy and perform poorly. Prior to the release of Android 4.3, TRIM didn’t exist within the Android ecosystem, although some manufacturers included workarounds that optimized storage. Unfortunately, the BLU Life Pure doesn’t possess a workaround, aside from performing a factory reset. While the 32GB inside of the Life Pure will take some time before succumbing to lag, it will eventually happen.
As I mentioned earlier, the case included with the Life Pure almost immediately developed cracks on its corners, likely caused by a design defect. While replacement cases come cheap, I feel that BLU Products should have offered to replace the case. Or in future production, they should include a silicone rubber case instead of the defective hard plastic cases now included with the Life Pure. It’s my hope that this attitude does not reflect a general lack of interest in supplying a better product to its customers. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Should you buy the BLU Life Pure?
BLU Products Life Pure doesn’t give a substantially better dollar-per-dollar experience compared to the Nexus 5, although it’s a strong competitor. While its unique user interface features a number of improvements over vanilla Android 4.2.1, the phone’s lack of TRIM and only marginally lower cost make it a hard sell to consumers wanting the best phone at the lowest price.
For those who need the 32GB of storage, slightly larger screen and better camera, the Life Pure does offer great value – but for everyone else, I would advise buying the smaller 16GB Nexus 5. Or with a bit more money, try out the Moto X, which I consider to be the best of the current generation of phones.
How do I win the BLU Life Pure?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, March 14. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.
Congratulations, Edgar Arana! You would have received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond before April 4 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.
Send your products to be reviewed. Contact Jackson Chung for further details.