Blu Products just released the Blu Dash 4.5, an unlocked quad core Android 4.2 smartphone for $139.99. For budget devices, it offers great value: The phone features all the components of a modern smartphone, and despite its relatively minuscule 512 megabytes of RAM, it runs pretty smoothly. But was it worth the money and how does it compare to a $350 Nexus 4?
I purchased the Blu Dash 4.5 for my father. He needed a modern, disposable and inexpensive alternative to a regular cellular phone with a somewhat large screen for his deteriorating eyesight. His requirements were not particularly steep: His smartphone should offer reasonably good battery life, its GPS needs to quickly acquire a signal, it should have reasonably good cellular signal reception and it should have enough storage to handle a small number of essential apps. The Blu Dash appears to fit the bill.
The Nexus 4 in theory beats the pants (or rubber) off the Blu Dash — my goal was to determine whether or not the Blu Dash offered relatively good value compared to the Nexus 4. Could it do the same things at a fraction of the cost? To perform this analysis, I ran the Dash alongside my Nexus 4 through a gauntlet of tests: I went through an hour long GPS-guided bike ride and then scored the device in AnTuTu Benchmark. I also used the analysis app Elixir 2 to breakdown the parts inside of the Dash.
The internal components of the Blu Dash won’t break any necks, but they’re not bad, either.
- Android Version: The Blu Dash includes one of the newer builds of Android, version 4.2.1. Although given Blu’s previously track record on devices, the Dash will likely not ever receive a newer version of Android. However, if you get stuck with an OS, 4.2 is a good one to have.
- Screen: The screen resolution isn’t the highest, although most users won’t notice the difference compared to a higher resolution screen. The Dash has a 480×854 screen with a pixel density of 240 DPI. For most users that’s good enough – higher resolution screens drain a bit more.
- RAM: The Dash includes 512 megabytes of RAM. A small amount for an Android phone using 4.2. However, throughout tests, the phone seemed snappy and smooth. There was a slight amount of roughness at points, but overall this didn’t detract from its usability. This may have to do with the high quality flash memory used in the Dash.
- CPU: The Blu Dash uses a quad core Cortex A7 design by MediaTek called the MT6589M. While MediaTek isn’t known for its cutting edge variants on the ARM chip it licenses, it has taken the A7 CPU into territory unheard of. The particular variant on the A7 in the Dash performs quite well, scoring around 6,000 in AnTuTu Benchmark. For comparison, the Nexus 4′s Snapdragon S4 CPU scores around 8,000. The Tegra 3, a popular CPU for tablets, scores around 3,000.
- Battery: The Dash’s battery weighs in at 2000 mAh, which for a budget phone is pretty hefty.
- Sensors: The Dash includes a standard Android smartphone sensor suite: Gyroscopic sensor, accelerometer, magnetic field sensor and more. However, several sensors were broken or defective on my model, including the gyroscopic sensor and the orientation sensor (which was detected, but tests showed it did not work at all).
- 3G/4G: The Dash includes a WCDMA/GSM SIM card slot, in addition to a pure GSM slot – WCDMA in many countries, including the US, is used for transmitting 4G signals. Another interesting feature of the Dash is that you can swap your SIM card between both slots, meaning you can alternate between 3G and 4G. 3G offers better battery life, whereas 4G offers faster connect speeds.
- Storage: There’s 4 gigabytes of storage space available in the Dash. In the tests I performed, it appears to be class 10 memory, which is the highest quality in most smartphones.
- Camera: The 5 megapixel camera in the Dash isn’t all that great, but it’s not all that bad either.
Overall, like many phones in Blu Products’ inventory, the Dash is a well-priced, value-oriented design. It shouldn’t blow anyone away in terms of the hardware, but it still offers all the basic features of a modern Android smartphone for a very low price. Combined with an MVNO (in the US and Canada), the Dash can save its users quite a bit of money.
To read more on how to save money on your mobile bill, check out my article on MVNOs.
Battery Life and Performance
I looked at the Dash’s hardware and performance from several areas, mainly its cellular signal quality, the duration of its battery, GPS performance and its benchmark scores.
- Signal Strength: Strangely enough the Blu Dash showed better all around signal strength than my Nexus 4. I can’t explain why, either, since both use the same service provider.
- Battery: How did my phone’s battery handle the stress of a long GPS-guided bicycle ride? Here’s my numbers: After bicycling 1 hour, using GPS to navigate my ride, the battery percentage declined by five percentage points. In comparison, my Nexus 4 declined by 6%, on a slightly larger battery.
- GPS performance: I stopped at three points along my bike ride and examined the GPS of both devices. At all points, the Nexus 4 showed better GPS signal strength. However, both devices acquired GPS signal quickly and without issue.
- AnTuTu Benchmark: The AnTuTu benchmark scores the overall performance of a mobile device on the basis of how powerful its CPU, how quickly it writes to flash memory, the quality of its RAM and the power of its graphics processor. Compared to the Nexus 4, the Dash scored about 12,000 compared to the Nexus’s 18,000, making the Nexus 4 roughly 30% faster. However, considering that the Nexus 4 costs 40% more, you’re actually getting slightly better value out of the Dash.
Overall the Dash performed very well, except for the issue with the Gyroscopic sensor. However, if the sensor issues are indicative of a wider quality concern, there may be other problems waiting further down the line.
Build Quality, Warranty and Customer Support
Unfortunately, I received a slightly defective smartphone from Blu. The screen autorotation failed to work and several sensors appeared to either absent or dead on arrival. In particular, the gyroscopic sensor wasn’t being picked up by an Elixir 2 scan. Oftentimes sensors tend to be clustered together, so it’s likely that a single component failed and thus caused several other sensors to go down.
I don’t particularly fault Blu Products for this failing, particularly since many major corporations have produced entire lines of phones with serious problems and then refused to honor their own warranty. In the case of the Blu Dash, the phone carries a full year, standard warranty. You pay for return shipping.
After experiencing problems with the gyroscope sensor, I contacted Blu Products via email and received a response within about ten minutes. After some back and forth diagnosing the issue, four days later (two business days), I was provided with an RMA number. While I will need to return the phone at my own expense, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable a request. However, in the event that Blu’s RMA process proves poor, I will update this article.
For information on the guts of your own smartphone, I strongly recommend checking out Erez’s article on the fabulous Elixir 2, which was used to identify the hardware in this article.
So, is the Blu Dash 4.5 worth the money? Yes it is.
The Dash offers 70% of the performance of a Nexus 4, at 40% of the cost. It also handles normal smartphone operation without any issue.
Even well known manufacturers experience a great deal of issues with quality control. Although a relatively minor part failed, it does not entirely damage my opinion of the phone. From both a technical perspective and a hands-on experience, the Dash feels like it’s worth every penny. I was particularly impressed with the performance of the MediaTek MT6589M CPU.