Remember that $50 smartphone Amazon is subsidizing with lockscreen ads for Amazon Prime subscribers? The Wall Street Journal posted Joanna Stern’s review of it a couple of days ago. (Actually, the reviewer used the $60 model with twice the RAM and storage of the $50 model, which seems to be an upgrade worth paying for.) And the review seemed oddly reminiscent of my review of the $10 Android phone—it’s far from being the best phone in the world, but it’s surprisingly useful all the same.
The Blu R1 HD smartphone is unlocked, but only works with GSM carriers, such as T-Mobile or AT&T—Verizon and Sprint are right out. It has a decent 5” 720P screen, the fairly low-quality cameras and terrible speaker one would expect from a cheap device, and it apparently won’t handle Pokémon Go’s augmented reality. (On the other hand, some of the answered user questions on the phone’s Amazon product page say it works fine with Pokémon Go.) Even the $60 model’s 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage seems like a tight squeeze for daily use. But the R1 HD works all right for basic web browsing, social media, and even streaming video tasks, Stern reports, even if it does slow down on graphically intense games—and it has great battery life.
The article doesn’t discuss how well it works as an e-reader, but the odds are pretty good it will run all or most of the same e-reading apps any other Android device will, and there are plenty of great options out there ranging from Amazon’s Kindle app (which is, naturally, included as part of Amazon’s vendor cruft) to Google Play Books, Moon+, and so on. And unlike the Fire and its ilk, this phone does include access to the Google Play Store, so you can go get them. And the screen resolution is on a par with a number of inexpensive tablets (and better than the $50 7” Fire’s), in a smaller form factor so the picture will look sharper and clearer.
Of course, the biggest fly in the cheap-phone ointment is the lockscreen and notification ads that $50 price cut subsidizes. Stern finds them annoying, and more so that they aren’t yet tailored to her personal interests the way Amazon ads are on other platforms. (Amazon promises to refine the ad experience over time.) But then, even $100 or $110 is cheap for an Android smartphone, so people looking for a cheap one might want to consider just buying it without the $50 price break. Either way, though, you do have to be an Amazon Prime subscriber to get that price.
In any event, it’s great that more cheap smartphone options are becoming available. They’re never going to be as good as one of the high-end dream machines, but they could be just right for folks who don’t have many smartphone needs, or as a starter model for kids who might not be ready for more expensive hardware.
Why do cell phone companies offer service that only works if you stand out in the rain or blazing sun? AT&T has two stores closer to me than their closest tower. That’s grossly misplaced priorities.
Before you buy, be sure an check out cellular coverage in your area, perhaps by asking your neighbors. Where I live, I tried T-Mobile and AT&T and both proved worthless indoors, with about half the calls dropped. Only Verizon has decent coverage here. I get my Verizon through a reseller that offers the same coverage at half the price.
If you want one of the better phones, keep an eye on your local Craigslist. If you take care not to get a stolen one, you can get a good deal. And older but better phone is often better than a new, cheap one.
I bought the Blu R1 (the higher RAM/storage one) because I needed to replace my failing (old) iPhone which I used as a media device. At a third of the price of the lowest iPod touch I thought it was a bargain, and I needed to learn the Android OS for work anyway (a library that deals primarily with ebooks).
I really like it so far and all the apps I used before are in the Google Play store and work fine (if not always the same as the iOS version).
For the curious they are: OverDrive, 3M Cloud Library, OneClickDigital, Nook, hoopla, and the Kindle app (along with Amazon Music, some library apps to handle accounts, and a podcast app to replace the older version of the iOS podcast app).
The only problems I’ve had are strange battery issues (seems that if I turn everything off to save energy it actually burns more battery power more quickly—I have to let it search for wifi in the background otherwise it goes through 1% of power per minute and blames it on screen use in the metrics). Most of the time the power use is fine, sometimes it isn’t.
The other problem is an even weirder headphone jack issue, where it sounds like a static-y radio signal when I use a aux cable to plug it into my car. The same cable sounds fine with the iPhone so it’s something particular to this phone, not shielding interference or something? I’m not tech savvy enough to figure out why, I’ll just look for a cable that works (and buy a bluetooth aux connection if I have to, but I like the simplicity and low energy consumption of plugging in a wire).
I guess I should point out I’m not using it as a phone AT ALL, it’s purely for my media consumption of ebooks and audio whatevers. I read more on my Paperwhite but I am reading some on the device, since it’s a nice screen and bigger than my iPhone’s screen.
Oh, and the ads in the background don’t bug me at all, I hardly even notice them because they’re only on the lockscreen and don’t take up room elsewhere like they do on the kindles e-reader menus.
Thanks for talking about this device, I was surprised it isn’t talked about more, if not for the phone part than at least the media part. Hope my 2 cents helps people looking for a nice little device.