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.