Bargain hunters who balk at paying more than $200 for a phone will welcome the latest device from Blu, the R1 Plus. Priced at $159.99, this budget phone's sleek looks conceal its low price tag. Just be prepared to make some compromises in the pursuit of savings.
Design: Conceals its budget roots
The R1 Plus joins the move to big-screen phones, with a 5.5-inch screen housed in slate-grey aluminum with chrome accents. The look comes off as much classier than the R1 Plus' price tag would suggest.
However, the R1 Plus doesn't include a few of the newest features that have made it into some budget phones — such as the fingerprint sensor for added security and convenient gesture controls — that you'll find on the relatively affordable $229 Moto G5 Plus. A dual SIM/microSD card slot lets you double the 32GB of storage on the R1 Plus to 64GB.
Display and Audio: Not bad for a budget phone
That 5.5-inch screen is protected by curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3. You'll find Gorilla Glass 4 on many higher-end phones these days, but the R1 Plus' screen should still be pretty durable. The LCD screen offers a resolution of 1280 x 720 — pretty bare bones, but not uncommon for a phone at this price level.
Using a light meter, we found that Blu's phone has a 364-nit maximum screen brightness, which is dimmer than the average of 433 for smartphones overall. The Moto G5 Plus, meanwhile, tallied a 591-nit score, making it much easier to see the screen in bright sunlight than you would be able to do with the R1 Plus.
The Blu R1 Plus should be able to handle whatever streaming you throw at it. The phone's screen displays 112 percent of the sRGB color gamut — certainly not what you'd get from a phone with an OLED screen, but better than the G5 Plus' 106 percent. Color accuracy was all right on the R1 Plus: We measured a Delta-E score of 2.67. But you'll get more accurate colors with the G5 Plus, which scored a 0.94. (Numbers closest to zero are better.)
I Listened to "Stuck In The Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel with a pair of average ear buds, and the Blu R1 Plus produced a powerfully rich sound with accurately peppy — but slightly scratchy — vocals. And the beer-bottle slide guitar came through loud and clear without my having to really punch up the volume. Out loud, without headphones, the same song came out of the phone's rear speaker sounding tinny and hollow.
Performance: This phone lacks pep
You don't buy a budget phone expecting standout performance, and the R1 Plus is a good example why. The phone runs on a MediaTek MT6737 1.3-GHz quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM. On the Geekbench 4 test of overall performance, the R1 scored a paltry 1,583. For context, the G5 Plus and its midtier Snapdragon 625 with 4GB of RAM scored a slightly better-than-average 3,746.
I noticed a lag while opening several apps and while running a Google search on AT&T's 4G LTE connection. Google Maps was snappy, however, when I looked up directions to Beer Authority, a bar in midtown Manhattan.
Cameras: Rear shooter does the job
Don't expect the same compromises on the R1 Plus' camera, though. Blu's phone offers a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-MP shooter up front; both cameras get LED flashes. The R1 Plus' rear camera actually has the same megapixel rating as the shooter on the Moto G5 Plus, though differences in image-processing software produce different-looking results when you compare pictures captured by both phones.
Looking at the finer details, a photo I took with the R1 Plus of pink tulips in a planter north of New York's Union Square showed sharper edges and more accurate colors than did the one I took with the G5. On a cloudy day, the brightest parts of the flowers popped in real life, compared to the green shoots that surrounded them. Meanwhile, the tulips appeared more dull and peach-colored in a similar shot I took with the G5.
At a distance, however, a foggy daytime photo of the Empire State Building that was taken with the R1 Plus blurred edges on the sides of buildings and tree leaves. The Moto G5 Plus shots were sharper.
Photos I took of myself using the R1 Plus' 5-MP selfie camera with its default settings were flattering, though not realistic. The most noticeable difference was that the images showed in reverse, as if I had appeared in a mirror, not how I would appear to other people in real life. That default look can be changed by disabling the "front mirror" setting, however. My skin was also awash in pink, and my grey hairs were less defined in the selfie that I took with the R1 Plus. Meanwhile, selfies taken with the Moto G5 Plus were more accurate, and the edges of the frames of my new glasses were more defined.
As for video, the R1 Plus can record in high-definition 1080p at 30 frames per second, enough for a good-quality YouTube video. You won't get high-end features like slow motion, but the video camera on the R1 Plus is good enough for capturing snippets of everyday life.
MORE: Best Camera Phone
Software: Aging Android
The BLU R1 Plus runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, a older version of the operating system that's long been superseded by Android Nougat. Some budget phones like the G5 Plus now ship with Nougat installed, so this feels like a bit of a step back.
At least you get a clean Android experience with the R1 Plus. Because the phone is unlocked for GSM-based carriers, there's no bloatware to be found on the device.
Battery: Standout battery life
Budget phone makers have started to realize they can compromise on many features, but battery life shouldn't be one of them. Thankfully, Blu follows this trend with the R1 Plus, which should last you all day on a charge.
In the Tom's Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over AT&T's LTE network, the Blu R1 Plus lasted 10 hours and 36 minutes. That's just shy of cracking our list of the longest-lasting smartphones, but its battery life is more than an hour better than the 9:13 category average and very impressive for a sub-$200 phone.
Blu claims that the average user's phone will last two to three days on a charge and 30 days on standby. While I was using the R1 Plus, over the course of 24 hours, the phone's charge dropped from 100 percent to 25 percent, so you can expect a decent amount of battery life.
Pricing and Carrier
The BLU R1 Plus costs $159 on Amazon, and might come cheaper if consumers choose a plan from T-Mobile, AT&T, MetroPCS, Straight Talk or Cricket. Notably, it lacks CDMA, so it won't work on Verizon Wireless or Sprint's networks. A dual SIM card slot lets you have two phone numbers on one device.
If you want a no-frills smartphone at an affordable price, the $159.99 Blu R1 Plus deserves consideration, thanks to its better-than-average battery life and decent rear camera. You will have to use the phone on a GSM-based carrier, however, and you'll need to live with less-than-peppy performance and a not-as-vibrant display.
If those compromises are too much to ask, and you have a little extra to spend, we still think the Moto G5 Plus is the best budget value. But if $200 is a firm ceiling on how much you want to pay, the R1 Plus offers a good mix of features at an appealing price.