You can tell at first glance that the Energy XL, an unlocked Android phone from Blu, is going to live up those two letters at the end of its name. This $299 smartphone features a giant, curved screen that's even larger than most plus-sized flagships. But Blu's phone lives up to its name in other ways, with a massive battery that keeps the phone powered up from dawn until long past dusk. You won't find impressive cameras or a blazing processor in the Blu Energy XL, but you will get a phone that lasts a long, long time.
Tall, slim and metallic
As its name suggests, the Energy XL is large, at 6.3 x 3.2 inches, though it's also superslim, at 0.33 inches thin. A curved display takes up most of the space the phone has to offer, though the 7.3- ounce devices feels surprisingly sleek and lightweight. In many ways, the Energy XL emulates the 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.29-inch iPhone 6s Plus in both size and design, with a gold metallic finish. The 6.77-ounce iPhone 6s Plus isn't as hefty, though.
The Energy XL's size makes it a little hard to handle. It was a challenge fitting the phone comfortably into my pocket without half of the device sticking out. So you have to sacrifice the convenience of a pocketable phone in exchange for the Energy XL's large, high-resolution screen.
You don't always find physical buttons on Android phones, but the Energy XL has a recessed home button with a fingerprint sensor, similar to what you'll find with another unlocked Android device, the OnePlus 3. The button came in handy for when I had to dig the phone out of my bag, because it gave me something tactile I could press to immediately access the home screen.
Phone Display Size: 6 inches
Display Resolution: 1920 x 1028
OS: Android 5.1
CPU: 1.3-GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6753
Memory Expansion Type: microSD, up to 64GB
Bluetooth Type: Bluetooth 4.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
Size: 6.3 x 3.2 x 0.33 inches
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Colorful AMOLED, But Why So Dim?
Looking at this phone's 6-inch, 1080p AMOLED display, it's easy to see how the Energy earned that "XL." The curved display dwarfs the 5.5-inch screens on the iPhone 6s Plus and Galaxy S7 Edge, not to mention the more comparably priced Honor 5X and GX8 from Huawei.
When I streamed the new Star Trek Beyond trailer, pictures looked sharp and vibrant without any lag or pixilation. While the display was easily visible in a darker room, the picture wasn't quite bright enough to watch in direct sunlight, and it could've been brighter even a well-lit room.
That's because as big as the Energy XL's screen is, it's fairly dim. Using a light meter, we measured 322 nits of brightness, below the 437-nit smartphone average and dimmer than both the Honor 5X (529) and GX8 (458).
The Energy XL shows off a lot of colors, covering 187 percent of the sRGB color spectrum in our tests (the average smartphone scored 135.2 percent). But those colors aren't very accurate. The Energy XL notched a Delta-E rating of 4.48, worse than the average smartphone's score of 2.84 as well as the tallies for the Honor 5X (3.52), OnePlus 3 (2.9) and GX8 (1.58). (Numbers closer to zero are better.)
For instance, a photo I took of plants in bright outdoor lighting made the natural greens look brightly highlighted when that image appeared on the Energy XL's display.
As for audio, I played Rihanna's new video for the upcoming Star Trek Beyond movie and found that the slim but powerful speakers at the top and rear of the phone blasted Ri Ri's killer sound without any muddiness.
Mid-Tier Specs Deliver So-So Speed
Blu had to do something to keep the Energy XL's price tag under $300, and that compromise can be found in the components powering the phone. The Energy XL runs on a 1.3-GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor with 3GB of RAM. That's not going to keep pace with a phone powered by a higher-end CPU like the Snapdragon 820 inside the OnePlus 3 (which also benefits from a staggering 6GB of RAM). But the Energy XL can hold its own against unlocked phones that have similar specs.
In the Geekbench test measuring overall performance, the Energy XL's score of 2,988 trailed the average smartphone (3,127). But it was on par with the 3,021 and 2,990 scores turned in by Huawei's GX8 and Honor 5X, respectively.
Blu's phone was less impressive in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test for graphics performance, where its 6,892 score lagged the average smartphone's performance (14,586). Both Huawei phones also topped the Energy XL, with scores of 7,792 for the Honor 5X and 7,770 for the GX8.
Using the phone, I could easily switch between open applications, but I encountered noticeable lag during other tasks. Converting a 204 MB video from 1080p video to 480p took the Energy XL a whopping 11 minutes and 18 seconds; the Honor 5X handled that same file in 7:41.
If you like to store a lot of files and photos on your phone, you will appreciate the 64GB of storage that comes standard with the Energy XL. The phone also features a microSD slot for adding another 64GB.
Some Camera Color Issues, Awkward Selfies
The Energy XL is armed with a 13-megapixel camera with flash on its back and a 5-MP shooter up front. For the most part, the photos I took in ideal lighting come out looking sharp, though I ran into a color-accuracy issue with the rear camera. The Energy XL tends to brighten colors to the point that your images look neon, as you can see in side-by-side shots taken with an iPhone 6s.
There's an unexpected selfie learning curve with the Energy XL. The front camera sits in the upper right-hand corner, much further away from the center of the display than on previous Blu Energy phones. Though I definitely got some high-quality snaps with the front camera, I had to adjust my gaze to avoid posting pics with a sad, faraway look in my eyes. On top of that, the front camera doesn't adjust for the mirroring effect, so any writing featured in your selfies will be backward.
I used the Energy XL to shoot video via Snapchat while walking, and the rear camera captured movement without any noticeable skips. The video camera falls a bit short on focusing and zooming in, however. Quickly zooming in or out while shooting video — which comes in handy on Snapchat — resulted in shaky, out-of-focus footage.
The camera app on the Energy XL offers a number of standard filters, along with Panorama, HDR, Pro and Night modes. Perhaps the freakiest of photo features on the Energy XL is the built-in Face Beauty mode, which automatically enlarges your eyes, brightens your skin and slims your face. Thankfully, it's not an automatic mode, but we had to test it out. If you want to look anything like yourself in your photos, however, we suggest you steer clear.
One of the chief advantages of opting for an unlocked phone is that you get a device that's free of preinstalled carrier apps. The Energy XL is free of bloatware, and comes with a few specialty theme and background apps, but nothing that hogs a lot of space on the phone.
This phone runs on the standard, though somewhat outdated, version of the OS called Android 5.1 Lollipop. Blu tells us that you'll be able to upgrade to Marshmallow by year's end, just in time for flagship phones to start appearing with Android Nougat.
Battery Life: An all-day beast
The screen isn't the only thing about the Energy XL that's been supersized. The phone sports a monster 5,020 mAh battery. Other phones in the Blu Energy series max out at 4,000 mAh.
The result is a device that's more than capable of lasting a full workday on a single charge. On the Tom's Guide battery test, in which we continuously surfed the web over AT&T LTE network with the screen's brightness set to 50 percent, the Energy XL lasted 12 hours and 14 minutes. That's nearly 4 hours longer than the average smartphone (8:21) and ahead of even elite phones like the Galaxy S7 Edge (10:09) and iPhone 6s Plus (8:16). The Honor 5X had always impressed as a low-cost phone that could last for a good long while, but the Energy XL made that phone's 9:22 result in our battery test seem like the blink of an eye.
In everyday scenarios, the Energy XL's battery held up to heavy use. I streamed music continuously for 2 hours on the phone, and the Energy XL's battery drained by only about 8 percent.
Networks: No CDMA
The BLU Energy XL is available directly from Blu as an unlocked device. Normally, that means the freedom to choose whichever carrier you want. But the Energy XL doesn't support CDMA bands, so you're limited to GSM carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile if you want 4G LTE coverage.
Blu's Energy XL packs a lot of battery life into a big-screen device while keeping the price at a reasonable $299. You'll sacrifice some performance due to this phone's midrange processor, and its display, while large, isn't as bright as comparably priced phones like Huawei's Honor 5X. The back camera is OK, but the front one could be better-positioned for selfies.
Overall, if you want a device that will last you throughout the day while also providing plenty of screen space, the Energy XL makes a compelling case to be your next phone.