Blu R2 Review: Even for $110, This Phone Isn't Worth It

Even the least expensive phone isn't much of a bargain if it doesn't offer anything other than a low price tag. And that's the problem with the $110 Blu R2, an attractively priced smartphone that, upon closer examination, doesn't offer you much for your money.

Cost and Availability

Blu's R2 is available unlocked on Amazon starting at $110 for the base model with 16GB of onboard storage and 2GB of RAM, depending on which color you pick. Somehow, black is the most expensive option at $115, but you can also choose from silver, gold and rose gold. You can use the R2 on GSM networks, including AT&T, T-Mobile and prepaid carriers such as Cricket, MetroPCS and Straight Talk. The R2 isn't compatible with Verizon or Sprint.

Specs

Price
$110
OS
Android 7.0 Nougat
Screen Size (Resolution)
5.2 inches (1280 x 720) LCD
CPU
MediaTek MT6737
RAM
2GB/3GB
Storage
16GB/32GB
microSD Slot
Yes, up to 64GB
Rear Camera
13 MP (f/2.0)
Front Camera
13 MP
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)
8:59
Water Resistance
No
Size
5.91 x 2.92 x 0.37 inches
Weight
5.5 ounces

Design: Unremarkable

Looking at the R2, it's impossible to see it as anything other than just another smartphone.There is nothing at all remarkable about its design, except maybe how dated it looks.

The R2 has thick bezels surrounding its 5.2-inch display, and it's unclear exactly why they are so large. The bottom chin below the display lacks any buttons or sensors, yet it's as thick as the bottom bezel on an iPhone 5. The top bezel houses the camera lens, flash and speaker, but those take up very little real estate, compared to the space they're given.

Then there's the micro USB port, which is located at the top right of the phone's frame instead of at bottom center, like on most other phones. The headphone jack is also on the top, but to the left of the charging port. This positioning is bizarre — quirky just for the sake of quirkiness.

Otherwise, the R2 looks identical to its slightly larger sibling, the Blu R2 Plus. The R2's smaller footprint — it's a 5.2-inch phone to the R2 Plus' 5.5-inch size — makes the fingerprint sensor on the rear easier to reach for people with small hands, which is a bonus. But like the R2 Plus, the R2 looks like any run-of-the-mill Android phone, circa 2015. If you care about style, look elsewhere.

Display: Solid, but doesn't dazzle

The R2's diminutive display is surrounded by chunky bezels, which prevents it from being truly immersive. But its colors are bright and accurate, even if they don't offer the richness and saturation you'll find in a more expensive phone.

The sizable bezels on both sides of the display made watching the latest Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer on YouTube a constricting experience for me, but the snowy landscapes and galactic battles were colorful and clear.

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The smaller R2's display feels a little bit constricted, compared to its larger sibling. The R2 Plus sports a 5.5-inch 1080p panel, while the 5.2-inch R2 features a 720p LCD display. The lower-res display is also not as bright, reaching 445 nits, compared to the larger version's 481 nits. It covered 109.9 percent of the sRGB color gamut, compared to the 5.5-inch's 119.2 percent range. The displays are neck and neck when it comes to the Delta-E color accuracy test, at 0.35 and 0.38 for the R2 Plus and the R2, respectively. (Numbers closer to zero are better.)

Camera: Better than expected

The R2's 13-megapixel rear-facing lens and 13-MP front-facing camera are more impressive than they have any right to be for a phone that costs around $100. The R2's front lens in particular captures far more detailed selfies than any other sub-$200 smartphone I've used, with accurate colors to boot.

The R2 captured the contrast of my red lace top against the teal of my living room chair and managed to make my skin look like it normally does. Similarly priced smartphones such as the Moto E4 make my skin look a little grainy (or go a little heavy-handed on the beauty filter to make your skin look like a weird, glowy alien). The R2 turns out selfies I wouldn't be embarrassed to post on Instagram (#nofilter).

The R2 sports the same rear-camera system as the R2 Plus, which fared well in our tests against budget Android rivals such as the Moto G5 Plus.

The G5 captures colors more accurately, as evidenced in a photo of freshly planted daffodils in Bryant Park. The flowers are more vibrantly yellow, the stalks more green and the cement more blue-gray, like they are in real life. The Blu R2 captures more muted colors.

Performance: Noticeably laggy

There's just no getting around it: A $110 phone is going to suffer when it comes to performance, and that's exactly where the R2's low price tag is most evident.

The device, which runs on a MediaTek MT6737 processor, scored a paltry 1,583 on the Geekbench 4 test of overall system performance. Even its low-performing sibling, the larger R2 Plus, scored higher (2,319), thanks to a slightly better processor and 3GB of RAM. The $99 Moto E4, which costs less and has a slightly faster chipset, scored 1,711. If you spend a little more and get the Moto G5 Plus, which can be had for as low as $205 on Amazon, it's more than twice as fast as the R2, with a Geekbench score of 3,746.

Performance is exactly where the R2's low price tag is most evident.

Forget about scores for a second, though: I could feel the phone struggling as I surfed around the web, and it struggled to play YouTube trailers. A teaser for HBO's Westworld took more than a minute to come through clearly.

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The same applies to games. The R2 scored a 4,469 on 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, compared to the impressive 13,862 performance of the G5 Plus.

I tried to play a round of the popular car-racing game Asphalt 8 and kept crashing my Dodge Dart GT. That was after I installed the app, which took a half hour, and I was able to load my race through the Nevada desert, which took a minute. The phone lagged as I tilted it back and forth to weave my way around other cars racing down the highway. If you want to play something more intensive than Tetris, you'll need a more powerful phone.

Battery Life: Not great

Some budget phones pack in supersized batteries to make up for their underwhelming designs and just OK performance. The R2 offers a decently sized 3,000-mAh battery, but that doesn't translate to a longer-lasting phone.

The R2 lasted just 8 hours and 59 minutes in Tom's Guide's Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over T-Mobile's LTE network. That's better than the R2 Plus, which lasted just 7 hours and 56 minutes, even with the same 3,000-mAh battery that's in the smaller R2. This race to the bottom is a waste of time for phone buyers, especially when so many budget phones can outlast the 9:50 of the average smartphone these days.

Bottom Line

The Blu R2 has a decent display and better-than-expected cameras for its $110 price tag. But when it comes to performance, design and battery life, you can easily find an affordable Android phone that offers a better return for your minimal investment and has a chance of being upgraded to Oreo, the latest version of Android. The R2 is still running an old version of Nougat.

If you have less than $200 to spend, the $99 Moto E4, $150 Moto G5 Plus and $199 Honor 7X all offer a better experience than the R2. Honor's phone even looks like a pricier device, with an edge-to-edge display and dual-lens camera system.

In the competitive budget Android market, there's no reason to spend money on a phone like the Blu R2, which offers just the bare minimum.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide