Last year, we came away mostly impressed by the Blu R1 Plus, a $159 5.5-inch phone with excellent battery life and a clean Android experience that was let down only by underwhelming performance.
Blu is back with a successor, the appropriately named the R2 Plus, which sports a new processor, improved cameras, a fingerprint sensor and a slightly refreshed design. It's even a bit cheaper, going for just $129 this time around. However, Blu made some sacrifices to hit that more attractive price, which leaves the R2 Plus feeling like a step backward.
Price and Availability
At $129 unlocked on Amazon (opens in new tab), the Blu R2 Plus is one of the least expensive Android phones out there. It supports GSM networks including AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS and Cricket, meaning you can easily take it to one of those carriers, pop in the appropriate SIM card, and enjoy service immediately.
However, because the R2 Plus doesn't boast CDMA compatibility, Verizon and Sprint subscribers won't be able to use it on those networks.
|OS||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Screen Size (Resolution)||5.5 inches (1920 x 1080) LCD|
|microSD Slot?||Yes, up to 64GB|
|Rear Camera ||13-MP f/2.0|
|Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)||7:56|
|Size||6.13 x 3.03 x 0.36 inches|
Design: Boring yet quirky
You wouldn't call the exterior of the R2 Plus beautiful, though it is quirky. The front of the device is mostly featureless, save for a centrally mounted front-facing camera with a vertically oriented earpiece flanking it to the right. Both the shape and positioning of this earpiece is strange, though fortunately it doesn't pose any impact to usability — so calls were still crystal clear.
The other odd design choice pertains to the handset's Micro USB port. Not only is it off to one side, but it's placed at the top of the phone opposite the headphone jack. This leaves the bottom edge of the R2 Plus completely bare, a striking contrast from just about every other phone on the market today.
Neither of these characteristics are necessarily bad, but they stand out like a sore thumb on a device that is otherwise as bland as any budget smartphone in recent memory. To Blu's credit, the removable aluminum rear cover, which conceals the micro-SD slot and dual SIM trays, does make the R2 Plus feel slightly more expensive than its price would suggest. But that’s about the best praise you can give the design.
I was pleased with the responsiveness of the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which was quite a surprise to find on the back of the R2 Plus given how inexpensive the phone is. However, those with small hands will probably wish Blu placed the sensor a hair lower, as it's a bit too high up for my index finger to reach when I balanced the device in one hand.
Display: Among best in class
Conventional LCD screens in smartphones have gotten so good and so cheap to produce, you really have to go out of your way to find a bad one. The R2 Plus' vibrant and accurate 5.5-inch 1080p panel is further proof of that.
The display in Blu's big budget offering notched a peak full-screen brightness of 481 nits, represented 119.2 percent of the sRGB color space, and delivered a Delta-E color accuracy score of 0.38 when we put it through our round of tests. (For Delta-E, numbers closer to 0 are better.) Those are among the best numbers in the budget class, and even more impressive considering how little the R2 Plus costs. The Moto E4 Plus, which costs a little more than Blu's device at $159, compares with an equally broad spectrum of color, slightly dimmer peak brightness at 433 nits, and a Delta-E result that was imperceptibly better, at 0.27.
Camera: Hit and miss
Cameras in budget phones can occasionally produce solid results in ideal settings, though they tend to falter in low light. That’s the case here, as the R2 Plus' 13-megapixel f/2.0 rear lens performed admirably in well-lit scenarios, but was tripped up by the twilight shot below.
The R2 Plus' dim rendition of this evening scene in Bryant Park muddies too many details and ultimately ended up a blurry yet grainy mess. For comparison's sake, I snapped the same photo with a Moto G5 Plus, and found its 12-MP f/1.7 lens captured more light, thanks to its wider aperture and dual-pixel sensor. Moto's phone was quicker to focus, too.
However, the R2 Plus turned the tables on Motorola's popular flagship contender in this face-off of indoor shots. Notice the detail in the grain of the wood table, the specular highlights falling on the surface and the sharpness of the leaves on the potted plant. The G5 Plus misses all of these aspects, and produced a worse photo because of it.
Finally, I snagged a pair of selfies in our office, and the R2 Plus repeated its strong showing in the previous comparison with its 13-MP front-facing camera. Again, it's much sharper than Motorola's attempt, a fact you can tell from the design of my shirt as well as my hair. I wish both phones exhibited better contrast, as the right side of both frames is quite dark. But this is common for devices in this price range.
Performance: Old chip, predictable results
The R2 Plus' predecessor, the R1 Plus, stumbled when we tested it last year — the consequence of an outdated processor. Although the R2 Plus improves with a newer MediaTek system-on-chip, it's still behind the curve. The R2 Plus' MT6753 processor was introduced in the beginning of 2015, which may as well make it a fossil in this rapidly innovating industry.
That chip is paired to 3GB of RAM, which is not an insignificant amount for a $129 handset. However, the Blu R2 Plus still doesn't feel snappy, and its modest hardware demonstrated as much in testing.
Putting the R2 Plus through the gantlet of Geekbench 4, the device delivered a mediocre score of 2,319. That's definitely an improvement over the R1 Plus' 1,583, but it's far from the $229 Moto G5 Plus at 3,746, and the $139 ZTE Blade V8 Pro at 3,018.
You don't have to spend a whole lot for great battery life. In the case of the R2 Plus, though, you do have to spend more than $129.
Graphics performance was also middling, with the R2 Plus notching a result of 5,724 in 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test. The Honor 7X, a device that costs $70 more than Blu's latest, scored twice as high, and the G5 Plus reached 13,862.
During my time with the R2 Plus, it was common to wait about 2 seconds upon opening any app — be it something as simple as the dialer, or as resource-heavy as the Google Play Store. Scrolling around in Google Maps felt a little laggy, as did switching apps. Meanwhile, superhero fighter Injustice 2 slowed the R2 Plus down to an unplayably slow frame rate.
Battery Life: Surprisingly short
These days, you can get some pretty remarkable battery life from cheap phones. For example, the Moto E4 Plus and the Asus ZenFone 4 Max, which normally cost $179 and $199, respectively, both delivered about 15 hours on a single charge in our testing.
So you don't have to spend a whole lot for great battery life. In the case of the Blu R2 Plus, though, you do have to spend more than $129. Our R2 Plus called it quits after 7 hours and 56 minutes of streaming web pages on T-Mobile LTE. That's nearly 2 hours less than the average smartphone.
That's not only underwhelming, but surprising, as I wouldn't classify the R2 Plus' 3,000 mAh battery as small by any means. It certainly didn't feel small when it came time to charge it back up, as the phone reached just 10 percent in 30 minutes connected to the stock wall adapter, and 31 percent in an hour.
Software: Stock, but outdated
Budget smartphones tend to miss out on the latest versions of Android, and you can add the R2 Plus to that list. Blu's budget offering comes equipped with Android Nougat, and it's version 7.0 — not even the 7.1 revision that has been floating around since late 2016. It's a mostly stock experience, aside from a few odd tweaks to the text scaling around the UI.
The R2 Plus' is completely devoid of bells and whistles regarding exclusive software features, though it does come with a fair bit of bloatware, including Amazon, Opera browser, Yahoo Mail and Finance, and a news app called TopBuzz. In a move that will surely annoy users, TopBuzz automatically places itself on your home screen the first time you open it. At least it can be uninstalled.
They say you get what you pay for, and in the case of the Blu R2 Plus, you're not getting a whole lot. Bargain hunters may flock to the phone's low price tag, but even at $129, it's simply not worth it, given the below-average battery life and pokey performance.
The R2 Plus becomes even harder to justify in light of slightly costlier but much more well-rounded options. Spend $50 more and you can snag a Moto E4 Plus, which feels a little snappier despite its similar specs and could easily last you upward of two days on a charge. Drop $70 to $100 more, and a few really enticing alternatives become available, like the Honor 7X with its 18:9 display, the dual camera-toting ZTE Blade V8 Pro, or the smartly designed and newly Oreo-enabled Moto G5 Plus.
If you're searching for a cheap unlocked phone, invest a little more if possible — there are far too many strong options on the market to settle for the R2 Plus.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide