If you’re looking for a dirt cheap phone that’s completely usable and not embarrassing to own then you’re probably looking for something like the Blu R1 HD. While the unlocked version of this phone starts at $99, Amazon Prime members can pick up a version that only costs $49! But there’s a reason why it’s so cheap — it comes with ads on the lock screen.
And since the ads are such a unique aspect of this phone, let’s talk about them first.
Yes, every single time you see your lock screen it’s going to have an ad on it; that’s just the way it is. Sometimes the ads are targeted and sometimes they’re not: when they are they’re more tolerable but when they’re not… it can be a bit annoying. I’m a bit surprised that ads can be so un-personalized considering you have to sign in with an Amazon account during setup (which means they should know you better based on previous orders/browsing history).
I don’t mind seeing an ad for headphones (too much) but I don’t like seeing an ad for lipstick or makeup. And then there’s the bloatware: Amazon pre-installs around 9 apps on your phone and includes a homepage widget.
The ads are fullscreen when you don’t have any notifications, but when you do they are otherwise shrunken down to a less invasive size.
I think I could live with the ads (even the ones that aren’t so targeted) though I’d obviously prefer them not to be there, but using this phone is surprisingly doable — probably because we’re all so used to seeing ads in apps and on websites anyways (on our mobile devices).
Design and Build
My first reaction when I saw and held the phone for the first time was wow, this only cost $60? It seems more premium than it’s pricing would suggest: that is because there are some nice touches like the metal edge and some curved glass.
There are some odd design elements, however. For instance, there’s kind of a weird placement for the headphone jack which isn’t centered either vertically or horizontally on top top of the phone (it’s just kind of off). It’s not something that apple would ever do just for aesthetic reasons, but little details like these make the phone feel somewhat less finished to me than my iPhone or other (higher-end) Android smartphones.
In terms of size, the R1 HD is about the size of my iPhone 6s with a case on it.
One really nice feature is the removable back. Underneath you’ll find that you can insert 2 SIM cards. That means that if you have separate business and personal lines you can use them both on this one phone.
And I would say that this phone feels a bit slippery (not quite as slippery as my iPhone 6S, though) without a case. If you’re worried about dropping it, though, you can get a case from Amazon for under $10.
The screen is bright on this phone — impressively so. And it’s nice to look at and use for watching movies — even though it is only 720p HD. I’d say is surprisingly usable.
This phone comes in two flavors: I picked up the 16 GB version with 2 GB of RAM. And if you’re wondering just how much of a performance difference there really is between this bargain basement phone and a flagship phone, it’s pretty drastic. Geek bench 3 pulled scores of 517 on single core for the Blu R1 HD vs 2548 on the iPhone 6s. On the multi-core side of things the Blu got a score of 1559 vs 4431 for the iPhone.
Even so, the performance is fairly snappy for everyday use. If you’re browsing the web, checking email, messaging or even doing some light gaming than everything will run quite smoothly for you. But just because it’s smooth doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll feel fast — that will depend on what you’re already used to. When I loaded the same website on the R1 HD and the iPhone 6s, the R1 HD took much longer to reach the finish line (as shown in the video review).
I also encountered a few times where I tapped a button on screen and had to wait a second or two for the intended action to happen. I found that this didn’t happen a lot, but it was frustrating when it did.
Sound / Speaker
The speaker on this phone (and yes, there is only one) is basic. It doesn’t get as loud as I’d like and on top of that it is rear-facing. I wouldn’t call it horrible, but it’s not great. Because of the placement, it’s easy to cover the speaker with your hands or fingers which can further dampen the sound.
The photos taken with the main camera are so-so. Sometimes they don’t seem too bad and other times they feel closer to unusable. Of course I am used to using the amazing camera on the iPhone 6S so take that with a grain of salt (and see the video for some photo samples).
Also, the camera hardware really sticks out. That means that the camera hump doesn’t let the phone lay perfectly flat on a desktop surface (or other flat surface) and when you type on it it will definitely wobble a bit.
The photo app is super-basic and doesn’t have any decent photo editing features beyond the very basics. Still, it’s not the slowest camera on a phone.
A Few More Observations
- The battery life on this phone got me through the day no problem with normal use (so no gaming or watching YouTube all day).
- I really enjoyed the typing experience on this phone. Especially compared to the Nexus 6P. For whatever reason typing felt (much) more accurate on this phone.
- The packaging this phone arrives in is pretty cheap looking — or dare I say downright crappy. It really does an injustice to the non-crappy phone inside.
- This phone is unlocked which means you can take it to the carrier of your choice to get it activated!
The Best Budget Phone Under $100
I’ll end this review by saying that this would make for a usable primary phone but an excellent secondary phone. I think it would be great for high-school or college students on a budget or even for aging parents who don’t need all the bells and whistles. If you’re looking to save money on your next smartphone purchase, this isn’t a bad road to take. Again, I think it would be possible to live with the ads — but I would shell out the additional $50 if you can to go ad-free.
I would call this the best budget phone under $100 that I’ve tested — no doubt about that. And it’s certainly a device that should be considered if you’re looking for the best budget phones under $200 or even $300 as well. I think by the time you hit $400 this phone is well out of it’s league.
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