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Blu may not be the most well-known of Android OEMs, but the Florida-based phone manufacturer has been continuing to add to an impressive portfolio of high-quality but affordable smartphones over the past few years. Blu took the wraps off several new smartphones at CES 2015 earlier this month, and today, we’ll be taking a closer look at one of these. Also serving as the thinnest smartphone currently available in the US, here is our in-depth review of the Blu Vivo Air!
Great design and build quality isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about mid-range smartphones, but that is a trend that is rapidly changing, and continues with the Vivo Air. Admittedly, there are elements that seem to be borrowed from other more popular smartphones, but that is true of quite a few devices these days, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Blu Vivo Air comes with Gorilla Glass 3 panels on the front and back, with a solid aluminium frame sandwiched in between. Combined with the fact that the device is only 5.1 mm thick, and weighs just 97 grams, what you get with the Vivo Air is a solid, yet sleek and lightweight smartphone.
On the right side is the SIM card slot, while the bottom is where you’ll find the microUSB port and the headphone jack. The volume rocker and the power button are placed on the left side, and protrude quite bit from the body of the phone, making them easy to find while also offering a good tactile feel. The power button placement can take some getting used to depending on which device you’re switching from, but it is very easy to reach, and the learning curve isn’t as steep as you might initially believe. Standard capacitive keys are found up front below the display, with a single speaker placed on the back.
With the curved metal sides and the glass back, the expectation is that the device might prove to be quite slippery, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. Its relatively compact size, with its 4.8-inch display coming with thin bezels along its sides, and its thickness, or lack thereof, means that this device is very easy to grip. One handed use is also very comfortable, which is certainly refreshing, given the considerable size of most smartphones available nowadays.
As mentioned, the Vivo Air features a 4.8-inch display with a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 306 ppi. In this day and age, seeing 720p is automatically a bit of a turn off, but it is still good enough of a resolution for a display of this size. Viewing angles and brightness are great, and AMOLED technology brings with it everything we love about it including deeps blacks, saturated colors, and high contrast ratios. It may not be the sharpest display out there, but I had no complaints in my usage, with the display providing a solid experience when watching videos or playing games.
Under the hood, the Blu Vivo Air packs a fairly standard processing package that can be found with most smartphones in this price range, with its octa-core MediaTek MT6592 processor, clocked at 1.7 GHz, backed by the Mali-450 GPU and 1 GB of RAM.
MediaTek processors have historically not exactly been known to deliver great performance, especially when compared to their Qualcomm Snapdragon counterparts, and the story is pretty much the same here with the Vivo Air. While tasks like loading applications and playing games seem to perform just fine, it’s in the everyday general use that I noticed some performance hiccups. Swiping through homescreens and social media feeds often resulted in some choppiness and dropped frames. Of course, this could also be due to a lack of software optimization, but whatever the cause, it does become very noticeable. That said, this doesn’t necessarily slow you down from getting around the OS, but is rather annoying from an aesthetic point of view.
On the hardware front, the Vivo Air comes with 16 GB of on-board storage, with no expansion option available, so you may need to rely on cloud storage for all your memory needs. Connectivity is also limited to HSPA+, but in my experience, it was still fast enough for everyday tasks including watching videos on Youtube, and I didn’t find myself missing LTE all that much. The device is also available unlocked, and can work with any GSM carrier, including AT&T and T-Mobile.
The speaker is located on the back of the phone at the bottom right corner, and as is the case with most similar setups, it is fairly easy to cover up with your finger, or while the device is placed on a surface. The sound quality is just about average, and while it does get the job done well enough, you shouldn’t expect anything spectacular from this rear-facing single speaker.
When it come to the battery, the Vivo Air packs a 2,100 mAh unit, which is somewhat small, but is an understandable sacrifice, given how thin the device is. With light use, including texting, reading social media feeds, light browsing, and gaming kept at a minimum, it is generally easy to get a full day of use out of the device, but anything heavier may require you to charge it again at some point during the day. With the battery going to below 10 percent, I was able to get 4 to 5 hours of screen-on time, with 12 to 15 hours off the charger, during a typical day.
A CPU power saving mode is included in the Settings to help you get the most out of your battery, but something to keep in mind is that this does limit CPU performance in favor of better battery life, so it’s best to only use it when you need it.
The Blu Vivo Air comes with an 8 MP rear camera with LED flash, and a 5 MP front-facing unit. When it comes to the camera software, the device actually features two camera applications. The first is a very basic camera app, with just the essential features like HDR, panorama, and a few other additional settings. While the experience is pretty straightforward, the only gripe I really had with the app is that the settings did not rotate to landscape. So when wanting to change the settings while taking a picture, I would have to rotate the phone back to portrait to do so, which got pretty annoying over time.
The secondary camera app is called the CharmCam, and this can be accessed through the main camera app or directly from the home screen. The CharmCam allows for more customization, so you can have a little more fun with your photos. Features include things like beauty mode to make you look better by softening the details in your face, and a makeup mode to give you the appearance of wearing makeup.
You can also apply live filters, stamps to images, as well as a very useful feature called PPT. With PPT, the camera will focus on powerpoint presentations, whiteboards, books, or anything with text, and basically crop out everything from the image except the area with text. You can also group all the images together into a single pdf file for easy printing, which could be extremely useful if you’re a high school or college student.
As far as the actual image quality is concerned, the images look quite good on the 4.8-inch screen, but not so much when they are blown up on a computer. The focus tends to be very hit or miss, with colors appearing flat, and details lacking the sharpness that you would want in a photo. HDR also doesn’t help out as much as I expected. Images are brighter with a little bit more detail, but colors still appear very muted. In low light, the camera doesn’t fare much better, and while increase in noise levels is to be expected, the slow autofocus and shutter speed times make the camera unreliable in night time situations.
On the software side of things, the Vivo Air is running Android 4.4 Kitkat, with BLU’s custom skin. It’s not an overly intrusive skin, but it does provide for a very different experience from stock Android. For starters, swiping left on the lock screen will give you access to the camera, sound recorder, and flashlight, all without unlocking the phone. You can even fake a phone call to get you out of a predicament, which is hilarious, but could be useful for a lot of people.
The traditional app drawer is also missing, which means that all your apps will reside on your homescreens, similar to what we’ve seen from a lot of Chinese smartphones. You’ll have to depend on folders to keep things from getting too cluttered, and you do always have the option to download a third party launcher for a more standard home screen experience. The overlay also brings some customization to the table like themes, although you’re only limited to a few at the moment, and fancy home screen animations. You’ll also find a series of smart gestures like smart dial, smart answer, double tap to wake, and gestures to quickly open apps without waking up the display. They’re all features we’ve seen before in some other phones so it’s not exactly groundbreaking, but they’re still really useful nonetheless.
|Display||4.8-inch AMOLED display|
720p resolution, 306 ppi
|Processor||1.7 GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6592 processor|
|Storage||16 GB, not expandable|
|Camera||8 MP rear camera, LED flash|
5 MP front camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass|
|Software||Android 4.4 Kitkat|
|Dimensions||139.8 x 67.4 x 5.1 mm |
The Blu Vivo Air is available for $200 on Amazon in white and gold or black with a gunmetal trim. This price point is certainly great for what this device offers, especially in terms of looks and build quality. That said, the competition in this space is certainly heating up, and 2015 should be the year where we see a whole lot of high quality but affordable smartphones that fall in this price range.
So there you have it – the Blu Vivo Air! As mentioned, there are only a handful of phones that will offer the kind of build quality and design at this price range. The phone is not without its shortcomings of course, with an underwhelming camera, some performance hiccups, and the lack of LTE connectivity, but for $200, some consumers may be okay with that.