My Blu Life: Two Months In

Posted on May 17th, 2015

Filed under: General Noise,Reviews — Karl Olson @ 12:00 AM

For a computer scientist and a nerdcore rapper, I’m not terribly big on device upgrades. You’d think I’d always chase new gadgets, but I’m still using the same desktop computer I’ve been using since 2009 (barring a processor upgrade before the socket was discontinued and Black Friday SSD and RAM upgrades.) Had I not run into various problems with my previous phones, I’d probably still be using the Galaxy Nexus I was given at Google I/O 2012. It did everything I needed more or less until the screen cracked. From there I’ve been on a Lumia 521 and a Moto G, both of which were less than stellar with battery life, and both of became erratic after firmware updates (dialer crashes in the middle of calls on the Lumia, force closes due to bad memory management in Android 4.4.4 on the Moto.) Still, I would’ve kept them if they didn’t get weird on me.

My ideal solution: buy a phone with a huge battery built in, and while I’m at it make it a dual sim one since I’m currently bouncing between the US and Canada. Hopefully the firmware never goes sideways, but if it does, the phone should be so inexpensive so that I don’t have to worry about the cost of replacement. Previously, this would’ve been a tall, if not impossible, order. However, as it turns out, a phone was released this spring that fit that bill brilliantly: the BLU Studio Energy D810U, which goes for a mere $150.

This is the point where I expect you to be like “the what phone?” and really that’s quite justified. BLU is a young company out of Florida that more or less puts their badge on designs from various Chinese OEMs, then sells them unlocked directly via retailers like Fry’s and Amazon. However, BLU has been clever about carefully selecting and wisely tweaking the more interesting models from those OEMs, and the Studio Energy is no exception. With it’s outstanding 5000mAh battery, this phone can swing a couple days of reasonable use like it’s nothing, and even with brightness turned up fully and processor intensive work like writing and rendering multiple songs in Caustic 3 and streaming anime off Crunchyroll, I’ve never put it on the charger lower than about 40 percent. That means it’s gone from 8am to 1am (or later) with a workload that’s completely inconsiderate towards battery longevity. It’s not going to play the very latest 3D Android games, but it’s otherwise entirely functional, and most importantly, it’s functional all day long – no range anxiety, ever.

Sure, it’s not without compromises. Hardware wise, the massive battery life means it’s not svelte (though it’s thinner than you’d expect,) and that battery isn’t swappable. It’s only capable of HSDPA speeds, and it’s bands are so limited you need a different model to get those top speeds depending on your carrier. Further still, it only has a MediaTek MT6582 processor with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, half of which is soaked up by Android, though a MicroSD card slot alleviates storage concerns. Still, it’s not buttery smooth all the time, and that’s technically a trade off (though, it’s not like the Moto G it replaced never stuttered.) Those looking for top specs beyond battery will be let down. Software wise, it’s lightly skinned, but if you’re coming from stock Android, you might find yourself running to get everything as close as back to stock ASAP.

However, I think for most smartphone users, battery matters way more than any other consideration, whether they realize that or not. Besides, given it’s current competition in this price point, it easily holds it’s own on performance, camera and storage. I would take this over the current Moto E, Moto G or low-end Lumias any day of the week, and they’re really only phones that compete with this currently. More importantly, it’s worked great in real world usage as my sole phone for the past couple months. It does the jobs it should do, and it’s even changed my use behavior with my phone. Since I don’t worry about the battery life, I’ve already written a few EPs in Caustic 3 while commuting on the train using the Studio Energy (by the way, this means the DAC is alright too.) I wouldn’t do that on any other phone without having a charger at work if not an external battery pack. Even pounding the battery with GPS and high brightness are no longer worrisome scenarios. I haven’t taken the car charger out my car yet, but the only time I bother to throw it on is if I’m making a day long drive, and really, I don’t have to, I just feel like I should.

One day, this phone will come without its tradeoffs, but that goes for the flagships too, and until the day I can have no tradeoffs, I’m going with the phone that can still provide directions after a long flight or late concert. The fact that it costs a fourth of what a top flagship does is just a victory lap.

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