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While yesterday’s Oculus announcement centered mostly around VR hardware and games, the company also rolled out a few new features that’ll let you socialize with the rest of your Rift-owning pals. Central to this concept is the Oculus Avatar, which is essentially a representations of your virtual self. Think of it as a VR version of Xbox Avatars or the Nintendo Mii. I had a chance to create my very own Oculus Avatar at the event and it’s unlike any other video game character I’ve created before.
For one thing, the avatars are more like floating busts with hands. They’re monochrome, but you can choose to deck them out in a variety of colors, from a mellow blue to a glistening pink. Using the Rift and the Touch controllers, I could pick out my choice of face, along with hairstyle, eyewear and clothing. Just grab onto your selection with your hands and throw them on your face to try it on. Oh, and eyewear isn’t optional with Avatars. A spokesperson told me that otherwise, the eyes would just be empty sockets.
On the whole, the avatar creation process was pretty basic. I didn’t have to pick out the exact shape of my nose or adjust the positioning of my mouth or anything fiddly like that. I just scrolled through the different face and head options and went with what I thought was best. I also found it interesting that there was no need to choose a gender; just pick with what fits you best and go.
The Avatar system will go live in December, and it looks like you’ll be able to use the Avatar in a few different games and apps. One of those apps is Oculus Rooms, which is essentially a virtual hangout space for you and your friends.
Right now, the Avatars are fairly basic with no facial expression, so I looked a little like a creepy mannequin, or the bad guy from Terminator 2. But I imagine as Oculus perfects its avatar software, you’ll soon be able to gesture emotions and actions the same way Facebook is doing with its own social VR effort.
Before Instagram copied it, Snapchat’s rolling 24-hour Story feature was a quick way to keep up with anyone you follow on the app. There was just one problem: Viewing a new Story would play not only that person’s post, but any other new posts in the queue. That means a (completely theoretical) viewing session could jump between a random celebrity selfie, video from a concert, something X-rated and then a video of someone’s kids playing with their pets, and there was no way to know for sure what would be next. Now, Snapchat is pulling back on the Auto Advance feature in favor of Story Playlist.
With the Playlist, you can choose which videos to watch together, just hit the thumbnail to the left of a friend’s name to add them to the list, then hit play. Otherwise, when you view a Story, it will just play that Story and then stop. The new feature is rolling out today to “select” Snapchatters on Android, and will soon be available for everyone on Android and iOS.
Source: Snapchat (Tumblr)
Just when it looked like Twitch was looking to reduce the amount of ads on its site, the live-streaming service has introduced a new way for users to tip their favourite casters that relies heavily on them. It comes as an extension to the “Cheering” emotes announced in June and lets viewers accumulate Bits — a Twitch currency where emoticons translate into donations — by simply sitting through a 30-second interactive ad.
Currently, Twitch is in the process of rolling out this new way to “Get Bits.” Users can still choose to purchase 100 Bits for $1.40 (up to a limit of $140) but can now earn Bits by viewing a sponsored video or completing a short survey. Twitch says the cashless route will typically reward users 5 Bits but some offers will be worth up to 100.
To stop people gaming the system, the company is putting a limit on the number of ads users can watch. Currently, the program is available in the US but Twitch says Bits can be placed in any chat channel that has Cheering enabled, regardless of where the streamer is located. Should it prove to be a success, the company hopes to expand its updated Cheering platform “to more users in the future.”
Source: Twitch Blog
The polarizing poster child for the wonders and woes of free speech on the Internet, 4chan, is enduring tough times. With ad revenue drying up, it faces an existential dilemma to change or die. Last Sunday, the site’s owner Hiroyuki Nishimura broke the news to his congregation in a post that it can’t afford all the infrastructure, network and server expenses needed to keep it running. Whether or not they take action, 4chan as we know it may be done.
That’s because the three survival options Nishimura suggested would change the minimalist site’s look and operations. The first method would halve traffic cost by limiting image upload sizes, using slower servers and shrinking the site. The second would flood the site with pop up and self-described “malicious” ads, while the third would push more users to sign up for paid 4chan passes.
Since its inception in 2002, 4chan’s anonymous, no-limits conversations gained it a notorious reputation that definitely scared away advertising revenue. In 2007, it was banned from Google’s ad network AdSense for violating its appropriate content policy. It had kept afloat during its early years thanks to ads from anime purveyor J-List, according to Mashable, but that agreement ceased in 2012. It doesn’t help that its community uses adblockers far above the normal rate.
But even before internet advertising got as bad as it is today, 4chan’s founder Christopher “moot” Poole was charging server fees to his credit card to keep the site alive. Then he stepped down as site-wide moderator in January 2015 and sold it to Nishimura, who created its Japanese inspiration 2chan. By March 2016, Poole was a Google employee, and his site continued its struggle to stay alive with lone banner ads.
For all the depraved conversations occurring on its more feral boards like /b/ and /pol/, 4chan has maintained a sense of visual decorum, if that’s what you call refusing the more obnoxious and ubiquitous ads other media sites allow. It has notably limped on with only lone banner ads at the top.
While Poole prohibited anything but non-invasive ads that wouldn’t ruin the user experience, as he described in a 2009 Washington Post profile, today’s 4chan runs few ads so they won’t tax what little server bandwidth the site, well, can’t afford anyway. If more ad revenue doesn’t materialize and nobody steps up to bail it out, 4chan could force itself into a cash-saving compromise that changes everything that makes it…whatever it is.
New York has been in the process of rolling out a mobile solution for the Metropolitan Transit Agency’s super-busy Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad lines over the summer, and this week the app was updated with support for both Apple Pay and Mastercard’s Masterpass payment systems. With that addition, the app appears to be feature complete: you can use it to basically any flavor of ticket for those MTA lines, including one-way, round trip and monthly passes.
Surprisingly, New York is a bit ahead of schedule here. Originally, the MTA eTix app wasn’t going to be fully ready to go until the end of 2016. But earlier this summer, the MTA said that it was accelerating its mobile ticketing rollout, with “full system-wide implementation” scheduled for the end of August.
That should certainly make things easier for customers of the LIRR and Metro North — they’re the two busiest commuter railway systems in the country. Of course, we’re still waiting for mobile payment and ticket options for most subway systems, but we’ll take what we can get in this traditionally slow-moving industry. While these updates only apply to the iOS app, Android users can also use the MTA eTix app on their phones — they’ll just have to put in their credit card details the old-fashioned way.
The Good The Roku Express is cheap, easy to use and loaded with streaming apps.
The Bad It’s slower, especially with Netflix, than alternatives that cost just a few bucks more.
The Bottom Line The Express delivers everything good about Roku for a rock-bottom price, but it’s worth spending a bit extra on a faster streamer.
Visit manufacturer site for details.
Last year’s best-selling TV streaming device was the $35 Google Chromecast. This year, Roku really wants to take back that crown with the Roku Express, an entry-level streamer with an asking price that’s $5 less.
And in many ways Roku Express is a better product than Chromecast. It has an actual remote and on-screen display, which I find much easier to use than Chromecast’s phone-based system. And along with all the other major apps like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Sling TV and thousands more, it has an app for Amazon video, which Chromecast does not.
On the other hand, the Roku Express is simply not as good as Roku’s own $50 Streaming Stick, our favorite streamer ever. It’s slower to respond, especially with Netflix, its remote has to be aimed at the TV, and the box itself isn’t as slick as the minimalist, no-cable-required Stick.
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The $30 Roku Express (top) and the $50 Roku Streaming Stick.
For those who just want to spend as little as possible on a streamer, the Roku Express will get the job done. But $20 isn’t a lot to ask for an appreciably better experience, especially in a device you’ll use every day. Unless you’re really, really strapped for cash, skip the Express and spend the extra $20 to get the Roku Streaming Stick. And if you already have a recent Roku 2 or Roku 3, you already have a speedier box than the Express, too.
Just the basics
The Express isn’t quite as minimalist as the Roku Stick or the Chromecast, but it’s almost as small. It’s smaller than the remote, in fact, and can be easily placed just about anywhere in your AV system that allows the remote’s infrared beams can strike its front surface.
View full gallery Sarah Tew/CNET
In an ingenious move, Roku includes a sticker so you can affix the Express to the bottom of your TV (see above), the cabinet, or wherever. Doing so allows it to blend in almost invisibly, and keeps the required cables from dragging it around. Of course, double-sided tape or velcro could do the trick too.
Also included in the box is one of the shortest HDMI cables I’ve ever seen. Its 2-foot length seems pitifully inadequate at first glance, but if you stick the little box close enough to the TV’s input, it’ll probably get the job done. Either way, credit to Roku for including it in a $30 device.
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Clockwise from the top: the Express, the power supply, sticker, HDMI cable and remote.
- HDMI output (analog video available on the $40 Express+)
- 1080p or 720p resolution
- Stereo, Dolby Digital+ and DTS audio support
- 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
As usual video quality was just as good as on any other non-4K streamer. Unlike the Stick and Chromecast, the Express can only connect to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks, not the faster (and often less crowded and therefore more reliable) 5GHz band. That said, I had no issues using the Express on my network in the crowded Wi-Fi environment at CNET’s test lab.
Roku’s remote is simple and well-designed to use entirely by feel, with everything you need including basic transport (play/pause and fast-forward/rewind) keys. The version I got has shortcuts for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Google Play Movies and TV, but yours may vary depending on where it was purchased.
Nightingale is supposed to mask annoying sounds so you can sleep better at night.
Cambridge Sound Management
Most people can relate to the frustration of a bad night’s sleep — waking up groggy, wishing you could stay in bed for another hour…or three. Sadly, busy schedules often keep us from hitting the snooze button for too long.
- New Sleep Number bed wants to take the weary out of your rest (hands-on)
- Reinvent your sleep cycle with Hello’s Sense
- Samsung introduces SleepSense, a tracker for better, smarter sleep
Massachusetts-based company Cambridge Sound Management (CSM) wants to end this cycle with Nightingale.
A $149 sleep system for folks living in the United States, Nightingale promises to cancel out irritating ambient noises with its apparently pleasant, sleep-inducing ambient noises.
Nightingale is a plug-in device that connects to existing power outlets in your bedroom. It has two pass-though outlets so you can still use them to power lamps and other electrical devices. Why not just buy a regular white noise machine, you ask?
CSM says its solution is more immersive, as each box includes two Nightingale units. The idea is that you’ll install them on opposite walls for improved noise canceling.
Get the best sleep with all this clever tech
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Designed by acoustics experts, this Wi-Fi- and app-enabled device is also outfitted with a speaker that’s supposed to project any one of CSM’s 15 “ambient sound blankets.” Use the Android or iOS app to adjust the volume and type of sound.
Smarten up your sleep routine with Sleep Number’s connected mattress
The new it mattress from Sleep Number is packed with sensors that track your patterns in hopes of giving you a better night’s sleep.
by Megan Wollerton
From the Hello Sense adaptive sleep alarm to Sleep Number’s latest connected mattress, we’ve written about a variety of sleep-related smart-home products. But we haven’t seen anything quite like Nightingale before. In addition to its basic features, CSM’s sleep device is also outfitted with a color-changing LED nightlight and it’s supposed to work with IFTTT. With a Nightingale IFTTT channel, you should be able to connect it to your Ring Video Doorbell, Philips Hue LEDs, Amazon Alexa products, Nest products and more.
Nightingale is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign right now. With 30 days to go, the team had raised just about $14,000 of its $100,000 funding goal. You have to pledge at least $149 to snag a Nightingale two-pack and units are expected to ship to backers in February 2017 (this product is US-only).
The Good The Wilson X football can track throw speed, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency. It has long battery life, doesn’t have to be charged and can sync wirelessly with Android and iOS.
The Bad Expensive. Included arm sleeve doesn’t fit larger phones like the iPhone 6S or 7 Plus.
The Bottom Line Wilson’s smart football is a good buy for anyone who wants to see throwing stats and have some fun, but it’s double the price of a normal football.
Visit manufacturer site for details.
For the past few weeks I’ve been testing a new kind of football that can measure metrics like throw speed, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency. It can even detect whether my buddy catches it or not.
The Wilson X Connected Football is like no other football you’ve seen before. This $200 smart football can connect with your smartphone and show throwing stats in real time. There are even a bunch of minigames you can play.
While it costs $100 more than Wilson’s premium NFL ball (a normal football), the Connected Football could make playing catch with friends and family more exciting than ever, if you care about how you throw. It could also, perhaps, be a useful tool for young quarterbacks who want to improve their game.
This smart football has a built-in stat tracker
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1 – 5 of 18
How it works
What makes the the Connected Football special are the built-in accelerometers and Bluetooth sensors. These allow the ball to measure various throwing metrics and send the data to your smartphone. Aside from those sensors, though, this is an ordinary football, and it’s the same weight and size as balls used in the NFL.
Unlike some other smart sports gear we’ve seen, this football never has to be charged. The sensors inside are in a constant sleep mode, and must be woken up each time before you use the ball. You do this by holding the ball vertically for 2 seconds and then turning it 180 degrees. This sleep default helps preserve battery life, which will last for more than 200,000 throws or up to 500 hours of connected usage.
View full gallery Sarah Tew/CNET
Of course, when the battery finally does run out, you will be left with a normal, non-smart football. Footballs don’t last forever, anyway.
The ball also comes with a wrist sleeve for your smartphone, which gives you quick and easy access to plays and stats midgame. It made me feel like a real quarterback, a little bit. Alas, it only comes in one size and doesn’t fit bigger phones like the iPhone 6S Plus or Nexus 6P.
It’s like a video game
The Wilson X football app (Android, iOS) is where all the magic happens. It’s what allows the ball to transform into a video game. Here you can view stats, and see how you match up to others on the global leaderboards. There’s also an avatar that you can customize with your favorite NFL team (I chose the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, naturally). The app is easy to use and I liked how it used colorful graphics for breaking down each stat.
View full gallery Sarah Tew/CNET
There are five game modes to choose from: QB warm up, precision, elimination, game day and final drive. The warm-up and precision modes both measure throw velocity, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency, but the precision mode will also calculate a WX rating, which is Wilson’s version of ESPN’s QBR score to measure total quarterback performance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson posted a WX rating of 1,553.5 (out of 1,600) when testing the ball. I barely broke 500.
Over the past couple of years there has been a surge of emerging tech companies creating mid to high-end devices, at a lower price than ever before. The competition in the market has resulted in more options and price points for purchase, and nowhere is the competition more evident than at the affordable flagship price point of $299-$399.
- BLU Pure XR announced, near-flagship specs for $299
- BLU Pure XL review
American phone-maker BLU isn’t new to this market, having previously launched the BLU Pure XL at this price point, but what of its latest affordable flagship? The BLU Pure XR looks appealing on paper but has BLU delivered? Join us as we find out in this, our BLU Pure XR review.
Buy the BLU Pure XR now
In the Pure XR, BLU has done a great job of designing and building a product that is affordable but still looks and feels premium. The BLU Pure XR’s housing is a solid piece of 7000 series aluminum, with chamfered edges and a matte finish. Along the back border of the device you will find the antenna band that’s used for wireless connectivity and unlike other devices, it blends in really well.
Moving to the front of the device you will find a 5.5” display wrapped in Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with a slight curve around the edges. Also, on the face of the phone you can see the speaker grill along the top between the front facing camera and proximity sensors.
Beneath the display is the home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner and is flanked by the back and multi-tasking capacitive touch buttons. On the bottom of the handset, you’ll find the USB Type-C port, headphone jack, single speaker grill and microphone.
Moving around the rest of the phone and on the left of the BLU Pure XR, you have the SIM and microSD card tray that can be ejected with the included tool. On the right is a volume rocker as well as the power button and BLU’s choice of having the chamfered buttons rest in a recessed trench definitely adds to the allure of the phone.
On the back, the BLU Pure XR sports a 16MP camera and single LED flash in the top left corner, as well as BLU logo in the middle of the phone. The rest of the design is clean and serves to show off the aluminium finish, which looks and feels great in the hand. Despite the slim 7mm profile, there’s no camera bump which means the device won’t rock when placed flat on its back on a table, a condition other phones do find themselves afflicted with.
Like other phones of this size, the BLU Pure XR can be difficult to use one-handed but BLU have reduced the overall footprint as much as possible. In particular, the slim design coupled with a large display (and a wholesome profile at 75mm wide and 154mm tall) make the Pure XR an excellent device for media consumption and two-handed use.
Of course, BLU isn’t the only phone maker in this market and the Pure XR design seems to be on par with the likes of OnePlus 3 and ZTE Axon 7. It’s not the most inspiring but it’s definitely stylish for the price tag and when you use this phone, you get the feeling that it was worth the money you paid for it.
As a media consumption device, the BLU Pure XR definitely delivers on the display front, with the 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD display offering 1080p resolution, which results in a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. The display may not quite be on par with Quad HD panel – although this is IPS and the handset costs more – but it’s more than acceptable for the Pure XR.
As we’ve seen from other Super AMOLED panels, the display offers good color reproduction and great viewing angles. When watching movies or reading text, the screen offers vibrant colors, deep inky blacks and a surprisingly high max brightness, which means it’s comfortable to use, even in direct sunlight. Overall, the screen is definitely pleasant to use and on par with anything else available at this price point.
In the past, BLU has traditionally been one of the few OEMs to bring MediaTek powered smartphones to the US, even though almost all companies opted to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset. The BLU Pure XR is no different, arriving with MediaTek’s Helio P10 processor in tow backed by 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a Mali-T860MP2 GPU.
The 64-bit Helio P10 features four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.9GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.0GHz, arranged in a big.LITTLE formation. The clock speeds of the Helio P10 do seem lower than other chipsets but nonetheless, in actual performance, there’s very little lag. During general use and when gaming, there were no noticeable performance issues to note.
How does it stack up in the benchmarks however? Well the results are definitely less than impressive, as an AnTuTu score of 50789 is considerably lower than the Snapdragon-backed OnePlus 3, which scores 140288 but it is on par with other Helio P10 devices, which average a score of around 51000.
Moving onto GeekBench 3 and the BLU Pure XR scores 839 in the single-core test and 3290 in the multi-core test, which is definitely not the best score but more than acceptable. By way of comparison, last year’s Snapdragon 808-backed Nexus 5X achieves a multi-core score of 3538 while the Moto G4 Plus – which costs $249 and is powered by a Snapdragon 617 processor – scores 3150.
Overall, there’s no noticeable lag or lack of fluidity when using the phone for general purpose and when gaming there weren’t any glaring issues that compromised the experience. Game load times were a bit longer than we’d have liked, but when the game gets going there aren’t any noticeable issues. The performance scores might not be the highest but the actual experience is smooth and polished.
On the hardware front, the BLU Pure XR comes with 64GB of internal storage and offers micro SD expansion up to an additional 64GB. The storage is certainly higher than more smartphones and the expansion means there should be enough storage for most users, although power users who need over 128GB of storage might want to look elsewhere.
Along the bottom the Pure XR does feature a single speaker, which produces loud audio while preserving clarity without distortion. The only downside to the speaker is its placement, as when holding in your hand, it was surprisingly easy to cover the speaker which results in muffled sounds. Of course, front facing stereo speakers would have solved this problem but you can’t have everything so if you plan on watching videos, we would recommend getting a stand or using headphones.
The BLU Pure XR is powered by a 3,00mAh battery, which provides good battery life. During our testing, the battery delivered around 4 hours of screen on time and we were comfortably able to get a full day of usage out of single charge. For reference, this includes streaming on YouTube, playing games, general communicating and web browsing. For the times when it is running low, the included quick charger makes it quick and simple to get fully charged up again.
One of the most important parts of a smartphone is the camera and the BLU Pure XR seems to tick this box with a 16MP sensor of f/1.8 aperture, phase detection and laser autofocus and a single LED flash. There’s not a lot of other noteworthy camera features but on paper, the camera should be good enough to get the job done.
Like most smartphones, the Pure XR can take really sharp images in perfect conditions but it’s rare to actually be shooting in ideal conditions so you need a smartphone that can adapt and still capture an excellent picture. Sadly, this isn’t the case with the BLU Pure XR, which does seem to struggle when conditions aren’t ideal.
One of the issues is with HDR as using the feature outdoors results in highlights that were often over exposed and blown out, while in low light, using HDR results in discoloration in the shadows and an increase in overall noise. A key use-case for HDR is to prevent blow outs within photos but the Pure XR definitely fails to deliver and we wouldn’t recommend using the feature unless absolutely necessary.
In low light, pictures don’t seem to offer as much detail as with other phones and while there’s both phase detection and laser autofocus on the Pure XR, they don’t appear to be too effective at preventing noise. Furthermore, in general use, we found that the Pure XR doesn’t focus properly when manually setting the focus in the viewfinder: the handset doesn’t seem to respond to the selected focal point and resulting images are focused on the centre of the frame, with the edges blurred out.
BLU Pure XR Review Camera samples
On the video front, the BLU Pure XR is capable of shooting Full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second and like photos, the results can vary significantly. For instance, the Pure XR can take decent video in good lighting (just like the camera) but when transitioning from dark to highlighted areas, the camera noticeably shifts ISO, adjusts exposure and isn’t able to handle any lens flare caused by direct sunlight. The lack of any form of stabilisation also shows as video footage can be shaky and generally, we wouldn’t recommend relying on the Pure XR camera for videos or photos.
Out of the box, the BLU Pure XR runs the Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS with BLU’s own custom skin on top and given BLU’s track record, we’re not holding out for an upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat any time soon.
The interface does move away from conventional Android by omitting the app drawer and moving system toggles to a swipe up from the bottom, in a similar way to iOS 10 on the iPhone 7. If you’re accustomed to the traditional Android experience, you’ll find this takes some getting used to but I did find that the it feels more intuitive to have the toggles at the bottom rather than the top, especially as it helps with overall one-handed experience.
One of the selling points of the BLU Pure XR is that it comes with a pressure sensitive offering called 3D Touch, which is similar to the Force Touch feature on the Apple iPhone. Essentially, the screen can register the amount of pressure you apply which gives you additional functionality like being able to preview content, jump straight to taking a selfie and compose a text message when applying additional pressure to the home screen. It works surprisingly well and seems to be on par, at least performance wise, with the feature found on Apple’s flagships.
The Pure XR also comes with a variety of smart gestures including being able to double tap the phone to wake it, raising the phone to your ear to answer a call and flipping the phone over to silence an alarm. These features aren’t new but work well enough and help to make the experience a little better. Overall there’s not a lot of bloatware – which definitely aids the slick performance – and while the skin will definitely require acclimatising to, it’s not the most gharish out there. If you’re willing to get used to the different experience, it definitely gets the job done and you can always install an Android launcher for an alternative experience.
|Display||5.5inch Super AMOLED curved display
1080p resolution, 401 ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass, 3D Touch sensitive panel
|Processor||1.9GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P10
expandable via microSD up to 64 GB (uses second SIM slot)
|Camera||16 MP rear camera, f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, Laser Autofocus, LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0, A2DP
GPS + GLONASS
Dual SIM Card
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||154.3 x 74.9 x 7 mm
When considering a phone, price is often one of the biggest factors and the BLU Pure XR comes in at only $300 giving wallet-conscious customers a great offering. However, the poor camera and the questionable future upgrade plans might mean handsets such as the LG Nexus 5X and OnePlus 3 could be great alternatives if these are important concerns to you.
- BLU Pure XR announced, near-flagship specs for $299
- BLU Pure XL review
All in all, this phone definitely delivers a great experience that is reliable and slick and considering the price, it’s definitely a worthy contender if you’re shopping on a budget. What do you think of the BLU Pure XR and would you buy one? If not, what would you buy instead? Let us know your views in the comments below!
Buy the BLU Pure XR now