Blu R2 Plus review: The budget line gets a timely and worthwhile refresh
Arriving roughly eight months after the R1 Plus, Blu’s newest phone, the R2 Plus serves as a worthy update with improvements in a handful of key spots. While it’s not an outright successor with spec change across the board, it’s timely and worth your attention.
As we approach the second anniversary of the “$50 phone”, the R1 HD, we’ve seen the line evolve a little. It has now become quite clear that this isn’t just an Amazon or Amazon Prime series of devices. In other words, we don’t expect that an “R” model phone will be cheap or offered as an Amazon exclusive.
Even before spending time with the phone we were impressed at the speed at which Blu released a follow-up device. As customers we are conditioned to look for successors roughly once per year. On the other hand, we wondered whether there would be enough “new” here to justify its launch.
Similar to its predecessor, the R1 Plus, the R2 Plus puts the entry level experience squarely in its sites. Specifically, it takes on the likes of Motorola and its G5 Plus. For the 2018 iteration we have a $179.99 price tag ($129.99 at launch) so it’s definitely on the less expensive side of things.
As an unlocked handset, the R1 Plus works with either AT&T or T-Mobile’s networks as well as any of their respective MVNO brands. For those of you living outside of the US, the globally unlocked device works with Orange, Vodafone, and many others. This is a dual-SIM device which means you can actually pull service from two carriers at once. It’s also a bit of breathing room for when you might travel to another country and need a local SIM card for a short while.
As was the case with its R1 models, Blu has cut the corners in a couple of places, but nothing that gives us pause for concern. The packaging isn’t glamorous but you don’t care about what is on the box so much as to what’s inside.
Getting into the box we find there are no headphones but there is a microUSB charger, a silicon protective case, and a screen protector. Again, nothing special or noteworthy but they are a nice gesture; most consumers buy these things anyhow.
Whereas the R1 HD was a good 15-18 months behind the curve for low end devices, the R2 Plus continues to close the gap. It builds on things in a few key areas and comprises an all around solid package for those not looking to spend much money.
First time smartphone users may not realize it, or likely even care all that much about the hardware, but these are what you’d get in a mid-range and upper end phone from 2016. Seasoned users coming from a higher end or flagship phone from the last year or two might consider this one more of a sidestep than a step forward.
Those of you who have ever owned, or spent a moderate amount of time, with a flagship phone from the last few years will likely be familiar with the “premium” experience. This is generally comprised of, but not limited to, glass on one or both sides, metal housing, and/or expensive build materials.
Despite Blu’s billing of the sleek metal body housing, the R2 Plus is not a premium device. You’ve still got a protective shell to remove for access to the SIM card(s) and microSD card slot. On a more positive note, the case itself doesn’t feel as pliable or plastic as what you might have seen in cheaper phones from days gone by. Indeed, the R2 Plus is rather utilitarian by today’s standards and probably won’t draw the admiration of others.
- Android v7.0 Nougat
- Mediatek 6753 | 1.3GHz Quad Core Processor with Mali-T720
- 32GB Internal Storage with microSD (up to 64GB)
- 3GB RAM Memory
- 5.5-inch 1920 x 1280 pixel display
- 13-megapixel rear camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- 4,000mAh battery
- 3G: 850/900/1700/1900/2100
- 4G LTE: 1/2/3/4/7/12/17/28
Build & Design
The R2 Plus delivers the same 5.5-inch display as its predecessor; however, this time the resolution has been bumped from 1280 x 720 pixels to 1920 x 1080. It’s somewhat noticeable when you compare the two, but it’s hard to truly discern much higher than this. Would a 2K screen be great? Sure, but we like money, too. The target user will appreciate the display here and text, pictures, and video look just fine for our needs.
We’ve said it many times, but you truly don’t see the differences or where corners are cut as much until you compare it to a pricier or bigger named counterpart. On their own, phones like the R2 Plus are perfectly good for most, especially the buying demographic. Shine a light on them, though, and you can see where someone like Samsung or LG might command a bigger price tag. Blu’s first phone of the year is nothing special on the outside, but it never pretends to be anything more, either.
Whereas last year’s model felt a little thicker than some of the other 5.5-inch phones of the time, this year’s model doesn’t. Perhaps this is due to having a battery that’s 1/4 the capacity: R1 Plus has 4,000mAh, R2 Plus has 3,000mAh. Whatever it is, the phone feels good to hold, even with a smaller, single hand.
The curved display is something we’ve come to expect in phones in 2018 so it was nice to see that present on the Blu R2 Plus. It’s a nice aesthetic choice that rounds off the overall experience and also helps in the event of an accidental drop.
Holding the phone and spending a few minutes taking things in, you don’t get the impression that you have a “no-name” or “off-brand” device. We’ve liked watching Blu evolve over the years; its phones tend to keep pace well with most OEMs and never try to punch above their weight. Suffice it to say, this certainly doesn’t feel cheap or inexpensive.
The model we were sent is black, however you can also purchase the R2 Plus in gold. We suspect it looks a little more polished and eye-catching but that’s not to suggest the black is ugly. The aluminum battery cover has a flat, almost matte finish but it does register fingerprints and oily touches rather easily. Not to worry, though, as it’s easy to clean up.
As for the general configuration of the phone, the volume rocker and power buttons are on the right side of the display. The power button carries over the knurling from its predecessor, as do the volume buttons. It’s very minor, but you can feel it nicely when fumbling for the phone in the dark. All three deliver feedback and response in line within our expectations.
The headphone jack is found at the top side, toward the left of the phone and the microUSB port is at the top, too. Yes. At the top. And it’s still microUSB. Given the overall packager here we’re okay giving a pass on the charging port, but the placement leaves us scratching our head. For the R3 Plus we expect to see USB Type C.
One of the biggest missing pieces from last generation is present for the 2018 model. Since Android 6.0, the platform has supported fingerprint readers at the OS level. And, while it was not in the R1 Plus, it’s here. We like the added layer of security and verification and certainly recommend using it where possible.
Our review unit was responsive and picked up fingerprints quickly. Surely there’s some chart somewhere that ranks response times and measures them in fractions of a second. Let’s just say that there was never a problem with registering touch and leave it at that.
The rear cover is removable, opening up access to the microSD card slot and dual microSIM card slots. It’s worth noting that the battery is not removable. At 3,000mAh it’s in line with most devices on the market, but it’s actually quite a step down from the R1 Plus.
We tend to charge phones at night out of habit just to be safe; we never really ran into a problem with battery that wasn’t solved with a few (10-15) minutes on the charger.
We were really happy to see that Blu didn’t keep the same type of battery cover that was found on last year’s model. That was truly one of the hardest cases we could get to remove. The R2 Plus is much easier and comes off without much fuss.
Like the R1 Plus, the R2 Plus features a 13-megapixel rear camera but this time we get a slightly better f/2.0 aperture. This was noticeable right away when we started shooting pics in the dreary Ohio winter evenings. The R2 Plus handled indoor and low lighting conditions better and the shutter responded quicker.
Around front we have another 13-megapixel camera, and again the same aperture settings. This is remarkably better than the 5-megapixel selfie camera on the previous edition. Both cameras include an LED flash and a handful of shooting modes.
There’s not a lot happening in the actual camera app so we might suggest downloading something else from the Play Store. It’s okay to get you started, but you will want to spread your wings if you’re looking for additional settings and configurations.
Given the cost of the R2 Plus, we were pleased with the pictures. As we’ve noted in other reviews, a lot of what we do with our photos tends to live in the cloud or are often viewed from mobile devices, it’s really tough to find fault with the quality. A lot of people just throw a filter on a pic, upload to social media, and call it a day. The R2 HD works more than sufficiently.
HDR pictures took a little bit longer to snap and process so keep that in mind when selecting your subject. If you’re shooting still images, nature, or slow moving subjects, it’s fine. But, throw a cat or a child in the mix and you’re not going to keep up very well. Toggle off HDR and grab those sort of shots, just be prepared for lesser quality color, vibrancy, or accuracy.
If you’ve ever read our reviews on Blu, one of things we’ve come to appreciate in its devices is that they’re pretty much unadulterated versions of Android. In most cases this means almost strictly Google apps with a small mix of apps sprinkled in. Other than that, it’s just about the same look and feel that you’d get directly from Google.
The R2 Plus keeps the tradition alive and doesn’t have much at all. Our review unit had Amazon, Prime Video, Opera, and Next Radio. There’s a full suite of Google apps and services present, too. Titles include Drive, Calendar, Gmail, Messages, Maps, Photos, YouTube, Play Music, Play Movies & TV, and the Play Store.
Interestingly enough, Blu doesn’t offer the same software experience from one phone to the next. Be it tiny changes in what can be configured, the pre-loaded apps, and/or the camera application, it’s always a surprise. By and large, though, Blu does stick to a pretty lean UI and configuration.
The R2 Plus runs Android 7.0 Nougat, which is technically only one full version behind what’s available today. We’re seeing quite a few new models running 8.0 Oreo out of the box so it would have been nice to have here. How much does that matter to the target demographic? Probably not as much as it does to fanboys and loyalists.
One feeling we often echo for low-cost devices, or those from Blu, is that you might want to consider the device “as is” when it comes to software. More specifically, you ought not look for Android updates.
In most cases, the users for these sort of phones is not demanding and cares little of the actual version of Android so much as to how it works. And, given that the overall look and feel has not changed drastically in the last generation or two, this works in Blu’s favor. Still, we would have liked to see Android 8.0 Oreo; it’s been available for more than a few months to OEMs.
Android 7.0 means still have some of the latest in protection from Google, plus all of the recent design principles. The stuff in 8.0 is more finely tuned and a little more customizable, sure, but it’s not necessary. Truth be told, it’s still newer than what a lot of current Android users have today.
For what it’s worth, we noticed that this had the Android security patch dated from October 5, 2017. As long as security, malware, and other threats are dealt with in a timely or orderly fashion it shouldn’t prove to be much of an issue.
We didn’t use the R2 Plus as a daily driver as much of our time over the last ten days (post-CES) has been hectic. But, we did throw on a handful of games that we’ve been playing and we did sync up a few of our accounts.
We’re used to having phones with 4GB of memory and a generally more robust set of hardware. Does this make the R2 Plus noticeably slower or laggy? Not for what we threw at it.
The R2 Plus handles typical daily tasks without any issue. Be it browsing Facebook and other social media, Reddit, casual gaming, messaging, and daily tasks, it took things in stride. Having said that, the R3 Plus will need 4GB RAM if it hopes to catch our eye next generation.
Blu continues to walk the line of affordability and performance, especially along the lower end of the spectrum. The R2 Plus is a solid unit that should work well for its intended uses.
For someone who is just getting into smartphones and doesn’t want to commit to long-term financing or expensive devices, this is a good start. Likewise, it’s a decent sidestep or “band aid” phone should you have dropped or lost your current phone.
We have no issues with recommending the R2 Plus. There are a few quibbles and questionable choices, but nothing to the point of telling you to avoid the phone. Why is a microUSB charging port on the top of the phone? Why are we still using microUSB? Why doesn’t Blu have the exact same software suite and configuration on all of its phones?
You can purchase the R2 Plus through Amazon for $179.99 starting immediately. As an incentive, you can save $50 with an early adopter discount. At $129.99 this is an really interesting device and one to consider for your GSM needs.