Blu Products Life Play review: Affordable, unlocked, but not the best deal

Performance
Powering the Blu Life Play is an unconventional 1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6589 chip paired with 1GB of RAM. If you're expecting blazing-fast performance, however, don't get your hopes up. When I subjected the phone to the usual battery of benchmarks, it quickly became clear processing power is not the Life Play's forte.

The Blu Life Play's Quandrant performance was most unimpressive. Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

The device notched a disappointing Quadrant score of 3,976, which is the lowest result I've seen from any handset claiming to be a quad-core smartphone. It's lower than the LG Nexus 4's 4,861 and light years behind the HTC One's 12,194 and the Samsung Galaxy S4's 11,381.

More troubling though is the Life Play's paltry amount of internal storage memory. At just 4GB, a hefty chunk of which is taken up by Android Jelly Bean, I began triggering insufficient memory warnings simply by installing updates to apps already loaded on the phone. The only way around the issue was to use a microSD card in the Life Play's free slot. I then had to command all apps to push their data to the card instead of to internal storage.

In anecdotal operation, though, the Life Play handled well enough and I didn't notice any lags or hiccups whether navigating through home screens and settings menus or launching apps. One annoying issue I ran into was that when I connected a few different pairs of wired headphones (all with in-line mics) to the handset and fired up the music player, my ears were assaulted by garbled audio fraught with reverb and other distortions. In a nutshell it sounded like I was listening to tracks underwater, which rendered music enjoyment impossible.

Performance Blu Life Play
Average LTE download speed (T-Mobile) 1.8Mbps
Average LTE upload speed (T-Mobile) 0.4Mbps
App download (CNET) 3.72MB in 12.2 seconds
CNET mobile site load 10.3 seconds
CNET desktop site load 16.7 seconds
Boot time 25.5 seconds
Camera boot time 2.2 seconds

Call quality
I tested the Blu Life Play on T-Mobile's GSM network in New York and experienced mixed call quality. Callers described my voice as loud, clear, and easy to understand. That said, they also thought my spoken words sounded hollow and flat and they could easily detect that I was calling from a cell phone.

On my end, people sounded clear as well, but not terribly loud. Using the speakerphone wasn't ideal: the Life Play's main speaker sits on the back of the handset and placing the phone down on a desk severely muffled voices piped through it. Worse, when I flipped the phone over on its face, callers complained that my voice was muffled. Apparently the only effective way to use the Life Play's speakerphone is to hold it in your hand.

Blu Life Play call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds
I connected the Blu Life Play to T-Mobile's HSPA+ 3.5G network in New York to get a feel for its data speed performance. Sadly the phone does not support true 4G LTE data, but is rated for a maximum throughput of 42Mbps (downloads).

I clocked average downloads at a much lower 1.8Mbps, which is far slower than the typical 10-to-15Mbps results I've pulled down over LTE-equipped devices. Average uploads were also solidly within the 3G camp, at a disappointing 0.4Mbps.

On T-Mobile, the Life Play was stuck on 3G. Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

Battery life
Longevity though was one area where the Blu Life Play delivered surprisingly satisfying results. Perhaps because its lower-octane MediaTek processor sips less power, the Life Play churned through the CNET Labs video playback benchmark for a full 8 hours and 23 minutes. That's a lot longer than Sony's latest superphone, the Xperia Z , which conked out after 5 hours and 41 minutes performing the same task. The considerably more expensive (unlocked) HTC One lasted for 9 hours and 37 minutes while the Samsung Galaxy S4 persevered for 10 hours and 30 minutes during this trial.

Camera
Sporting an 8MP camera with LED flash, the Blu Life Play impressed me with its image quality and agility. With available resolutions ranging from VGA to 6MP wide-screen to 8MP, the phone's camera snapped clear images quickly. Time between shots was practically nonexistent, unless of course a processor-heavy mode such as HDR was engaged.

Indoor images were clear. Brian Bennett/CNET

Indoors, the Life Play captured clear images that were correctly exposed. Details were sharp, and colors were accurate. Under low light I was also able to capture tricky subjects such as fidgety children.

The Life Play was fast enough to capture kids at, well, play. Brian Bennett/CNET

Taken outdoors in bright summer sun, images looked better still. Colors of flowers and leaves were vibrant and the camera app's HDR mode successfully brightened shadows to add extra detail.

Colors in flowers looked particularly bright. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Life Play's camera software also features a wide range of color effects, shooting modes, and even a few gimmicks such as "Phone booth," which sticks loopy cartoon frames around pictures.

Conclusion
When I first learned about Blu Products' $229 Life Play, understandably I was intrigued. Here was a premium, unlocked, ultrathin smartphone running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and powered by a quad-core processor, plus it had an 8MP camera.

Unfortunately, though, as I began to delve into the Life Play's features my experience soured. With just 4GB of internal storage it's easy to bring the device to a standstill if you're not careful. The processing power is also way behind today's chips from Samsung and Qualcomm. For instance, the Galaxy S4 and HTC One , both running cutting-edge quad-core components, offer twice the CPU muscle yet longer battery life.

Now factor in the audio snafus I ran into using wired headsets and the Life Play suddenly becomes less of a deal. Honestly, you're better off splurging the extra $70 for the smoother-performing (and also unlocked) $299 LG Nexus 4 and calling it a day.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Blu Life Play

Part Number: LIFEPLAY

MSRP: $229.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology GSM \ HSPA
  • Diagonal Size 4.7 in
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