Blu Products is a relatively new phone manufacturer that was launched in August 2009 and is based in Miami. The company is mainly focused on the Latin American market, though it will attempt to sell its products in the U.S as well. In the meantime, Blu's current offerings are mostly unlocked GSM models, so they should be compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. Blu also appears to be targeting the young and hip crowd with its highly colorful marketing materials and lower-cost handsets.
The Blu Speed is one such handset, and while it may look like a generic messaging phone at first glance, it actually has a number of interesting features that might trick you into thinking it's a smartphone. These include Wi-Fi, e-mail, an FM radio, an MP3 player, a 2-megapixel camera on the back plus a front-facing VGA camera, and two SIM card slots so you can have two different phone numbers in one. The construction is a little cheap, and we're not thrilled with the photo quality, but we applaud the number of features crammed into a compact, unassuming device.
The Blu Speed has a decidedly dull design. At 4.33 inches long by 2.40 inches wide by 0.51 inch thick, the Speed doesn't look at all distinguishable from most other messaging phones on the market. Its rounded corners do make it easier to hold in the hand, but the glossy plastic construction gives it a rather cheap feel.
The 2.4-inch TFT display is nothing to write home about, either. It's rather lackluster, with 65,536-color support and 320x240-pixel resolution. You can adjust the appearance of the date and time, the display's brightness, and the backlight timer. The interface is sparse with white graphic icons that glow when you roll over them. At the bottom row of the home screen are six default shortcut icons for the main menu, the contacts list, the messaging menu, e-mail, Java apps, and MSN messenger. These shortcuts can be customized by going into the Settings menu.
The buttons on the navigation array have that same plastic feel as the rest of the phone. They are easy to press down, but they can get quite slippery. There are two soft keys, the Talk and End/Power keys, and the optical mouse in the middle. The optical mouse is similar to the one on the BlackBerry Torch; you can use it to go through the menu and select items. We found it a little tricky to use at first, but fortunately we were able to adjust the sensitivity of the optical mouse in the settings.
The QWERTY keyboard underneath the array is quite compact, but the keys are separated enough from each other that you could certainly dial and text by feel. The number keys are highlighted in white, and dedicated keys include the Alt key, the Shift key, the Symbol key, and of course the Space key. We're also slightly surprised to note that the dollar sign has its own key as well. On the whole, the keyboard was easy to use, but because the keys are so tiny, typing wasn't as quick as we would like.
The Micro-USB charging jack and 3.5mm headset jack are on the right spine, while the volume rocker sits on the left. On the top is the keylock button that also acts as the power key. The camera lens is on the back. You have to remove both the battery and the battery cover to access the microSD card slot. Also behind the battery are two SIM card slots for two different phone numbers.
The Blu Speed has a 1,000-entry phone book, with room in each entry for three numbers, an e-mail address, a company name, and a birthdate. You can add a photo or even a short video clip for caller ID. You can also add the contact to a caller group and assign them one of 25 polyphonic ringtones. A few of the phone's organizer functions include a tasks list, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, a calculator, and a currency converter.
As for connectivity, you get Bluetooth, the ability to synchronize media over USB, and even Wi-Fi, which we rarely see on non-smartphones. This goes well with the mobile Web browser on the Speed, which happens to be a version of Opera Mini. Other Internet features include MSN, Yahoo, and Facebook Messenger applications.
Perhaps the most surprising is that the Speed comes with Skype Mobile so you can call someone over VoIP. You can even conduct video calls, because the Speed has a front-facing VGA camera.
The Speed has decent text and multimedia messaging features. You have the option of several input methods--some of them automatically complete the word for you, while some rely on you to spell correctly all the time. There's also a set of template messages for when you just want to send off a quick reply like "Call me now" or "I am busy." We're also happy to see that the Speed lets you have several e-mail accounts, which is again not something you normally find on lower-end feature phones. Simply enter in your own server and log-in information, and you're good to go.
While we hesitate to call the Speed a music phone, it does have a surprisingly full-featured MP3 player. The player interface is predictably basic, with an album art display in the center and the controls along the bottom. Settings include the usual playlist creation, repeat, shuffle, and the ability to set the player to the background while you navigate in other areas of the phone. You can also swap out different music player skins, and if the music file supports it, you can turn on lyrics display too. We're impressed that the player allows you to set different audio effects, from 3D surround to reverb. You can also turn on bass enhancement and fiddle with the play speed.
The 2-megapixel camera on the Speed can take pictures in four different sizes and three different image quality settings. Other settings include white balance, color effects, capture mode, a self-timer, and three different shutter sounds plus a silent option. Photo quality was decent for a 2-megapixel camera. Images did look a touch blurry and colors could have been brighter, but the overall image still came out OK.
You can also choose to take photos with the front-facing VGA camera, but the quality diminishes significantly. There's also a video recorder on board if you wish to record short and simple video clips. The settings are similar to the still camera. You can set different record limits as well. For when you want to watch videos, the Speed has a video player that supports the MP4 video format.
Last but not least, the Speed has a few oddball features that we don't always find on feature phones. It has an FM radio, and, interestingly, an e-book reader. The reader supports the un-DRMed EPUB format that you can get from a few e-book providers online. As for games, the Speed comes with Vitter, Motalk, and Bubble. You can try to load a few more games on here, but you'll have to look around for them on your own without the assistance of a mobile storefront if you live in the U.S. Most any Java game should work.
We tested the quad-band Blu Speed (850/900/1800/1900MHz) in San Francisco using both T-Mobile and AT&T's networks. It also has 3G UMTS bands (850/2100MHz) but only for the SIM 1 card slot. Because of that, the AT&T SIM card should be slotted in SIM 1. For incoming call quality, we couldn't tell the difference between the two networks. Callers sounded a tiny bit fuzzy, but calls came through clearly on the whole. Voice quality was also quite good.
On the other end, callers reported that the call from the AT&T SIM was a tiny bit sharper, but not by much. Calls from both numbers had a slightly muddy quality to them, and background hiss could not be avoided. Yet, they could still hear us despite these flaws, and we could carry on a conversation without much pause.
We tested the 3G speeds on AT&T. Connectivity was rather poor in certain areas of the city, but we did manage to load a couple of Web pages before 3G coverage dissipated. We loaded the CNET mobile page in around 30 seconds, and the mobile ESPN page in around 24 seconds. Speeds seem comparable with other AT&T 3G phones we've tested.
The Blu Speed has a rated battery life of 8 hours of talk time and 33.3 days of standby time. It has a tested talk time of 7 hours and 18 minutes.
The Blu Speed is a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Despite its humdrum looks and cheap construction, it actually has plenty of surprising features for a relatively affordable unlocked phone. It has a dual SIM card slot if you want to maintain two different numbers, and it offers smartphone-like features like e-mail with POP3 and IMAP4 support, Wi-Fi, the Opera Mini browser, music and video players, a front-facing camera for video calls, an FM radio, and of all things, an e-book reader. It doesn't really perform all of those tasks very well, but the fact that you can do them at all on a cheap messaging phone is pretty amazing. The Blu Speed is currently a steal at around $150 if you buy it online, and that's without a contract.