If you've never heard of Blu Products, we don't blame you. We first encountered the Miami-based manufacturer at CTIA this spring, which was the company's first U.S. tech show, we learned. Blu only popped onto the scene in 2009 and sells most of its handsets in Latin America, with limited U.S. distribution. The entry-level Tango is an Android 2.2 world phone with all the usual Froyo fixings, including voice search and mobile hot-spot capability for up to five devices. Blu bills the Tango as "your first Android phone," and indeed, while the tiny 2.8-inch resistive touch screen and 600MHz processor will disappoint Android devotees with its combination of sluggishness and poor design, it may still appeal to newcomers who absolutely must have an affordable, unlocked Android device. The Tango comes in black and white for GSM networks (we reviewed the black model) and costs $169.99 for U.S. customers through select online distributors like Expansys.
Looking buttoned up compared with the riotous colors and outlandish designs of Blu's other phones, the Tango has a simple candy bar shape in either black or white with silver accents. Dimensions of 3.9 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick make the Tango ultraportable, albeit a bit chunky. At just 3.2 ounces, its lack of heft compounds the impression of cheapness. We do appreciate the soft-touch finish on the sides and back cover.
Jumbo Android screens are all the rage these days, but Blu hasn't taken that tack. In fact, the Tango's petite 2.8-inch TFT LCD display is far too small for a touch-screen phone, especially for typing on the standard virtual keyboard. If that weren't enough, the Tango's resistive touch screen requires more pressure--or a plastic pen tip--to make a selection. The combination makes composing messages inconvenient and often frustrating. For instance, it took at least double the time we expected to painstakingly tap out an e-mail. Mistakes were the norm rather than the exception, and that was using our nails to make more-precise selections. To top off the disappointment, we noticed an odd ridge (like a speed bump) running across the top of the screen, a sure sign of poor build quality, at least on our review unit. The back cover also pulled off too easily.
The Tango runs an unadulterated version of Android 2.2 Froyo, with no custom interface. That's either good or bad depending on your taste, but we always enjoy the simple Android experience. There are the standard five customizable screens (our model was preloaded with animated aquatic wallpaper), and the three static onscreen buttons for calling up the dialer, opening the application tray, and launching the browser. Blu preloads the Tango with plenty of widgets and app shortcuts, which you can personalize further. Although you can still see the notification icons in a menu bar up top, we were only able to get the menu to pull down when we used a pen tip.
Beneath the display are four touch-sensitive buttons for home, search, back, and menu. This is a slightly different order than many Android phones that cross our desks, and took just a little getting used to.
You'll find the volume rocker on the right side and the covered microSD card slot on the left. There's a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack up top. On the back sits the 3.2-megapixel camera lens. We wish there were a hardware shutter button as well, since that would tend to reduce shaking when you're snapping a photo. You'll need to use the onscreen shutter control instead. The Tango has 256MB RAM and takes 32GB of external storage.
Hardware aside, choosing any phone running Android almost guarantees you a modicum of features and platform reliability, since Google has done all the hard work creating its open-source operating system. So you'll get an e-mail inbox that optionally integrates messages from a variety of POP, IMAP, and social networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter. We find it gets cluttered, and prefer to filter messages ourselves. Also be forewarned that while syncing photos and other contact information works fairly well in Android, you'll likely find yourself manually adjusting several records.
Right out of the box you get Android's characteristically excellent integration with free Google services like Google Maps and turn-by-turn voice navigation, search, YouTube, and Google Talk. In addition, there's Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, and assisted GPS (A-GPS) support, and essential apps like a clock, an alarm, a stopwatch, a calendar, and a calculator. There's also the standard Android music player, which lets you build playlists and organize your song library. Android's hot-spot and tethering capabilities are also onboard, as we mentioned above, but keep in mind that carriers usually impose an additional $20 to $30 monthly fee to use them.
Blu has bundled third-party apps with the Tango as well, including the Hi5 and Orkut social networks (particularly popular in South America), an FM radio, the Animal Farm game, a demo version of a third-party Facebook app (this is different from the official Facebook effort), and an audio recorder app. The Android Market holds an additional 150,000-plus apps that you can use to customize your experience.
If you have a microSD card installed, you'll be able to use the combination camera and camcorder. Interestingly, the Tango's software differs from the stock Android shooter. For starters, the interface buttons are in a different location and have a unique look and feel. You can adjust the photo size and quality, white-balance effects, and brightness. Onscreen controls let you zoom in and out. There are fewer options on the Tango than on other Android phones, but we do like seeing them visually represented as icons rather than as plain text. The same goes for the camcorder feature. You can share photos and video through the usual social networking, e-mail, and Bluetooth channels, and upload videos to YouTube.
Photo quality was acceptable. Colors looked appropriately bright and edges were fairly sharp. Strangely, the camera sometimes produced photos washed with an orange or blue hue. Video quality was also decent, without too much jerkiness or blurriness on playback, but it also suffered from dramatic changes in color temperature. The Tango struggled with natural light during indoor shots, often creating overexposed pockets.
We tested the unlocked, quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; 3G HSDPA 850/1900) Blu Tango in San Francisco using T-Mobile's network (voice and data performance will vary by network). Call quality was poor, with a thick, pervasive layer of background noise accented by crackling. Voices sounded muted, but mostly natural. Calls dropped a couple of times while walking around downtown San Francisco, but held steady for the duration of one hour-long call. On their end, we sounded muffled to some callers. Others had better luck, saying we sounded hollow but fairly true to life, with no background disturbance.
Speakerphone quality was noticeably better. The blanket of white noise was still present on our side, but it was barely noticeable with the phone so far from our ear. Our callers still sounded vaguely off and echoey, but the volume remained strong for us. Our callers, on the other hand, said we sounded quieter and still muffled, but less so than before.
Blu Tango call quality sample Listen now:
It took about 27 seconds to load CNET's Web-optimized site on the Android browser, and almost 2 minutes to load CNET's full site, which is graphically rich. The New York Times' mobile site took closer to 45 seconds to fully load, and it was also about 2 minutes for the full site. As always, results vary by network, signal strength, location, and time of day. That said, we'd hardly call these speeds blazing; many Android phones can render Web sites faster.
That takes us to the phone's performance as a whole, which was notably slow on the Tango's 600MHz processor. We had to wait a beat for the phone to execute the simplest tasks, like waking up and presenting the lock screen, and launching the dialer and other apps.
The Tango has a rated battery life of 6 hours with 3G use and 12 hours with 2G use, and a rated standby time of 20.8 days on its 1,200 mAh lithium ion battery. According to our tests, it has a talk time of 7 hours and 11 minutes. According to FCC tests, the Tango's digital SAR is 1.3 watts per kilogram.
The Tango's specs start out adequately enough with Android 2.2 Froyo and a decent 3.2-megapixel camera, but then the small, resistive touch screen derails it all by creating a cramped, hostile typing environment that taunts those with sizable fingers or short nails. Cheap build quality compounds poor design choices like the screen specs and lack of a camera shutter button. We know Blu isn't pretending the Tango is anything more than it is, but in our view it doesn't even live up to its modest promise. If you're looking for an Android starter phone, try any of these first. However, if you simply must have an unlocked Android GSM world phone, at least the Tango is more affordable than its rivals with $500 price tags.