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Great Value

Our Verdict

The Blu R1 Plus is the 2017 sequel to one of the cheapest Android phones on Amazon, and it’s back: faster, sturdier and longer lasting than before. At $159 it has a completely adequate HD display, metal finish and long battery life. Just don’t expect 3D games to perform well or have it run the latest version of Android anytime soon. This is a true budget phone for the sub-$200 crowd.

For

  • Incredibly affordable price
  • Sizable 4,000mAh battery
  • Camera is better than expected

Against

  • 3D game performance is terrible
  • Doesn’t work on Verizon or Sprint
  • Android Marshmallow is now dated

The Blu R1 Plus is an incredibly cheap phone and the latest proof you don't need to spend much more than $100 to get a basic unlocked smartphone in the US, where it's primarily available.

It's an Android phone that costs 1/8th the price of the stellar Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus we just reviewed, and it also has a similar fraction of the convincing features.

That's an okay compromise for someone looking for a 4G LTE smartphone the boasts a 5.5-inch HD display, Android 6.0 Marshmallow and, most importantly, nearly two day battery life.

It's an improvement over last year’s Amazon-exclusive Blu R1 HD in every way. It has a mostly metal design, faster quad-core chipset, 32GB of internal storage and 3GB of RAM.

1/8th the price of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

In fact, we were able to write this entire review on the phone in Google Docs, run almost every app we tried in the Google Play Store and summon Google Assistant to ask it questions.

Don't expect steady 3D game frame rates or app multitasking. You're not going to get good enough performance for either of those at this price. It’s also missing a fingerprint sensor.

The Blu R1 does come with a number of accessories right inside the box, including a case and micro SIM card adapters. It adds just a little more to this best value pick.

Its features won't wow you, but everything you get for the price just may.

Price and release date

  • $159 through stores like Amazon; briefly $109 on sale at launch
  • Works on GSM carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile and Cricket Wireless
  • It won’t work on CDMA networks: Verizon and Sprint

The Blu R1 Plus is one of the cheapest Android phones you can buy in the US, even if it costs more than the Blu R1 HD. Its major specs bump adds a little to the bottom line.

There's a flash sale on Saturday

It costs $159, though there was a big discount on launch day. It was $50 off the normal $159 price for 24 hours, making it a $109 deal at Amazon and Best Buy.

That makes its biggest rivals the 5.2-inch Moto G5 Plus at $184 (or $229 without Amazon ads) and the Boost Mobile-exclusive 6-inch ZTE Max XL at $130.

The advantage to the Blu R1 Plus is that it doesn’t have Amazon lockscreen ads and comes unlocked for use GSM carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Cricket Wireless.

Obviously, the Blu R1 Plus flash sale makes it much more compelling next to its rivals, and so does the fact that it includes a case and micro SIM card adapters inside the box.

Design

The Blu R1 Plus is surprisingly well-built for a sub-$200 smartphone. You can’t tell the difference between it and more expensive budget Android phones at first blush.

Blu upgrades its phone with an aluminum finish on the battery cover

It has an aluminum finish to its back cover, slightly rounded glass edges protecting the screen, and a silver metal frame outlining everything. Plastic is limited to the the top and bottom for housing antennas.

No, this design doesn’t really stand out, but that’s entirely the point. It’s meant to look like a more expensive phone twice its price. It blends in really well until you start picking things apart.

Looking closer, you’ll begin to notice minor differences. It’s thicker and heavier than trendier budget smartphones, with a sloped back measuring 10.5mm at its peak. It weighs 191g.

You can take off the back cover to insert a microSD card for extra storage (up to 64GB on top of the internal 32GB) and micro SIM cards – plural. This is a great dual-SIM phone for travelers.

Thicker than more expensive phones, but still reasonable

Just because you can peel away the back cover doesn’t automatically mean you can swap out the battery. It’s sealed into the back of the phone. Removing it voids your warranty.

Other curious design decisions were made: the headphone jack is at the top, the micro USB port is offset on the bottom and the speaker grille consists of six tiny holes in the back cover.

None of these drawbacks are deal breakers at this price. However, we did miss being able to unlock our phone with a fingerprint sensor during our tests. It’s sorely missing here.

You’ll find a fingerprint sensor on the similarly priced ZTE Max XL, but it’s a big plastic phone. Basically, at this price, you can have either a metal finish or a fingerprint sensor – not both.

Display

  • Its big 5.5-inch HD display looks great for such a cheap phone
  • Gorilla Glass 3 can be reflective, but provides good protection
  • Lacks the double tap screen-waking feature a part of other Androids

Blu R1 Plus boasts a big and colorful 5.5-inch LCD display that looks great for everyday use. Its 720p resolution is still considered HD, and that’s perfectly fine for a $159 phone.

The 720p HD display looks just fine for everyday use

Yes, you can make out individual pixels if you really stare intently at the screen, but it’s not a distraction. It just means this phone display is never going to be able to handle VR gaming.

What most matters here is that the screen gets just bright enough to use outdoors, even if the brightness slider falls short of where we’d like it to be on a sunny day. It’s adequate outside.

We did experience glare from the Gorilla Glass 3 in direct sunlight, but its protection proved to be a boon for us. Our review phone did a sudden faceplant when we were photographing it in the wild. It survived the minor fall without a scratch.

It's colorful and distracts you from that gaudy Blu logo

Missing is a better power-on method besides hitting the small power button on the side frame. ‘Double tap the screen to wake’ is popular feature on slightly pricier Android phones.

We also wish the bezel was a bit thinner and the Blue logo wasn’t tattooed across the bottom chin of the phone (it’s already emblazoned on the back). You have a Blu phone. Never forget.

But 720p on such a cheap phone? That’s not a problem. It looked good enough whenever we watched YouTube videos and played back our personal video recordings on the display.