Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-06

Featured Review: Bluboo XFire

December 15, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Expensive phones are not for everyone.  This doesn’t just mean those that can’t afford it, it also means people who can’t afford to replace one if it breaks or people who don’t need all the bells and whistles that often come with the latest expensive smartphone.  The demand for these phones has increased significantly, especially as Android continues to expand across the globe, and components have become better while simultaneously becoming cheaper.  As such the market for entry-level devices, as they’re called, has grown exponentially and now offers phones under $100 that are more than good enough, they’re often times great for the needs of many.  The Bluboo XFire sits at or under the $80 and offers some compelling specs for the price, but is it too cheap?  Let’s take a look!

Specs

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-specs

Gracing the front of the Bluboo XFire is a 5-inch qHD IPS LCD panel (540 x 960 resolution), while the rear houses an 8-megapixel OmniVision camera with single LED flash.  Inside of that removable back sits a 2,750mAh battery and slots for a standard sized SIM, a micro-SIM and a microSD card for expandable storage in case you need more over the tiny 8GB included with the phone.  1GB of RAM is there for multi-tasking and the experience is run by a MediaTek MT6735M 64-bit Cortex-A53 quad-core processor at 1GHz, while the GPU is a Mali-T720 MP1 at 450MHz.  The whole package comes in at a fairly small 140.2mm high by 71.5mm wide by 9.3mm thin, and weighs 145 grams.  WiFi up to 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 are supported here, and Android 5.1.1 Lollipop runs the show.

In the Box

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-box

Any brand new smartphone for under $80 (~€74) seems like a steal already, so you probably wouldn’t expect a whole lot else to come in the box.  There’s not a boatload of extras here but in addition to the phone, USB cable and wall charger you’re also going to find a manual and an additional screen protector, saving you a few dollars over having to buy a separate one.

Hardware and Display

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-display

The Bluboo XFire is a pretty simple smartphone design made completely of plastic, with a 5-inch display taking up the vast majority of the front of the panel.  A screen protector is already installed and feels good on the screen, and the bezels on the sides of the screen are of pretty average size, keeping the size of the phone about the same as the display as a whole.  On the back you’ll find the camera and single LED flash, and of course under that removable plastic back plate is a removable battery, dual-SIM card slots and a microSD card slot in addition to a single speaker.  The soft-touch plastic back is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, and because of the material they are not easily wiped off (as can be seen in the pictures).  Both the 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB port are on the top of the device, which is great for when you want to listen to music and have to charge the phone, as you don’t have cables coming out of multiple sides of the phone.  The power button sits on the right side near the mid-point of the device, with the volume rocker situated just above that.

Screen quality is nothing to write home about, as the quarter-HD panel makes it look cheap versus a 720p or higher resolution panel.  Lower resolution makes the scaling look a bit strange, especially since Bluboo keeps the DPI at a good level, fitting more on the screen than this resolution typically would but sometimes forcing pictures to look a little hazy (as the pixels get squished).  Viewing angles are acceptable and feature some dimming and subtle color change as you rotate it, but nothing to really complain about.  Color accuracy is pretty good although the white balance trends on the cool side, making white look a little more blue than they should.  The MiraVision control suite under display options will allow you to correct any display calibration issues if they bother you.  Refresh rate of the panel is acceptable and holds up even when scrolling quickly.  The digitizer is normally quite good, especially for this price level, and I only found it getting lost when I tried to type as fast as possible.  Normal typing shouldn’t run into many issues here, although I did have some weird problems with multi-touch on certain parts of the screen.

Performance and Memory

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-performance

MediaTek is known for their entry-level and mid-range processors, and there’s a really good reason for this.  In general, they are very battery friendly, efficient and fast for their price range, and that’s especially true of their 64-bit line this year.  The MT6735M that powers the XFire seems to do a great job when taxed, but it’s everyday performance where the phone struggles the most.  This is most likely due to the extremely slow internal storage speeds present on the phone, showing only around a 20mb/s read speed on average, which is considerably slower than most phones out there.  Slower memory is much cheaper, so it makes sense that this was part of the compromise to get the phone so inexpensive.  The everyday experience isn’t so slow that it’s irritating or frustrating most of the time, but it will require a bit more patience than a more expensive phone will.

When playing games I mostly didn’t notice the fact that there’s less horsepower here than some other phones.  Star Wars: Uprising for instance, one of the newer and more popular 3D games on the Play Store, runs almost perfectly on the phone, and the only issue you might find is that it takes a little longer to load between scenes and levels than some other phones might.  Actual gameplay is great, and that’s certainly thanks to the Mali-T720 GPU inside.  Multi-tasking was impressive given the low amount of RAM found in the phone, and a lot of that is probably thanks to the lower resolution too.  Switching between apps isn’t instant, as the system takes a little more time to compute, but it doesn’t feel like the app has to reload.  This in addition to the dedicated Overview multi-tasking button makes multi-tasking on the XFire a good overall experience.

Benchmarks

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-benchmark

Benchmark scores aren’t incredibly high, but they’re not really that low either.  The MediaTek MT6735M inside the XFire holds its own for sure, and actually runs AnTuTu V6’s new 3D tests at a pretty decent rate, which is impressive given the price, and definitely reflects what I found in gaming performance.  Check out our whole suite of tests below.

Phone Calls and Network

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-phone

Because of the bands supported you’re not going to find great coverage in the US on any GSM carrier.  I wasn’t able to get any higher than a 2G signal on T-Mobile US, but you’ll likely find better coverage in Europe with these supported bands.  During calls the sound quality was good just about everywhere except for an overly noisy or windy environment.  In these environments the earpiece speaker was both not loud enough for me to hear the other person, and the noise cancelation wasn’t good enough for them to hear me.  If you can believe it you’ll even get 4G LTE support here in Europe, something that’s certainly not common in the sub-$80 (~72 Euro) segment.  Call quality was great for me and network coverage was fine, although again I only got 2G speeds so I didn’t stick around on mobile data for long.  Check the full list of supported bands below to make sure it works with your carrier of choice.

2G: 850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G HSPA: 850/900/2100MHz

LTE Bands: 1/3/7/20

Battery Life

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-battery

A 2,750mAh battery is something you’re more likely to find on a much more expensive 5-inch device, and because of that you’re going to see some pretty insane battery life on this thing.  Couple this with the low resolution and low power processor and you’ve got an absolute winning combination for getting through one day with heavy use without issue.  I got over 5 hours of screen on time in my use, and benchmarks show as high as 7 or so if you play your cards right.  Standby wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped though, and getting even 2 days out of this probably isn’t reasonable.  It certainly seems more designed for heavy daily use rather than prolonged light use.

Sound

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-sound

My particular unit had some issues with the 3.5mm headset jack, so I had to opt for Bluetooth audio during the testing period.  What I heard was excellent, and part of that is certainly thanks to the lossless Bluetooth audio support the phone has, providing higher quality Bluetooth audio without pops or interruptions.  The only real issue I had with audio playback is that there’s no way to adjust media volume until music or some other media audio is playing, a problem that will certainly present itself if you didn’t turn the volume down from the previous session.  Even going into sound settings doesn’t have a media volume slider, which is just strange.  Sound from the speaker on the body was sufficient to get the point across, and thankfully it was pretty loud too.  Don’t come here expecting crazy quality, but this is certainly better than other phones I’ve used at this price range.  It’s clear and clean enough and won’t get in the way of watching YouTube videos or playing games.

Software

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-software

Bluboo keeps this a pretty simple fare, and that’s a very good thing when it comes to Android in general.  Google’s redesign of Android starting with 5.0 Lollipop meant that OEMs don’t need to change things, just add what they see fit.  Bluboo has kept with this ideology and it keeps the XFire not only light and fast, but also beautiful.  Google’s Material Design is an incredible design language, and as apps continually update to this language the OS overall has continued to look better and better over the past year since Lollipop’s launch.  The UI is clean and beautiful looking, and is familiar to anyone that’s used a Lollipop-powered phone before.  The only bizarre thing Bluboo changed here is that the status bar doesn’t tint when apps ask it to, meaning it’s always either black or transparent, never another color.  There’s also an icon pack change on the default launcher, but other than those two things it looks pretty much like stock Lollipop.

A handful of apps are included out of the box like FM Radio, file manager, music, backup and restore, and a sound recorder.  Outside of this, there’s only the basic essentials installed like messaging and dialer apps, as well as the Play Store and some basic Google apps.  This means only a little over one page of apps, which is good since I ran out of space after installing a handful of additional apps and games on the phone.  Some additional options found here are gesture controls like holding the phone to your face when in an SMS conversation to make a call, or waving your hand in front of the phone to take pictures.  Double tap to wake and other gestures, like drawing letters to launch apps without having to turn the screen on, are all here too.  These should only be used with a password or PIN code though, as the phone will likely launch apps in your pocket without one when this feature is enabled.

Security and Privacy

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-08

While there’s no fingerprint scanner here that doesn’t mean that Bluboo has given up on security; quite the contrary.  Per-app permissions are here and work really well, although they aren’t enabled by default.  Once enabled you’ll receive a pop-up window asking for allow or deny a specific permission as the app you’re running asks for it.  From here you can choose to always allow or deny this permission as well, or if you change your mind earlier you can go to security settings and choose individual permissions per app, or view all apps with a specific permission.  There’s also an auto-start management to keep apps from automatically starting when the phone is powered on.  There’s even built-in anti-theft protection that can be enabled and sent to any phone number, allowing remote wipe from that number if the phone gets lost.

Camera

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-camera

The software is pretty common place for entry-level and mid-range phones from China, and if you’ve seen other phones at this price level you’re likely already familiar with how the software works.  A number of different modes included are live photo, face beauty, panorama and multi-angle modes.  The interface is familiar and works well, with dedicated shutter and record buttons for instant picture or video taking.  Dedicated HDR, flash, gesture and camera switching buttons make using those modes quick and easy, and any settings you would like to adjust can be found in the settings menu on the bottom right.  There’s burst mode which takes up to 40 shots in one sitting and takes about 5 shots per second on average when the shutter button is held down.  Pictures are up to 8-megapixel resolution while video is up to 720p.

Daytime and good light shots were absolutely excellent for the price.  Remember that this is a phone that sells for under $80, so you may need to lower your expectations just a bit, but honestly I’ve seen plenty of phones closer to the $200 mark get worse shots.  A good amount of detail is preserved here, the amount of noise in the shots is pretty low and in addition to that the denoise filter isn’t too aggressive.  For 8-megapixel shots these have quite a bit of detail, although you’ll find some lens aberration on all four edges that makes things look a bit blurry in some conditions.  Low light shots are actually incredibly impressive for this price range, and show not only quite a bit of detail but an impressively low amount of processing.  The biggest issue in low light was focusing, and while it focused fairly fast it often didn’t do a great job of actually focusing on what I wanted it to.

Video quality was fantastic, again especially for the price.  Things are clear and clean, unlike plenty of phones in this price range.  Bluboo clearly spent quite a bit of time on the camera software on this phone and it feels like it.  While the interface is similar to other phones in this price range the quality of the shots and video are considerably better without a doubt.  Check out the whole album below and see the quality of the photos and videos from the XFire for yourself.

Bluboo-XFire-AH-flickr

The Good

Better Camera than many at this price

Decent digitizer

Phenomenal battery life

Light/non-bloated software

High DPI (to mask the low PPI)

The Bad

Performance can be sluggish at times

No US band support above 2G

Low resolution screen

No NFC

Final Thoughts

Bluboo-XFire-AH-NS-02

For under $80/€75 it’s certainly difficult to complain about any one particular issue with a phone, and thankfully the XFire gives us almost nothing to complain about.  The low-resolution screen is nothing too surprising for this price category, and while it’s disappointing the resolution is made up in the higher DPI, which fits more things on the screen than you might be used to.  Performance is normally good but the low amount of RAM and lower power processor can get in the way when the phone needs to do some heavy lifting.  Overall though there’s not many phones out there that can claim this much praise and come in at this cheap of a price, so if you’re looking for something worthwhile for very little money check out the listing on GearBest for the Bluboo XFire.