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Featured Review: BLU Energy X LTE

April 8, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

In 2015, BLU introduced their “Energy” line of smartphones. It was a simple concept, bringing a massive battery in a device that costs under $200 in most cases. Now BLU is adding another smartphone to their Energy line in the BLU Energy X LTE, and as the name points to, this does have 4G LTE connectivity, which isn’t common for BLU smartphones. It’s sporting a 4,000mAh battery in here, which is sure to last days, especially with a 5-inch HD display (that’s 1280×720) and a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, it’s sure to be a power sipper, but is it really? We’ll find out in the battery section of this review.

BLU is known for their low-cost devices, many would call them “burner phones”. But these days, their phones are getting so good, that many could use it as their daily driver, and save a few hundred bucks. With the BLU Energy X LTE having 4G LTE connectivity that will work on both T-Mobile and AT&T, it’s sure to be a good device but is it? Let’s find out in our full review.

Specs 

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The specs on the BLU Energy X LTE aren’t going to impress everyone, but given that the device does cost $129, they are pretty decent. Here we have a 5-inch 1280×720 resolution IPS LCD display. This gives us a 294 pixels per inch density on the smartphone. It’s powered by MediaTek’s MT6735 processor which is a quad-core 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 SoC, with the Mali-T720 for graphics. There’s just 1GB of RAM for all of your multi-tasking needs here, along with 16GB of internal storage – although there’s around 12GB of available storage out of the box. There is support for microSD cards here, up to 64GB capacity. Along with a 4000mAh non-removable battery powering the Energy X LTE.

Camera-wise, we are looking at a 8-megapixel camera on the back with a f/2.4 aperture and LED flash. The sensor size is 1/4-inch, and is capable of 1080p video at 30 frames-per-second. Around front there is a 5-megapixel camera that is capable of 720p video. As far as WiFi standards go, there’s WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, so no ac support unfortunately. There is also WiFi Direct and WiFi Hotspot, as long as your wireless plan supports it. Bluetooth 4.0, along with A-GPS, FM Radio and micro USB 2.0 round out the connectivity features of the Energy X LTE.

This is an unlocked smartphone, and it will work on T-Mobile and AT&T as mentioned already. However it does only support 2G speeds on both SIM card slots. The first SIM card slot does support HSPA and LTE speeds. Below are the bands for the device:

2G GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900

3G HSDPA: 850, 1700, 1900

4G LTE: Band 2 (1900), 4 (1700/2100), 7 (2600)

In the Box

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Inside the box for the BLU Energy X LTE we get the smartphone, in a plastic sleeve as you’d expect. Considering you’re buying a phone here. Included is a plastic hard case for the BLU Energy X LTE, along with the wall adapter and micro USB cable, a screen protector and a pair of headphones. Don’t forget you also have the paper work that comes with the phone. Including a pamphlet showing you how to insert the SIM card(s) and micro SD card. It’s a pretty minimal packaging, but then again you’re not buying a phone for the packaging anyways. On the bottom of the box, BLU touts their specs and features including the 5.0-inch HD IPS Display, Quad-Core 1.3GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 8MP camera on the back, 5MP front-facing camera, 4000mAh battery, Android 5.1 Lollipop and 4G LTE.

Display

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BLU is marketing this device as having a 5.0-inch display, however in CPU-Z, it shows that it has a 4.59-inch display. So there’s a bit of a discrepancy there. But for those that love smaller phones, this is one to take a look at. As stated already, the BLU Energy X LTE features a 1280×720 resolution IPS display. The display isn’t the sharpest, but again it is a 720p display here. Some of their other devices, their displays look a bit washed out. Specifically the home screen if you use a colorful wallpaper. Which you can see here we have a pretty colorful wallpaper, and the display is not washed out at all. Definitely an improvement over their other devices like the BLU Vivo Air and Life One X.

The display looks good overall, now it’s not going to win any awards for being the best display on the market, considering it’s not a QHD display here. We watched some videos on YouTube and Netflix, and it seems to work pretty well. On YouTube, the highest resolution you can watch is 720p, which is obviously because that’s the display’s resolution.

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We’ve also noticed on some of their other phones, particularly the Studio lineup which is their lowest cost smartphones, that the display doesn’t register touches as accurately. And sometimes it doesn’t register them at all. In using the Energy X LTE, we’ve found that the display registers touches pretty accurately. Now the phone is still a bit slow, which we’ll cover more in depth a bit later on in this review. But it’s nice to see that when you tap on an icon to open an app, that it actually opens the app.

Brightness here on the BLU Energy X LTE gets surprisingly bright. In direct sunlight, we are still able to see the display quite clearly. BLU has included the Adaptive Brightness from stock Lollipop here on this device. Which can get the device a bit darker than normal. This is especially good if you are using it at night, so that you aren’t blinding yourself. Seeing as most of the UI is using a white background, this is a good thing.

Hardware and Build

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The model of the BLU Energy X LTE that we were sent is in gold. Now I’m not the biggest fan of gold on a smartphone – although some manufacturers can make it look pretty darn good – it’s not too bad of a color here on the Energy X LTE. The forehead and chin of the front of the phone is also in gold. Something you don’t see often as most smartphones just use a black front, even if the back is a different color. It’s not made from premium materials either, after all that’s not the market that they are after – that’d be the high-end. It’s made from plastic, as far as we can tell. However, one of the good things about the way this phone is built is that it doesn’t really attract fingerprints. Something that the Galaxy S7 is very good at.

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On the back, we have a slightly chamfered edge. It actually makes the phone a bit more comfortable to hold in the hand. Of course, with it being a much smaller phone, that also helps. The back cover is removable, and underneath, you’ll find the two SIM card slots and microSD card slot as well. So there are two micro SIM card slots, one on either side, with the microSD card slot in the middle. It will support a 32GB microSD card as we used our own 32GB microSD card during the review period and it worked just fine. No adoptable storage though, and that’s because this is running Android 5.1 Lollipop and not Marshmallow. What is surprising, at least to me is that the back cover isn’t that flimsy at all. Like we’ve seen with removable backs for LG and Samsung smartphones.

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In the top left-hand corner on the back is the 8-megapixel camera along with dual-LED flash. There’s a BLU logo below that and the speaker at the bottom. Now BLU has added a couple of nubs, like Google did on the Nexus 4, which raises the bottom of the phone up a little bit when sitting on a desk. This means that the speaker that is on the back, doesn’t get muffled as much when it’s sitting on a table. On the right side is the volume rocker and power button with nothing on the left. Up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and the micro USB port is on the bottom of the phone.

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BLU has taken to using capacitive buttons on the Energy X LTE, so we have recents, home and back (in that order) on the front. They don’t light up, and actually blend in a bit with the device. Which can be a problem during the day. As it can be a bit tough to find those buttons. On the bright side, once you use the phone for a while, you get used to where the buttons are, and muscle memory does indeed kick in.

Holding the Energy X LTE in the hand, it actually feels pretty nice. It is a one-handed device, obviously since it’s so small. But it doesn’t feel like it’s going to slip out of my hand. Something that can’t be said for my Nexus 6P. It does have a rather large bezel at the top and bottom (commonly referred to as the chin and forehead), but they aren’t that large, to be honest.

Performance and Memory

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The BLU Energy X LTE is running the MediaTek MT6735 along with 1GB of RAM. Now the MT6735 is a quad-core 1.3GHz processor from MediaTek and actually rivals the Snapdragon 615 from Qualcomm. So it’s not particularly a bad chip, however when it’s paired with just 1GB of RAM, the results are not ideal, unfortunately. Performance isn’t really that bad here, unless there are quite a few apps in memory. This is definitely a phone that you’ll need to clear the running apps every once in a while. Luckily in the recents UI, there is a button to clear all of your recent apps. Usually when it gets to around 150MB of RAM available, things start to get pretty slow. And with no apps running, it shows 254MB available from the 1GB. Which means the OS is using the rest of that nearly 800MB of storage (remember 1024MB = 1GB). The majority of the time that the screen was being used, the CPU was running at 1.3GHz, which is the max clock speed. It could definitely use a bit of overclocking, as we basically only see “Deep Sleep”, 1.3GHz or 299MHz on System Monitor for CPU Frequencies.

Typically when it comes to storage on BLU smartphones, we see around 4GB or 8GB of storage. They also typically partition the internal storage a bit weird. So half is available for the OS and the other half for pictures, apps, etc. No weird partitions here on the Energy X LTE, and there is surprisingly 16GB of storage here. There was around 10-11GB of storage available out of the box. Which is about the norm for a 16GB smartphone. Remember there is a microSD card slot available here, which you can use for storing pictures, videos, music, and much more. Unfortunately, in the storage screen in settings, BLU only breaks it down as “System Used”, “Data Storage” and “Free”. With the majority of our daily apps installed, we had about 6.38GB available. Which is still plenty of space.

 

Benchmarks

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As per usual with our reviews, we ran three different benchmarks on the BLU Energy X LTE. Including Geekbench 3, AnTuTu and 3D Mark. Geekbench 3 benchmarks the performance of the processor, which if you remember, is the MediaTek MT6735. It’s a quad-core 1.3Ghz processor. And it scored a 620 in the single-core section, with a 1812 in the multi-core. For AnTuTu – which benchmarks basically the entire device including the CPU, RAM, UX and more – we got a score of 29,246. That’s pretty low in the standings. Much lower than the vivo X5Pro which has a 46,008 score, as well as the Lenovo K3 Note which comes in at 46,301.

Finally we tried to test it in 3D Mark, but it simply wouldn’t run. We’re unsure of why it refused to run, we tried numerous times and even uninstalled and then reinstalled the benchmark and it still wouldn’t complete the benchmark. For those that don’t know, 3D Mark tests out the gaming and graphics on the smartphone. We did play Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2, not the most graphic intense game available, but it does have some pretty great graphics involved, and it did play fairly well on the Energy X LTE. So there’s that.

Phone Calls and Network

Phone calls on the BLU Energy X LTE are as you’d expect. Those we called, using this phone on the T-Mobile network, said that we sounded nice and clear. And we didn’t experience any dropped calls whatsoever. Of course, that would be more the network than the phone. There’s no VoLTE support here – at least on T-Mobile – but that’s not surprising, considering the fact that BLU would need to get it certified by T-Mobile for that to work.

Network speeds were about the same as we’ve seen on other phones on the T-Mobile network as well as our WiFi network. Testing next to our Nexus 6P, the Energy X LTE matched it (for the most part) on every test. So when it comes to 4G LTE or WiFi network speeds, no need to worry on the Energy X LTE.

Sound

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The speakers here on the BLU Energy X LTE are on the back, as mentioned before. Don’t be fooled by the speaker holes on the back of the phone though. If you remove the back cover, you’ll find that the speaker is actually about a third of that width. This is actually a pretty normal practice when it comes to smartphones with speakers, whether on the back or bottom of the phone.

Typically with the speaker being on the back, the sound doesn’t come out as good. But that’s not quite true here. See BLU has put a couple of nubs on the back, within the speaker holes, that raise the phone a bit when it’s sitting on a table. So if you are watching a video with it sitting on a table, the sound isn’t as muffled as it normally would be. It is still a bit muffled, which is going to be unavoidable, but it’s not too bad.

The sound coming from this speaker is actually pretty nice. It gets nice and loud, without becoming distorted. The bass is nice and deep, the midrange is nice and clear as well. Overall, the speaker is a bit surprising, as to how good it actually is. There’s no built-in equalizer here on the Energy X LTE, you can download one from the Play Store, but it won’t work system-wide.

Battery life

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This is the part that everyone’s been waiting on, right? How does that 4,000mAh battery work when it’s powering a somewhat small display with a 720p resolution and a power sipping MediaTek MT6735 under the hood? It performs pretty damn well. On the battery screens below, you’ll see we got over 7.5 hours of screen on time, and still had almost half the battery left. Which means you could likely get around 10-12 hours of screen on time on a full charge. That was also 7.5 hours over the course of about 35 hours off the charger. So that’s pretty decent. Actually that’s more than decent, it’s something I wish all flagship smartphones could do.

We also ran PCMark benchmark for battery life on the BLU Energy X LTE, which you can see those results below as well. This took about 12 hours to complete, which is probably the longest on any review I’ve personally done.

Software

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On the software side here we have Android 5.1.1 Lollipop aboard the Energy X LTE along with BLU’s proprietary skin. First thing you’ll notice on this phone is the lack of an app drawer. Similar to the LG G5 (although it’s coming back in an update). There’s no app drawer here, and all of your apps will appear on the second page when downloaded from Google Play. As you can see here, I’ve mostly put all of the apps I don’t use constantly into folders. Including all of the apps that BLU has pre-installed here. I’ve found it’s the best way to deal without having an app drawer. Of course, if you really want or need that app drawer, you can go ahead and install a third-party launcher like Nova Launcher, Google Now Launcher, or Action Launcher 3 to name a few.

Unfortunately, there is no Quick Settings in the notification pull-down nor a Settings shortcut. There is an icon in the upper right-hand corner which takes you to “Notice Management”. What Notice Management does is it allows you to divide notifications from your apps into either “Important” or “Other”. This is actually really helpful. For apps that are in the “Other” category won’t appear on the lock screen, nor will it actually appear in the status bar. Only when you open the “Other” category in the notification pulldown. This is useful for apps that you don’t want to see notifications from all the time. As well as persistent notifications like from LastPass. While “Important” notifications will indeed appear on the lock screen, they will also alert you and also appear in the status bar. Of course, you can also choose to completely block notifications from specific apps.

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While there is no Quick Settings in the notification pulldown, they are available when you swipe up from the bottom of the device. Similar to what you get on the iPhone and iPad. So if you swipe up in any app, you will see a variety of Quick Settings, including Airplane Mode, WiFi, Data connection, Bluetooth Location, Screen Rotation, Sound, Super Screenshot, Alarm, Flashlight, brightness and more. There’s even shortcuts to Calculator and camera in there. Which the camera shortcut has been pretty awesome to have.

Settings here is set up a bit differently. They have a number of settings available there, but most of the others are hidden under “Advanced Settings”. Things like Smart Gestures, Suspend Option, Storage, Scheduled Power on/off are all in the advanced section. It is actually a good idea to do it this way, as the majority of the settings in the advanced section are ones that you won’t use all that much. So it’s nice to have them out of the way.

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Overall, the software here on the BLU Energy X LTE, is surprisingly fast and fluid. This has not been the case with many of their smartphones in recent memory. So it’s nice to see that they are working on optimizing their software and making it a bit faster and more fluid. Although I can’t help but think that another gigabyte of RAM would make it that much better. While I am a fan of stock Android (hence the Nexus 6P as my daily driver), I have actually enjoyed the experience of the software on the Energy X LTE. It did take some getting used too, but it seems to be pretty good.

Camera

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The camera specs for the BLU Energy X LTE look to be decent. Not what you’d expect on a flagship smartphone, but the price is not on that level either. Many of us have heard the term “you get what you pay for” and that’s definitely the case with the BLU Energy X LTE’s camera. We took quite a few pictures with this phone, and some were great, some were not so great. As is the case with most smartphone reviews, we chose the best of the ones we took to include below. Some came out pretty good for a 8-megapixel sensor. But those with lots of sunlight came out really muddy, and just don’t look good at all. You can cover that up a bit with Snapseed and decreasing the exposure, but they still don’t look all that great.

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For the front-facing camera here, pictures came out pretty decent. Now they weren’t perfect, but most front-facing cameras aren’t. For the most part they are only for selfies, and video conferencing. And the camera works just fine for both of those purposes.

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BLU does include their own gallery on the Energy X LTE, as well as Google Photos being pre-loaded here. The Gallery is pretty barebones. While you do have your normal options for editing pictures, like cropping, adding frames, filters, etc., there’s not much else here. It’s a decent gallery, but many of us would probably stick to uploading pictures to Google Photos and ediitng (if necessary) in apps like Snapseed, or even Google Photos.

The Good

Price: At $129, a phone with 4G LTE is hard to find. The only other suitable phone would be the Moto E 2015, which has mostly the same specs, but is not getting updated past Lollipop in the US.

Display: It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely usable.

Build: It’s surprisingly good, given the price tag of the Energy X LTE and who it’s being targeted at.

Software: Another surprise here, the software is actually pretty decent. Sure Stock Android would be a better choice, but it’s not terrible.

Speaker: It’s adequate. Not the best on the market, but it will keep buyers happy.

Battery Life: It’s insanely good. Words can’t describe how good it is really.

The Bad

Performance: Pretty mediocre, but if BLU gave this thing 2GB of RAM, it would probably be an entirely different story, actually.

Capacitive Buttons: It’s not the capacitive buttons per say, it’s the fact that they are in the wrong order. With everyone else using the back button on the left – with the exception of Samsung – you’d think BLU would follow.

CDMA: There’s no CDMA option here for the BLU Energy X LTE. Not really a surprise, but if BLU wants to continue to expand, they’ll need to get into making CDMA smartphones for Sprint and Verizon.

Final Thoughts 

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This may not be my favorite phone from BLU, but it’s a great offering from them at $129. It’s still a tough one to recommend these days, given that it does have just 1GB of RAM, and it’s definitely noticeable when you’re using the phone pretty hardcore. However, looking at other phones with 4G LTE in this price range, the majority of them only have 1GB of RAM as well. Even with the Moto G 2015 dropping in price lately, it’s been the entry-level one that has been dropping, and that still has just 1GB of RAM. So does the BLU Energy X LTE have its issues? It sure does, but what phones don’t these days? It’s 4,000mAh battery will definitely help keep users happy as we saw some pretty fantastic stats from this phone in terms of battery life.

With the BLU Energy X LTE coming in both gray and gold, it’s a great phone to pick up, which can be had at Amazon right now for just $129. A great price for a pretty great smartphone. And you won’t be tied to a contract or an EIP (Equipment Installment Plan).

Buy The BLU Energy X LTE