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Featured Review: Bluboo X9

April 20, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Bluboo is a pretty small manufacturer based out of Shenzhen, China. They are just one of many, many smartphone manufacturers located in Shenzhen. We say that Bluboo is a “small” company, simply because they aren’t as well known as companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Meizu, Elephone and others. And in fact, they’ve only made a handful of smartphones, with this one being their ninth. Hence the name, X9. We’ve reviewed their XFire and Xtouch smartphones here already, and now it’s time to take a look at the Bluboo X9, which is sure to be a pretty great smartphone with a price tag below $150 USD.

Coming in with specs that are in the higher-end of the mid-range, the Bluboo X9 is sure to not disappoint us. Let’s find out if it stands up to the pretty stiff competition in its homeland of China, and elsewhere.

Specs

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When it comes to the specs of the Bluboo X9, they are actually pretty impressive. Bluboo choose the MediaTek MT6753 processor to power this one. It’s a 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 octa-core processor, and that is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU inside. Which will give you a pretty decent showing when playing games, but it definitely won’t compare with the latest Adreno GPU’s from Qualcomm. Bluboo also stuck a pretty healthy 3GB of RAM inside, along with 16GB of internal storage (out of the box, you’ll get around 12GB of usable storage) there is also a microSD card slot available.

For the display, we’re looking at a 5-inch 1920×1080 resolution display. This is an IPS panel, so it will look great in direct sunlight. Camera wise, we have a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter and a 13-megapixel rear-facing shooter. The Bluboo X9 weighs in at about 166g and measures 145 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.9mm. We also have a 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth 4.0 and a micro USB port on the bottom. NFC is not available on the Bluboo X9. And finally, the entire package is powered by a 2500mAh battery.

The bands for the Bluboo X9 are as follows:

GSM 850/900/1800/1900

WCDMA 850/900/2100

FDD 4G LTE Bands 1/3/7/20

In the box 

Inside the box from Bluboo, we of course have the phone right there on top, which is in a plastic sleeve. Beneath the phone we have two boxes which house the micro USB cable and wall charger. There’s also your quick start guide and other paperwork of that nature included. Unfortunately there are no headphones included in the box. Although typically the headphones that do get included are usually pretty bad, so maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing.

Display

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So we have a 1080p IPS Display on the Bluboo X9. Not a bad display on paper, really. When using the Bluboo X9, the display does look pretty good. Now keep in mind this is an IPS (In-Plane Switching) display, so the colors won’t pop as much as an AMOLED display. But, having said that, the screen is great for watching videos and other media. We spent some time watching videos on YouTube, and Netflix and the experience was pretty good. Not perfect, and not the same experience as you’d see on the Galaxy S7 or LG G5, but given that this is a sub-$150 smartphone, it wasn’t bad at all.

The brightness on this display is actually really good. It can get pretty dim, but it can also get really bright. Making it great for using in direct sunlight. Now it isn’t the best in direct sunlight, but it is at least visible when outdoors. On a lot of smartphones in this price range, we’ve seen the displays have some issues with the touch screen aspect. Where you touch the screen and it doesn’t always register your touches. Making it tough to open an app, or favorite a tweet, or even jump into settings. However that isn’t a problem here on the Bluboo X9. We haven’t had any trouble with opening apps, or doing anything. The screen has always registered our touches perfectly.

Hardware and Build

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The Bluboo X9’s build was actually a pretty interesting one, to me at least. Typically, a phone with a gold trim and a black body wouldn’t look too good, or is that just in my head? But the Bluboo X9 actually looks really nice in person. Bluboo has used an aluminum frame, which sort of reminds me of the frame on the Sony Xperia Z3 because it is curved, but it’s a bit thicker. It actually feels like you can hammer a nail into place with this frame. It’s pretty tough, which means it could take some drops. This is just straight up metal here, unlike the LG G5’s metal unibody, there’s no coat of paint here.

Now the back panel is removable, It’s pretty tough to remove though. It’s also made of a soft-touch plastic material. If you’ve used the Nexus 5 from LG, then you know what I mean. It feels really nice in the hand. The back is pretty minimal (just the Bluboo logo and some regulatory information at the bottom), it’s also flat which isn’t the most comfortable feeling in your hand. I, myself, prefer the curved backs. But given the size of this one, it feels pretty good in the hand still. The camera does protrude a bit on the back, although it’s not really noticeable. So if you’re worried about sitting this phone down on a table, don’t worry about the camera, it will be perfectly fine.

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Bluboo also has done something interesting with the fingerprint reader here on the X9. The module on the back houses the 13-megapixel shooter as well as the LED flash as you’d expect. But beneath that is the fingerprint reader. It’s in almost the perfect spot, and it just feels natural. It feels a lot like the dimple on the Moto X 2014, but looks like the dimple on the Moto X 2015. It’s in a great placement, and we’ll talk more on the fingerprint sensor in a few minutes.

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On the right side Bluboo has stuck the volume rocker with the power button below it. When touching them at night or in the dark, it’s a little tough to decipher which is which without running your finger along it to see how long it is. Obviously the volume rocker will be a bit longer. They are in about the right position though, so you don’t have to move your hand much to use them while on a call. It definitely helps that this is a smaller smartphone as well. Bluboo has the speaker and microphone hole on the bottom and the micro USB and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The micro USB port has given us a bit of trouble to be honest. Typically you would just take your cable and put it in the connector, but this one you have to wiggle it a bit. Now this could be because it’s a new port, but we haven’t seen this on any other smartphone we’ve reviewed or even used, before.

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The front-side has a capacitive home button and two other buttons which you can actually see. This can be a bit worrisome at first, but you do get used to where they are, thanks to muscle memory. The home button is an illuminated “X”. It doesn’t get overly bright, but it does get bright enough where you can see that it’s there.

Fingerprint Reader

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We’ve already discussed the placement of the fingerprint sensor. Which it’s in a great spot, to be honest. When you pick up the phone, that’s naturally where your finger goes. But what about the speed of the sensor? Or the accuracy? That’s where things get a bit tricky. We can’t help but to compare it to the Nexus 6P, LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, seeing as those are the devices with fingerprint readers we’ve used recently, and the Bluboo X9 just doesn’t stack up as well as we’d like. Now unlike the LG V10, the Bluboo X9 can be unlocked with the fingerprint sensor with the screen off. But it is a bit slow. Instead of putting your finger on the sensor and then moving it off quickly, you actually need to hold it there for a little bit. One could argue that this is a “first world problems” issue here, but it would be nice to see it be a bit faster overall.

The fingerprint reader is pretty accurate. There were a few times where it didn’t recognize my fingerprint accurately. But those were few and far between. The bigger issue that we had with the sensor was the fact that you could really only use it for unlocking the device. Because the Bluboo X9 runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop, it does not have Google’s new fingerprint API that is part of Marshmallow. This means we can’t use it for Android Pay, or to login to apps like LastPass, or even to authenticate purchases in Google Play. It may not seem like a big deal, but it leaves you wondering, what’s the point? If it’s only useful for unlocking your phone. A pattern would likely be faster in this case.

Performance and Memory

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When it comes to performance, the Bluboo X9 sports the MediaTek MT6753 octa-core processor. With speeds that max out at 1.5GHz, and the Mali-T760 GPU. This means that while it’s not the Helio X10 from MediaTek, it is still a pretty powerful processor and when combined with 3GB of RAM, performance shouldn’t be an issue. And we are happy to report that during our time of using the Bluboo X9, it definitely was not an issue.

In everyday tasks the MT6753 processor performed quite well. When using the device, we didn’t notice any type of stutter or lag at all. Of course part of this is due to the company using a somewhat stock version of Android on the Bluboo X9. Where RAM is concerned, we didn’t run out of RAM at all, and never needed to clear our recents list of apps on the device. Android does well with RAM management, although some devices have such little RAM that Android does struggle. That was not the case here.

There is 16GB of storage inside the Bluboo X9, which gives you about 11-12GB of storage out of the box. There is a microSD card slot available, which Bluboo quotes as supporting up to 64GB. We tested a 32GB microSD card in the device and it worked just fine. We were able to store photos, videos, music and more on the microSD card. Now remember this isn’t Marshmallow, so Adoptable storage is not available here.

Benchmarks 

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Not the highest-end smartphone here, with the MediaTek MT6753 inside. However, Benchmarks here allow us to take a peak into what kind of performance we can expect from the Bluboo X9. We tested it with AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 3. You can see those results down below.

Phone Calls and Network

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We used the Bluboo X9 on the T-Mobile network here in the US. We were able to make and receive calls without a hitch. However when it comes to data, that’s where the problem lies. Now this isn’t so much Bluboo’s fault, as the bands used in Asia are different than the US. The Bluboo X9 will not get you 3G or 4G on T-Mobile. On AT&T, you can get 3G, but there’s no LTE compatibility. So if you are looking to use the Bluboo X9 in the US, you’ll be stuck with EDGE speeds. A bit unfortunate, but that’s par the course with smartphones from Asia. In Europe, you’ll be able to use the Bluboo X9 without much issue seeing as Europe uses mostly the same bands as Asia.

Battery life 

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Battery life here on the Bluboo X9 was average. We were able to get through a full day with around 2 hours on screen time and still have a decent amount of juice left at the end of the day. Where this thing has a 2500mAh battery and it’s powering a 5-inch FHD display, that’s about what we were expecting actually. We weren’t expecting any crazy numbers in terms of battery life, although it is nice to be surprised every once in a while.

Bluboo has a feature in the battery life section called “Intelligent Standby Mode”. From what I can tell, this is sort of like Doze that is in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but not quite. It will turn off everything, mostly, and let your phone go into deep sleep. Allowing for some crazy good standby time. Overnight (around 9 hours) we lost just 2% of the battery. That’s about on par with the Nexus 6P.

We ran the PCMark Battery Life benchmark on the Bluboo X9, which you can check out those results down below. Overall, the battery was pretty decent.

Software

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Stock Android. That’s what we have here on the Bluboo X9. As stated before, this is Android 5.1 Lollipop, and for the most part it’s the same experience that you’d get on a Nexus. There are a few small changes here. For one, the app drawer. It shows us that this is definitely not the Google Now Launcher. And that’s not a bad thing. Considering we can still install it from the Google Play Store. The app drawer has about 10 apps that are “stuck” to the first page – yes it’s a horizontal scrolling drawer. These are most AOSP apps like the Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Browser, Camera, Gallery, Music, File Manager, Settings and Calendar. After that, the drawer does sort alphabetically. And there are no options to change it whatsoever.

Bluboo X9 is sold in China, but does have all of the AOSP apps installed. So you have many apps that you probably haven’t seen in a while, like the AOSP browser. You also have the calculator, clock, downloads, Sound Recorder, Videos and Voice search in addition to the other apps already mentioned. There are three apps pre-installed here, by Bluboo. The first is AppLock. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but it allows you to lock a specific app to the screen. This is useful for when you want to show someone a picture, but don’t want them to go into other apps on your phone. It does have the option to password protect it as well. There’s also “Backup and Restore”, which requires your microSD card, but it will back up your phone onto your microSD card and then allow you to restore it after doing a factory reset. Finally we have “Smart Wake”. This is full of all kinds of gestures that you can use, like double tap to wake, slide left for the calendar, slide right for the sound recorder and many more. Now these are not customizable, but you can turn them on or off individually.

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When you get into the notification tray, you’ll notice a few differences. The first one is the status bar, the network identifier is a bit larger than what you’d see on a Nexus device. As you can see in the screenshots, there’s a big old “E” in the status bar which is for EDGE, since this particular device doesn’t support 4G LTE or 3G in the US. There’s also a few extra icons in the quick settings. One is for audio profilesSo you can quickly switch between general sound, turning it off completely, putting it on vibrate, or turning up the sound for outdoor situations.

Now there are a few gripes here with the software, even though it is stock Android. One is with the capacitive buttons. There are three, and there’s the menu button on the left, the home button in the middle and back on the right. The menu button doesn’t double as recents either. As we’ve seen on some other smartphones. If you long-press the home button, you’ll get recents. Which means no Google Now access. The only way to do so is to jump into  the Google app in the app drawer or by touching the Google icon in the search bar – if you have the search widget on your home screen.

Sound

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On the bottom of the phone, you will find the speaker for the Bluboo X9. It’s not a large one, with just six speaker holes, but it is big enough. It’s placed on the right side of the bottom – although they could have used the entire bottom considering the charging port is up top – and it seems to be in a great position. When playing games or watching videos and you’re holding the Bluboo X9, the speaker still outputs some great sound. So it’s not muffled, like you’d expect, considering your hand is over the speaker.

The speaker puts out some pretty good sound. Now this is no Boomsound or HiFi audio here, but the Bluboo X9 definitely can put out some great sound. The bass is nice and deep, and the highs are decent as well. This speaker won’t win any awards for its sound, but it definitely isn’t a bad speaker.

Camera

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The camera is one of the few changes that Bluboo did, coming from AOSP. While the icon is your typical AOSP camera icon, the actual UI of the camera app is not. And that is likely a good thing. Within the camera app, you have the settings icon, with the video and picture buttons and your gallery shortcut on one side, with the different modes on the other side. Some of the modes include live photo, motion track photo, Face Beauty, Panorama and others. The camera interface is actually pretty decently fast. Auto focus speed is okay. It’s not the fastest we’ve seen, although we have been spoiled by the laser auto-focus included in a bunch of other smartphones lately.

Bluboo’s gallery is pretty minimal, and that’s what you expect on cheapish smartphones like the X9. You do have the ability to edit your pictures, so the normal frames, filters, cropping, etc., are all available here. Of course you can also download another photo editor like Snapseed and edit to your heart’s content. There is also a sharing icon available in the gallery app. Allowing you to share your pictures with anyone on any platform.

Pictures from the Bluboo X9 aren’t perfect, but they are definitely adequate. Now these aren’t going to compete with the Galaxy S7 or the LG G5’s camera, but for a 13-megapixel shooter they are pretty good. The Bluboo X9 takes really great pictures outside. Although if you do zoom in a bit they do start to fall apart. But for the most part, they work really well. Of course when taking shots indoors and/or in low light, the camera doesn’t hold up as well. That is also true about just about any other smartphone camera, or camera in general. So that’s not surprising.

Should the Bluboo X9’s camera replace your digital camera or DSLR? No. If you’re serious about photography, no smartphone can do that just yet. But for everyday shots, ones you’d post to Instagram, Facebook, etc. this camera is pretty decent.

The Good 

Pricing for the Bluboo X9 is pretty good. We’re looking at between $140-150 as the price does fluctuate a bit.

The Full HD display on this device is nice as well. It doesn’t stack up to the displays on most flagship smartphones, but that’s to be expected at this price point.

User Interface was a bit of a surprising one for me. Over in Asia, you don’t see many smartphones launching with a Stock Android look and feel. But Bluboo is one of those companies doing exactly that.

The Bad

Battery life was not as good as I would have liked. Getting around 2 hours on screen in about a day’s time. We would definitely like more, but it should get most people through the day.

Micro USB placement was a bit odd. You don’t typically see the micro USB port up at the top of the phone like you do on the Bluboo X9. That’s likely to save costs, due to the CPU and camera being up there.

The Fingerprint sensor, while working most of the time (I’d venture about 95% of the time), it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use it. Seeing as it’s only good for unlocking the phone. Which means it’s another feature that most customers won’t use.

Final Thoughts

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After spending about a week with the Bluboo X9, it’s easy to recommend this smartphone. For the price you’re paying, you’re getting a whole lot of smartphone to be honest. It’s a smaller device, but one that many people are going to be fond of. It has a great build, actually I really love this build. They did a great job without making the back metal or glass. And they are using stock Android 5.1. There are only a few issues that we had with the Bluboo X9, one is that it’s not Marshmallow and the other being the capacitive keys that you can’t see. Otherwise it’s a fantastic smartphone.

The Bluboo X9 comes with a silver trim or a gold trim and can be picked up at Gear Best right now for a pretty low price.

Buy the Bluboo X9