Bluboo is a company not many consumers stateside will be familiar with. They're a Chinese brand among the sea of smartphone entrants from the region which have started pumping out more devices over the last couple of years, with their 2015 flagship being the Xtouch. Bluboo touts this as being "probably the best 5-inch smartphone so far," and while I wouldn't necessarily say it's the best 5-inch device, it's certainly captured my attention and it seems to offer a compelling set of features and functions. Bluboo has a range of devices out there all coming in well under the price tag of competing top brands like Samsung and LG, and the Xtouch brings in a collection of hardware specifications, features, and design which make it enticing enough to consider over other more expensive options. Does it stand up to those high-end devices or does it fall flat? Let's take a look.
When it comes to the specifications, the Bluboo Xtouch is equipped with some decent hardware for the price. It comes powered by a MediaTek MT6753 64-bit octa-core CPU and a Mali T720GPU for the graphics, which are paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It also holds a microSD card slot for expandable storage for those who need more than 32GB. The Xtouch houses a 5-inch IPS Full HD display protected by Gorilla Glass 3, a multi-angle fingerprint sensor, an 8MP front-facing camera as well as a 13MP rear-facing camera with dual-LED flash, and on the inside a non-removable 3050mAh battery keeps it all going. The Xtouch comes running Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, and supports dualSIM cards for using two networks.
In The Box
Lots of devices these days are coming with less and less. Some users will tell you of the days when phones came with a handful of accessories like earbuds, a case, and a microSD card alongside the charger and USB cable. Not anymore as most devices only provide users with the bare essentials, and the Xtouch is really no different. Inside of the box you'll find the device itself, a quick start guide, the SIM tool, and the wall adapter USB & charging cable. Bluboo does actually include one little extra with the Xtouch you won't find on many devices these days, and that's a preinstalled screen protector on top of the display. You can remove this if you don't care for screen protectors, but if you don't mind them it adds a tiny layer of protection from scratches and scuffs.
Hardware & Design
Right off the bat anyone should notice the design similarities between the Bluboo Xtouch and the OnePlus 2. The design is almost uncannily crafted from OnePlus' sophomore device albeit not completely the same in every single way. Looking at it from the front as well as the top and bottom of the frame though you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference unless you have spent large amounts of time with the OnePlus 2 studying every bit of its surface. This isn't a bad thing really as the OnePlus 2 is a decent looking device, unless you're someone who values an original design of the hardware more than anything else. The Bluboo Xtouch is equipped with a metal frame all around, with a non-removable, sleek looking back that appears to be glass and sports a really cool looking diamond-like design on it. While the back does look like it's made of glass, it is in fact plastic. The back also sports the rear-facing camera as well as the dual-LED flash right below it, and the Bluboo logo towards the bottom. On the front you'll find the earpiece along with the sensors and front-facing camera up top, and the home button which also houses the fingerprint sensor.
The left side holds the nanoSIM slot as well as the microSD card slot, and over on the right side you'll find the power button and volume rocker which are also made of metal to match the frame. Looking at the top and bottom edges of the phone you'll find the 3.5mm audio port up top and the charging port/dual stereo speakers on the bottom. These are areas where you can see the design was clearly influenced by the OnePlus 2, although there are a couple of key differences like no USB Type-C, and the mic is placed on the bottom edge instead of on the top, which is opposite for the OnePlus 2. The Bluboo Xtouch even has the same chamfered edges all the way around the frame. Again, this isn't a bad thing as the phone does look nice, and only those who dislike this sort of borrowed design structure will take issue with it. One of the more intriguing features of the Xtouch is the multi-angle fingerprint sensor housed on the front under the home button. While I have seen some tests show the sensor on the Xtouch working flawlessly during comparisons with other devices, this was simply not the case for me with my own personal experiences. The recognition only worked part of the time on the first try, whereas the rest of the time I had to make one or two more attempts before the phone would unlock. When it did work it worked extremely fast though, letting me get to whatever it was I was trying to access on the phone at that time rather quickly.
When it comes to the display, the Xtouch actually offers a great experience here. While it isn't 2K or 4K or trying to push the boundaries of display technology, it is making attempts at pushing the boundaries of display tech that comes offered in a device for this cost. At $179.99, Bluboo has packed the Xtouch with a slightly smaller display than the OnePlus 2, coming in at 5-inches with the same resolution of 1920 x 1080, yet a slightly higher pixel density at 441 pixels per inch. That's more pixels packed into a smaller screen which makes for a crisp, clear picture anytime you're using the phone. This isn't to say the screen doesn't have it's drawbacks, as I still felt the display didn't produce as vivid of color as something like the Xperia Z3 which is now a year and a half old.
Still, the screen produces good color and looks great when doing pretty much anything whether that's playing games, reading, or watching video. It also has generally good response and feedback from the touch interaction as I had no issues with the screen lagging behind anything I did, which wasn't generally something I was expecting in a device that costs less than $200. I found viewing angles to be relatively great and visibility in sunlight wasn't an issue. Some colors did tend to wash out just a tiny bit when cranking up the brightness, but not so much that its's too noticeable or enough to really make a difference for most users. The colors give off a nice contrast and appear to be mostly accurate while blacks are good but could be a little deeper. Having said that the display used is a well-rounded panel that looks great and functions great, which is really all you can ask for in an inexpensive device. While this is not the absolute best display you'll see on any device let alone just those in the 5-inch category, it is really good and I had no real complaints with it.
Software & UI
Much like most other phones that were launched in 2015, the Bluboo Xtouch comes powered by Android Lollipop, based specifically on Android 5.1. What I found to be a little bit odd is that there seem to be some elements in the UI that look almost like Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is strange given how many generations back it is. These are few and far between and some or most users may not even notice or pay attention to them. The rest of the UI is Lollipop through and through with Bluboo's own spin to some things. The settings menu for example looks pretty much like any stock Android Lollipop device, but the app drawer, homescreen, and even the recents menu have Bluboo's own design tweaks, which makes it feel like the UI is less cohesive as some parts look stock while others do not.
Bluboo has packed the device with a handful of their own crafted touches like the screen unlock with the fingerprint sensor, the Xender file transfer app, and a neat little feature called Hot Knot that when enabled, allows the user to transfer stuff when the screen touches another device. For this to work, the receiving device will also require hotknot and it needs to be enabled as well. If these criteria are met users can share anything using the hotknot button that shows up next to the standard share button, and all they have to do is touch the devices screen to screen, which is followed up by a voice prompt that designates the transfer is in progress. This was immediately useless for me as I had no other devices which support the hotknot feature, nor do I know anyone who has a device with this feature, so I unfortunately couldn't test how well it works. It's kind of a cool alternative though to sharing things either through Bluetooth, email, or cloud storage links, and essentially works just like NFC for sharing files over a short distance, I.E. the receiving device needs to be in close proximity and able to touch screen to screen with the Xtouch.
The Xtouch also carries a gesture sensing technology which allows the device to recognize movement of the hand swiping over the display without actually touching it. There are a handful of different apps or functions which Bluboo have set up to support this, including the gallery, the camera, the music player, and the launcher. With one of or all of these options checked, users can wave their hand over the display to move to the next picture, song, or homepage screen. Swipes can be from left to right or right to left, either way will allow the next screen to pop up, however it only seems to support cycling through forward, as the gestures don't seem to support moving backward through the gallery or songs lists for example. At least, this was my personal experience. The gesture sensing works fairly well aside from this one detail. In addition to the gesture sensing, there is also a series of off-screen gesture options users can interact with while the screen is asleep like double tap to wake, a swipe up feature to wake the screen from sleep and unlock it, and options to draw a V to open the calculator or draw a C to open up the camera. There are also gestures for controlling music, although I only had the opportunity to test these while streaming music from Spotify. The swipe down gesture is supposed to support pause and play of songs but it would only pause whatever was playing.
To restart playback I would have to wake the screen and manually hit the play button myself. The swipe right and swipe left gestures which are supposed to be for playing the previous track or the next track would not work no matter how many times I tried, so it's quite likely that the music control gestures are really only set up to support the built-in music player app when playing locally stored songs. While the UI and software mostly works without a hitch, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. Apps like Xender constantly crash as I was never able to open it up and use it (at first), and the Play Store has a few issues on this device. Whenever I tried searching for apps and games to install, the Play Store would crash every time I entered more than two letters, which makes it impossible to search for anything that I'm specifically looking for. I found that the Play Store also had various issues connecting when my own personal phone did not. These little quirks don't kill the device, but they were certainly annoying and did make using a few functions quite difficult if not impossible altogether. Having said this, it is worth mentioning that upon being able to update the software for the Bluboo Xtouch which was a few days after turning it on, these problems with the Play Store & Xender went away, as the update looks to have included a number of bug fixes for a smoother experience.
Phone Calls & Network
The Bluboo Xtouch supports 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE networks, however that doesn't mean that it will automatically support any carrier as the frequency bands may or may not match up depending on where you are in the world and who your carrier is. With that said, the Xtouch supports 4G bands 800, 1800, 2100, and 2600, none of which are supported by T-mobile so unfortunately I was only able to get the device to connect to 3G. Now this wasn't an issue for me with data as the only time I generally browse the internet or use data heavily is when connected to WiFi, but on the odd occasions that I wanted something that needed a fast connection while I was out and about I was sorely out of luck and ended up having to wait a bit longer for things to load. This wasn't the end of the world but it did make using data when off of WiFi less enjoyable.
When it comes to calls, there was really not much issue here at all as phone calls sound just fine on T-Mobile's 3G network. people sounded just fine on the other end of the call with a mostly clear audio and the same could be said for how I sounded to callers on their end. There were no complaints about sounding muffled or staticky which is really all that mattered. Audio was generally good and not too quiet as I didn't have to turn the volume all the way up just to hear the voice of others during calls.
Sound was generally pretty good with the Bluboo Xtouch, with audio sounding crisp and clear most of the time. The one heavy drawback is that the speakers are mounted on the bottom of the device, which makes them very easy to cover up anytime you hold the phone in landscape mode. This doesn't have to be an issue if you're watching video as you can simply put the phone down on a stand or prop it up against something to enjoy watching with great audio that's certainly capable of being loud enough to hear. If you like to hold the device while you watch video or play games however, the speakers are easily covered up and the sound quickly becomes muffled almost to the point where it was near impossible to hear anything. This was a big problem for me as I play a lot of games on my mobile device and many of them play in landscape mode. I also tend to hold the phone when watching videos on the device. No matter where I placed my hands when holding the phone in this orientation it just wasn't comfortable except for when my hands are covering the speakers, thus the issue.
The good news is that when the speaker placement isn't a problem the audio was enjoyable. It was loud enough without having to turn the speakers up all the way, and the speakers didn't produce a distorted audio that I was able to notice. Overall, sound was pretty good when you factor out the speaker placement and while it wasn't the best audio experience on mobile, you have to remember the phone costs $179.99 and for that, it puts out decent sound.
The battery in the Xtouch has a 3050mAh capacity which seems like enough power to handle most of the tasks in a given day. During my use it seemed to last me about a day and half before it needed a recharge. Keep in mind this was with average use and not the typical heavy use I normally get out of a device. When tested with Geekbench 3's battery test, I ran it with the option to keep screen dim disabled, so the display was running at full brightness as the test ran from 100% battery life down to 1%. Geekbench gave the Xtouch a battery score of 1767 and a runtime of 4 hours and 25 minutes to deplete the battery, which isn't too bad at all really considering the brightness level. In most cases you wouldn't need the brightness up this high continuously, so you could probably expect the screen on time to double if cutting the brightness in half. Everyone's use is also going to be different and various functions will drain the battery more than others, so if you use the device more for social media browsing, calls, texts, and the occasional picture, you'll likely get more than I did out of the battery.
Given the specs like the MediaTek octa-core processor and the 3GB of RAM, I expected the Xtouch to perform well during nearly everything I did and for the most part it lived up to my expectations. There was little to no stutter noticeable anywhere when using the device save for a little bit of lag after initiating the gestures. Apps themselves opened up quickly and overall the device seemed to respond quickly to my interactions. Gaming performance was also pretty good, with Need for Speed No Limits running perfectly on the device without any issues, even if the graphics weren't as good as they are on other devices. The game looks better for example on the Xperia Z3 albeit with minor differences that some consumers won't notice. What's important is that the device was able to handle 3D gaming and graphics rendering without a problem. Multi-tasking also seemed to be relatively quick and painless, which was to be expected given that it has 3GB of RAM, more than enough to handle a collection of apps open and functioning at the same time. When it comes down to it, I really had nothing to complain about in the performance department and I found that surprisingly refreshing for a device at this price point.
We ran the Xtouch through three different benchmark tests to see how it performed, which includes AnTuTu, Geekbench 3, and 3DMark to test the graphics. It's worth noting that the benchmark scores aren't to be representative of the exact experience you'll have with the device, but they do paint a mostly accurate picture of what you can expect from performance. Having said that, it's best to think of the benchmarks as just a guideline. During our tests the device seemed to perform just fine although it came out with fairly low scores for a device launched in 2015, having lower numbers than Samsung's Galaxy S5 and the LG Nexus 5 from a couple of years back. Even with these lower scores though, the device still ran decent during real-world use. You can check out the screenshots of the scores below.
The Xtouch sports a 13MP rear-facing camera with a Sony IMX214 lens with OIS 16MP interpolation. It also houses an 8MP front camera which should mean better quality selfies and video chat. The camera provides a good range of options to dig into with a selection of easily accessible modes that are presented on the left edge of the display in the camera UI, including standard shooting mode, multi-angle mode, live photo mode, Motion tracking mode, and panorama. On the right side of the UI interface you'll find the camera and video recording buttons, as well as the settings button and buttons for disabling the HDR and flash. While you won't get extreme amounts of control over the camera functions (no manual camera mode) you can adjust the exposure, white balance, ISO, scene mode, and other image properties like sharpness, hue, saturation, brightness and contrast. Towards the bottom of the screen there is also a little arrow button which brings up a list of different filter options when tapped, including sepia, mono, posterize, blackboard and others, allowing you to give your pictures a fun look before shooting.
As for the actual picture quality, without messing with any of the features and keeping the picture size set at the interpolated 16MP, turning on only the zero shutter lag and anti-shake features, the pictures came out less than desirable. The camera really just isn't all that good as images tend to appear grainy in some images and colors are inaccurate, while some images were ok. This kind of inconsistency is what killed the camera for me. While there are a decent amount of camera options to play around with, these won't mean much if the images aren't produced with good quality. Sadly, this is one area where I felt the Xtouch really dropped. Having said that, at under $200 there has to be some compromises somewhere and it seems the camera is where those compromises are with this device. Swapping the picture size to 13MP didn't really change anything either, as images came out looking relatively the same. When it comes down to it, the camera underperforms and there are better devices for pictures in this price range. It isn't all bad though, with pictures seemingly coming out a little better outside than inside, so this is just something to consider if you're wanting a camera which produces overall good quality photos regardless of the locale. In the end, the camera on the Xtouch is not the worst camera out there, but image quality is inconsistent and felt a little lackluster.
Low price point
Decent battery life
Good call quality
Fingerprint sensor was mostly accurate and very fast
decent performance for the money
Bottom mounted speakers make for a poor audio experience when holding the phone in landscape mode
Poor low-light performance for pictures
Minor inconsistency with the fingerprint sensor
No option to manage "media volume" in settings
Inconsistent image quality makes for an overall poor camera experience
There have been a number of great devices released this year and the Bluboo Xtouch is a decent device to keep in mind. It won't be the best device launched, but for $179.99 you're getting a pretty decent phone with some great hardware that can perform just fine with most functions. The design is great and the phone looks quite slick, which should make it especially compelling to those who liked the design of the OnePlus 2. There were a couple of issues here and there with the Xtouch, but nothing that overshadowed the overall experience. Short of the camera, the phone's biggest issue is the lack of proper 4G LTE support for U.S. carriers. While this isn't something I would personally want to deal with day in and day out, many people hardly use their phone for data when not connected to WiFi and would get along just fine with it.
Should you buy the Bluboo Xtouch?
That depends on whether or not you want 4G LTE support, as the Xtouch won't provide it if you live in the U.S. You also won't find the best images coming from this devices. If however you are looking for something stylish, inexpensive, without compromising too much on hardware, the Xtouch is a decent phone that you can't go wrong with. It's one more example of how you don't have to shell out over $600 to get a really good smartphone experience.