Review: BLU Vivo 5R

BLU is a relatively small smartphone manufacturer which hails out of Miami, FL. They have garnered quite a bit of attention over the past few years for releasing unlocked smartphones at relatively low prices. They have a number of smartphones out right now that fit all kinds of budgets and users. The Vivo line has typically been their cheaper line of smartphones, and thus they are usually lower-end. But that's not the case with the Vivo 5R which the company is launching today for just $199. A smartphone with a 5.5-inch Full HD curved display, fingerprint sensor and an octa-core 1.3GHz processor for $199? Sounds a bit too good to be true. But is it? We'll find out in this review.

Specs

The specs on the Vivo 5R are actually a bit surprising, given how cheap the smartphone really is. But we are looking at a 5.5-inch 1080p display which gives 401 pixels per inch. There's a MediaTek MT6753 octa-core 1.3GHz processor inside, along with the Mali-T720 GPU for graphics. This is paired with 3GB of RAM, giving you plenty of RAM for multi-tasking and such. There is 32GB of storage included with a micro SD card slot (in the SIM card tray) which can support up to 64GB. The Vivo 5R also has a 3150mAh non-removable battery which should last you all day long.

As far as connectivity goes, there is WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. There of course is support for 4G LTE here on both AT&T and T-Mobile here in the US. Below are the supported bands:

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

3G UMTS 850, 1700, 1900, 2100

4G LTE Bands 2, 4, 7, 12, 17

Perhaps the most important part about any smartphone, is the camera. Here on the Vivo 5R, BLU is using the Sony IMX258 sensor on the back-side of the device. That is a 13-megapixel sensor that features phase detection auto-focus (or PDAF). This allows for quick auto-focusing especially in low light conditions. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel sensor and features a flash. So you can get some great selfies in low-light as well. Both sensors record 1080p video at 30 frames-per-second.

In the Box

BLU typically packs the box full of all kinds of goodies, and it's no different with the BLU Vivo 5R. Right on top, there is the Vivo 5R. Below that lies the wall adapter, micro USB to USB-A cable, a USB OTG adapter, a pair of headphones and a SIM ejection tool. But hang on, because that's not all. There is also a SIM installation guide, quick guide, a screen protector and a TPU case. BLU adds in a screen protector and TPU case to every single smartphone that they sell. This is a great thing because their smartphones aren't as popular as say those from Samsung or LG. Which means there are very little options for cases for their smartphones. So it's nice having it included in the box.

Hardware

The build quality of the BLU Vivo 5R is quite impressive to say the least. This smartphone features a metal jacket, which not only looks nice but also feels nice in the hand. The back does curve a bit - like the older Moto(rola) smartphones used to. This makes it even more comfortable in the hand. Our model here is actually the gold one, but it looks a bit more like rose gold. And to be honest, I like the color. It doesn't look gaudy at all, like some gold smartphones tend to do. The back of the device houses the 13-megapixel camera, with a flash below it. There is also a fingerprint sensor below that with the speaker at the bottom. This actually leads to the back of the device looking pretty minimal, even though there is a 5.5-inch display, so it's not that large of a smartphone.

The left side of the Vivo 5R houses the SIM card tray, which is a dual SIM card tray. The first slot doubles as a micro SD card slot. So you are able to expand the storage of your Vivo 5R, instead of sticking with the 32GB of internal storage. The right side houses the volume rocker with the power button below it. And the bottom has the micro USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's great to see that BLU kept that headphone jack, with other manufacturers getting rid of it. And as for the micro USB port, it would have been nice to see USB-C here, but that likely would have raised the price on the Vivo 5R.

The Vivo 5R's front looks like many other smartphones on the market right now. It sports a white face, with capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen. There is the recents, home and back buttons. They look a bit odd, since the back button is on the right side of the device, versus being on the left side, like most other smartphones. The Vivo 5R is a very sleek smartphone, especially considering that it does sport a 5.5-inch display, it feels like it should be a larger and heavier smartphone than it actually is.

Display

BLU states that the display on the Vivo 5R is actually a curved display. And it is. But it's not as curved as what you see on the Galaxy S7 Edge or the Galaxy Note 7. It's a very subtle curve, which makes the edges a bit thinner - but still comfortable. This is a full HD display, that means it's a 1920 x 1080 resolution panel, and that brings us 401 pixels per inch. Not a bad resolution given the size of the display. Of course, we'd love to see a QHD display here on the Vivo 5R, but given the price a 1080p panel is still quite nice. Not to mention the fact that the pixel density is still quite high. When using the device, you don't really see the individual pixels. Instead, you see a beautiful looking display with colors that just pop out at you.

This panel seems to be a tad bit on the cool side. That's something that I personally like, but everyone else may not. Unfortunately, there are no settings available for you to adjust the temperature of the screen here. The digitizer underneath the glass here, seems to work just fine. We've had issues with some of BLU's other smartphones - particularly those under $100 - where the digitizer was just awful, and led to many people thinking that the phone was lagging. But that's not a problem on the Vivo 5R, thankfully.

Performance

Powering the Vivo 5R is the octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor. This is a 1.3GHz processor that may seem slow on paper, but more than makes up for it in the real world. It's paired with 3GB of RAM, giving you some power to get things done. There's enough power here to use your normal apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and even Gmail, without any issues. We saw zero issues when it came to lag with the Vivo 5R, and part of that may be due to the rather light skin that is on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. While 3GB of RAM may seem like a small amount of RAM in the fall of 2016, it is still enough to keep the phone running smoothly. We never had apps needing to redraw themselves, after selecting them in the multi-tasking window - meaning we never ran out of RAM.

Where things differ for the Vivo 5R is with gameplay. The MT6753 is still a very capable processor, but perhaps not the best processor available right now, for gaming. While it will play games like Subway Surfers and Angry Birds with ease, you may have some trouble playing more graphic intensive games like Riptide GP: Renegade.

For the most part, performance on the Vivo 5R is spot on. It's almost perfect. There are a few times where things will slow down, but those slowdowns never really last that long, thankfully. For a smartphone that's priced at just $199, there's plenty of power inside, and plenty of storage as well, which may be a bit of a surprise for some.

Fingerprint Sensor

Another surprise on the Vivo 5R is the fingerprint sensor. Although, it may not be a big surprise to a lot of people, given how popular fingerprint sensors have become in the past year or so. There is a fingerprint sensor on the back-side of the Vivo 5R and we have zero complaints about it. The sensor works just as it should. Recognizes your finger almost instantly, and has never had an issue in recognizing a finger. Which is also a good thing.

The fingerprint sensor here works well, which means everyone should be using it for securing their device. On top of that, since this is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it means that the fingerprint API is supported. Allowing you to login to apps using the fingerprint sensor, as well as authorize purchases through Google Play with the sensor. Meaning that you'll be using passwords less. And we can all agree that using passwords less is definitely a good thing.

Benchmarks

With the BLU Vivo 5R, we ran the three benchmarks that we run on every phone. Which includes Geekbench 4, AnTuTu and 3D Mark. Given the internal specs, the results of the benchmarks were actually right around what we expected to see from the Vivo 5R. So there's nothing surprising at all here with the device, when it comes to performance.

Battery Life 

Inside the BLU Vivo 5R is a 3150mAh battery which is actually quite large given the size of the smartphone. That battery capacity is definitely enough to get you through the entire day and then some, even for heavy users. The Vivo 5R typically lasted us over 24 hours with at least two hours on screen time and sometimes 3 or more. Even playing Pokemon GO, it will also last you quite some time, more than most other smartphones on the market right now.

Charging the BLU Vivo 5R is another area of interest for many people. It doesn't support Qualcomm's Quick Charge standards, since it is using a MediaTek processor. But it does support a form of quick charge at 2A. That's not as fast as Quick Charge 3.0 from Qualcomm, but it is faster than a conventional charger, and will charge the device from 0 to 100% in about two hours, a little less depending on how much it is being used.

Sound 

Despite having its speaker on the back of the device, the Vivo 5R's speaker is actually really good. It's nice and loud and the sound doesn't sound tinny at all, like some smartphones tend to have when they have a loud speaker. The mids and highs are nice and clear, while the lows are full of plenty of bass. Now when you set it down on a table or a flat surface, the device does tend to output some muffled sound, but otherwise it appears to work pretty well. Of course, we would have loved to see a speaker on the bottom of the device, or more preferably, on the front. But this does its job and does it well.

Phone Calls & Network 

This is a GSM smartphone, as you could probably tell by the bands listed in the specs section, which means it works on T-Mobile and AT&T. Unfortunately there's no support for Sprint or Verizon. However, there is support for 4G LTE on both T-Mobile and AT&T, including band 12 for T-Mobile which should translate to some spectacular indoor coverage. And it sure does. We tested the BLU Vivo 5R on the T-Mobile network in Southeastern Michigan for the better part of a week, and it performed just as it should have. Speeds were comparable to other devices on the network, as well as phone calls made on the network. Keep in mind that because this is not a T-Mobile branded smartphone, there is no HD calling or VoLTE.

Software

One of the major issues that we see with BLU's smartphones is the fact that their software is not consistent across all of their smartphones. Some are stock Android, while others have a light skin like the Vivo 5R. Then there are some that have a pretty heavy skin onboard, which bogs down performance on the phone. It's something that the company really needs to work on, providing a consistent user experience across the board. Additionally, BLU isn't known for sending out updates in a timely fashion - and in most cases they don't update their phones at all. So keep that in mind if you are looking to pick up a new smartphone from BLU. While their smartphones are really good, especially for the price, don't expect any updates.

The skin here on the BLU Vivo 5R is pretty lightweight. Although it doesn't have an app drawer. So all of your apps are sitting on your home screen. Something that is popular over in Asia, but not so much here in the US. However, this is something that can easily be fixed by installing a third-party launcher like Action Launcher, Google Now Launcher, or even Nova Launcher. The notification panel is quite a bit different as well. In fact, it only shows notifications. There are quick toggles though, but not in the notification shade. To get to your quick toggles, you'll need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen, and you'll have access to a ton of them, including a brightness slider. Making it easier to change the brightness on the display, without needing to jump into settings, or even leaving the app that you are currently in.

Within the settings app, you'll find some smart gestures that you can enable on the Vivo 5R. These include flipping back the phone to pause an alarm, using a drawing pattern to quickly access apps on the lock screen (turned off). Things like drawing a c to take a picture, an e to open email, and many others. These can be turned on and off at will, and many can be customized.

When it comes to bloatware, there's plenty of it here on the Vivo 5R, which is pretty much expected, given how low the price tag is on this smartphone. The Amazon suite of apps is included. This means Amazon, Apps & Games and Amazon Kindle are here. Additionally, Notes, NextRadio, Warranteer, Compass, Chameleon, Theme Park, Opera, and BLU Help are all here. Let's talk about Theme Park for a minute. It is what you think it is, and that is a set of themes for your Vivo 5R. But unfortunately, there are only four themes, and they aren't very customizable. For example, most smartphones with theme support will allow you to change the icons, wallpaper, fonts and more individually. That's not the case here, it's either all or nothing.

The software is very manageable here on the Vivo 5R. It may not be our first choice for software on a smartphone, but it's not terrible at all. On the MediaTek MT6753 processor, the software - based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow - is very fluid and works very well. Something that is definitely expected and nice to see in this day and age.

Camera

The camera on the back of the Vivo 5R is a Sony IMX258 sensor, which is a 13-megapixel camera. It features a f/2.0 aperture and phase detection auto-focus. What this means is that it should auto-focus pretty quickly on subjects. The f/2.0 aperture is about the industry standard for smartphone cameras these days. With a select few going a bit lower to f/1.8. The camera should be decent, at least on paper, and it actually is. Pictures we took with this camera actually came out really good looking. The bokeh effect seen in a few of the images in the gallery linked below, looked really good. Not as good as the Honor 8 or Huawei P9, but then again it has a second sensor to make up for that. There is a bit of noise in some of these images, but there's not a ton.

The camera app here is pretty minimal, with just a few modes, which includes video, face beauty, photo and HDR. Now these aren't all of the modes. The others are a bit more hidden, and out of the way. Other modes include Night, Panorama, Professional, Time-Lapse, Slow Motion, Smart Scene, Text recognition and Macro. Of course, you do have your slew of filters available to use on images and make them a bit more unique. Of course, the professional mode is our favorite and likely will be users favorite. Simply because it allows the user to control all the aspects of the photo. This includes the ISO, white balance, shutter speed and more.

Overall, the camera performs pretty well, but we wouldn't call it the best camera. It's decent enough for taking pictures for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other social media networks. But it definitely won't replace your DSLR or even your point and shoot camera.

The Good 

The Display

Battery Life

Storage Capacity

Android Marshmallow on board

The Bad

Updates likely won't be made available

Camera is decent, but not amazing

MediaTek's MT6753 is an okay processor, but not that powerful. The Helio X20 would have been a better choice.

Wrap Up

The Vivo 5R has a lot going for it, but it also has a bit going against it, unfortunately. Coming in at $199, the Vivo 5R is entering an already very crowded space in the smartphone world. It's primarily going up against the Moto G4 and the Moto G4 Plus. Both of which feature almost identical specs, although Lenovo uses Qualcomm processors in the Moto G4 series - they also work on CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint - making it a tough competitor to the Vivo 5R. BLU can definitely compete with Moto and Lenovo, but their brand awareness isn't as good as Lenovo is right now. It's tough to say whether the Vivo 5R would be a better buy over the Moto G4 or Moto G4 Plus though. It would depend on what the user would prefer, software-wise.

Should you Buy the BLU Vivo 5R?

If you're on T-Mobile or AT&T (or one of their MVNO's like Straight Talk, or MetroPCS) and you need a new phone under $200, then yes, this is a great smartphone to pick up. It checks a lot of the boxes that users look for when buying a new smartphone, the only downside is the fact that BLU is still a small manufacturer, especially when compared to Lenovo, LG, Samsung, and even HTC.

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