The Bluboo S1 delivers a premium look without the premium price.
The Bluboo S1 is a new offering from Bluboo, one of the many Chinese brands pushing new devices and trying to grab the attention of the budget consumer. With so many different brands all trying to attack the same market segment, each company has to attempt to differentiate themselves a bit, and Bluboo is doing that on the S1 with the nearly bezel-free design of its display. While there is a rather large bezel at the bottom to make room for the fingerprint sensor and the front-facing camera, the bezels on the sides and top are almost non-existent. It’s an eye-catching design that you typically see on higher-end devices or those that cost at least a few hundred dollars, so it’s a nice change of pace to see brands offering more stylish phones like this one for around $160. Let’s take a closer look at the Bluboo S1 and see what it has to offer.
The Bluboo S1 is packed with decent specs, though they aren’t terribly different from other budget devices we’ve tried, so most of the hardware will feel a little familiar. For starters, the Bluboo S1 has a 5.5-inch Full HD display with features like glove and wet hands control for better response under those circumstances. It’s powered by a MediaTek MTK6757 processor paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It has a dual rear camera setup on the back, comprised of one 13-megapixel main sensor and a 3-megapixel secondary sensor with a regular LED flash, and on the front it has a 5-megapixel sensor.
For connectivity, the handset supports Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, but not NFC. It does have USB Type-C for a charging port so the battery should charge up pretty quickly, and in our experience it did, and it has a front-mounted fingerprint sensor as well as a single bottom-firing speaker for audio. It’s working with a 3,500mAh battery and it comes in two different colors - the white model you see here and a black variant. It also comes running on Android 7.0 Nougat, so it supports features like multi-window and has the improved Doze mode out of the box.
In The Box
There’s quite a bit in the box here with this device as there often is with Chinese smartphones. When you first open up the main box, the phone will be sitting right on top, and after you lift the phone up, you’ll find a few smaller boxes inside which house all of the included extras like a glass screen protector, wall adapter and charging cable, clear silicone case, and even a USB Type-C-to-3.5mm audio adapter, though it doesn’t come with a pair of earbuds. You’ll also find a SIM card ejector tool and a quick start guide.
Hardware And Design
As we mentioned earlier, the Bluboo S2 is fairly stylish in its design. It’s not as sleek as similar products like the Xiaomi Mi MIX, but it definitely looks premium and that’s rare to find around the $160 price point. The S1 doesn’t exactly feel as premium as it looks as its back and sides are made of plastic, though it does feel comfortable in the hand when holding. The other thing to consider is that since the phone’s frame and back panel are made of plastic, they should hold up a little better to scratches and scuffs than if the frame and back were made of metal and glass.
On the front of the device you’ll find both the secondary camera and fingerprint sensor just below the screen, the SIM card tray on the left side of the phone, the power and volume buttons on the right side, and the bottom-firing speaker and USB Type-C charging port on the bottom. Flipping the phone over to the back reveals the dual rear cameras and flash in the top left corner, and a shiny Bluboo logo in the center.
The display is Full HD, so visually, the graphics quality of icons and other system details is nice and sharp, color contrasts are good, and viewing angles are decent regardless of whether there is a lot of light in the room or not. It’s pretty easy to see in direct sunlight but like with just about any device, you’ll need to turn up the brightness quite a bit to counteract any glare you might have.
It feels like the phone has a decent digitizer under the screen as response felt good with no lag after my touch, and it seemed pretty accurate when using multi-touch points so using two or even three fingers on screen doesn’t seem to be a problem. Overall, this is a pretty good quality display, though it won’t be hard to miss that the blacks don’t look as black as they will on something like an AMOLED screen panel. This likely won’t bother most users but it is still something to consider if you want your phone’s display to have deeper blacks.
The Bluboo S1 performed pretty well in real-world use with just about anything we threw at it, and it even performed OK on paper when we put through a few different benchmarks to see how it stacks up against other similar phones. When using multiple apps at a time and switching between, them some budget phones will stutter a bit during the transition and could even lag a bit or slow down if you have too many open apps running at once, but that wasn’t a big issue with the Bluboo S1. In fact, it was less of an issue than what was expected.
For things like games where the CPU and GPU will be under a little more pressure, the phone held up just fine, though this might change depending on the types of games you play. We tested it with casual games and with some more high-quality titles that feature high-resolution graphics and it seemed to do OK under a more heavy load, and the phone didn’t once feel like it was getting too hot to hold after extended periods of gameplay that went on for more than an hour or two. That said, it did get warm as this tends to happen with just about any phone, even the top-tier flagships. Overall the performance is pretty good here and although it isn’t the most high-powered device out there, it should serve most average users quite well with them having little to complain about as it won’t have any problems performing daily standard tasks nor will it have issues with more CPU-demanding ones.
For a device with a 3,500mAh battery, the Bluboo S1 did not do so well in this particular area of the review. I was easily able to take it through to the end of the day without having to charge the device up, but I also wasn’t using the device as heavily as I normally use my regular phone, and this is because it didn’t do too well when testing the screen on time. We put the phone through PCMark’s battery test to see how long it would last with the screen on continuously, and it rated at just 3 hours and 42 minutes, which felt a lot shorter than it should be for a battery this large. When trying to recreate the battery life, screen on time it wasn’t too far off from this, getting about 3 hours and 30 minutes or so on just a single charge. This is a bit of letdown and may be cause for concern for heavy phone users who are on it a lot throughout the day. If you’re worried about battery life and you need your phone to last you until you plug it in at night, you may want to have a battery pack on hand or always keep some form of charger with you no matter where you go, because the Bluboo S1 might run into problems lasting as long as you need it to.
Phone Calls And Network
The Bluboo S1 is a phone that was designed for the Chinese market and other markets outside the U.S. It comes unlocked and uses GSM technology, but you’re unlikely to get the phone to work here as the network frequencies don’t match up with the supported network frequencies for U.S.-based networks like T-Mobile and AT&T. You might be able to get a 3G connection, but I wasn’t able to use my Project Fi SIM card with it. You may have a different experience if you have T-Mobile or AT&T. The supported network frequencies are listed below.
As we do with all phone reviews, we ran the Bluboo S1 through AnTuTu, Geekbench 4, and 3DMark to test out the benchmarks and graphics benchmark results, and the phone did ok compared to other devices that are similar in specs. The results from each test can be seen in the gallery of images just below if you’re interested in seeing how the device held up.
Without beating around the bush, audio on the Bluboo S1 was OK but nothing to write home about. It’s simply passable and will do just fine if you aren’t looking for a richer, more immersive sound from your smartphone. Most smartphones are working with speakers that don’t always do the audio justice though, so the S1 isn’t alone in this. The sound isn’t too bad and if you’re mostly using it for streaming video or playing games, you probably won’t have any issues. If you’re using it for streaming music, the speaker might leave a little bit to be desired. For one, it only has one speaker so the sound won’t be as good as it would be if it had dual-stereo setup, but it’s still good enough to be decently loud without really decreasing the quality of the audio. If you’re worried about the sound on this device, then a strong recommendation is to connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones, a Bluetooth speaker, or plug in a wired pair of headphones that are built to deliver high-quality audio. If you’re not too worried about the sound, then you shouldn’t be disappointed here because the speaker does its job reasonably well.
Most smartphones are coming with fingerprint sensors these days, so for the most part, you might be hard-pressed to find one that delivers a bad experience with the fingerprint sensor. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, as you can come across them, but with the feature being so common, even budget devices with a fingerprint sensor can offer an accurate and quick experience. With the Bluboo S1, the fingerprint sensor did unlock the phone pretty quickly and it was mostly accurate, missing my fingerprint only a few times throughout using it over the past week or so. Because it’s also fairly large, it’s easy to hit it and make sure you aren’t missing it with your touch.
The user interface of the Bluboo S1 is pretty similar to lots of other Chinese smartphones, save for bigger brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, and Meizu which do apply their own unique UI flavors that no other brand will have. That said, if you’ve used any phones from Bluboo or other smaller Chinese OEMs before, then you may already know what using the software is like on this phone. There are some things here that you won’t find in other devices that are running on stock Android, like the ability to get rid of the on-screen navigation keys. You can easily hide the nav bar by tapping the little arrow button that sits all the way to the left of the bar, and to bring the nav bar out of hiding you simply need to swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen.
The home launcher used with the S1 has no app drawer natively, so all of your installed apps hang out on the home screen, filling up pages until a new one is needed, then the launcher will create a new page for more apps. If this bothers you, a third-party home launcher can easily be installed from the Play Store and the UI will have an app drawer along with plenty of other customization options. There is little else in the way of software extras with the S1 which may or may not be an issue for you personally. There are some gestures which the phone supports, including ones that will answer a voice call when you lift up the phone, or ones that you can draw on screen from a sleeping display to wake it up and have it unlock to whatever app or function you have configured for that drawing gestures, like launching the browser when you draw the letter "c." There is also a feature inside display settings called Free Touch, and what this does is put a little dot on the edge of your display that will give you quick access to various different apps and functions. So, these are like shortcuts basically, offering things like a button for opening specific apps, some for enabling and disabling things like airplane mode or Wi-Fi, and some for placing calls and opening the camera. With a lack of special software features, the software experience on the Bluboo S1 is not too exciting, but perhaps some will find it easier to use without all of the extra stuff you find in some other phones.
With a dual rear camera on the phone, you might think it’s going to offer you a stellar photo experience, and while it was good, it’s not great. The dual rear camera provides the phone with a sort of depth-of-field effect but it’s not executed very well and tends to blur out more than it should, often times not presenting the entire subject that’s supposed to be in focus. Instead, it gets most of the subject in focus but then applies the blur a little too heavily to the edges of the subject, making it look like the rest of the objects in the background. This could boil down to the software in the camera app that Bluboo has set up here, but what it still comes down to is a lacking camera. That said, there are still some things to love about it.
Pictures can come out looking pretty good, if the lighting is good. When shooting anything with a nice contrast of colors, the camera reproduces these pretty nicely and showcases the subjects with a good visual presence. The images can also come out with plenty of detail from whatever it is you’re shooting, and for a smartphone that comes with a low price tag, that’s nice to see. You also do get a handful of different features in the camera to play with, like face beauty mode, blur mode, panorama mode, and pro mode so you can adjust the settings like exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, shutter speed and more. There’s even a mono mode, which is the other reason for the secondary camera sensor on the back, as it provides you with monochrome shots. You also get pre-photo color filters that can be applied, such as sepia posterize and whiteboard, and there is even a mono filter, though it feels entirely unnecessary as the phone already offers a mono mode thanks to the monochrome sensor. There’s also an HDR button if you want images that really bring out the colors in some of your shots. Overall, image quality was pretty good and the camera experience in general was OK. Keep in mind this won’t be the best camera on the market, but it does the job.
Display offers sharp details and clarity
Fingerprint sensor is pretty fast and accurate
Design is pretty nice
Feel good when holding it in the hand
Decent performance for regular tasks and most games
Uses USB Type-C so it charges pretty quickly
No NFC which means no mobile payments
Sound was not the best, though it did function properly
It doesn’t feel as premium as it looks
Camera will sometimes blur out a little too much of the foreground subject in certain images
The Bluboo S1 may not have the most features or even the best specs, but it definitely offers a decent spread of hardware and features that showcases it’s easier to give consumers a good phone for less money. Its stylish design should also cater to those who want a functional device but care more about design than lots of power. The Bluboo S1 delivers a premium look without the premium price, and there's always going to be a market for devices like it.
Should you buy the Bluboo S1?
If you need a budget phone for travel, then the Bluboo S1 could be a great fit for you. It’s a nice smartphone for $160, and it may even work with U.S. networks, though with it only supporting a small number of frequencies, you might not want to buy it for the sole purpose of using it in the U.S. If it does work it’s a nice bonus, but you might be better off with a phone you are guaranteed will work in the U.S. if that’s what you need. Otherwise and as mentioned before, this a good, inexpensive phone to be used for travel.