Available today, budget handset maker Blu’s new G9 smartphone is a $180 device with features and hardware that excel beyond what its price point might suggest. This phone offers a lot of bang for users on a budget.
As much as we all love to focus on the highest-end devices on the scene, the budget market might be even worthier of our attention. If you’re looking to get a handset on a budget, then the odds are you want that phone to be the best you can get at the price in which you’re shopping. And in this market, it’s hard not to look at Blu’s handsets.
First, A Little Bit About Blu
Before we get into the details of the device, let’s take a quick second to talk about Blu’s slightly muddy history. The company has been around for nearly a decade and focuses on budget smartphones. It had a history of releasing an excessive number of devices each year, which came at the cost of updates and support. In short, it was releasing far more devices than it could update.
That’s an issue, so in August of last year, the company promised to focus on quality—that includes support and updates—over quantity. According to the company’s CEO Samuel Ohev-Zion, new Blu devices would be released “with a purpose” and “guaranteed software updates and support.” That all sounds good.
It’s also worth mentioning that back in 2016, Adups, the company Blu used to update its handsets, was found to be sending private information—like text messages and real-time location details—back to China. Blu stated that it wasn’t aware of what Adups was doing, but settled with the FTC on the issue last year. The settlement requires Blu to undergo third-party security assessments every two years for the next 20 years. The company has also since moved away from using Adups for updates and is using the method supplied by Google for OTA updates, which is probably the best method for Android system updates anyway—especially when it comes to privacy. So, all that said, everything seems to be on the up and up for Blu now.
With that bit of backstory out of the way (important both because this is our first review of a Blu handset and because we want you to be an informed customer), let’s talk about the G9 itself.
Hardware and Build Quality: Above Its Price Point
First things first, let’s look at the hardware the G9 has under its hood. Keep in mind this is a $180 handset:
- Processor: 2.0 GHz Octa-Core MediaTek Helio P22
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 64GB, microSD card slot
- Display: 6.3-inch 19:9 1520×720 “Infinity Display” (271 PPI) w/ teardrop notch
- Cameras: Dual 13 MP rear cameras with depth sensor, 13 MP front
- Ports: USB-C, 2.5 mm headphone jack
- Headphone Jack: You betcha
- Battery: 4,000 mAh
- Fingerprint Sensor: Rear-mounted
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 2.4/5 GHz (a/b/g/n), 3G 850/900/1700/1900/2100, 4G LTE 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/28, dual-SIM
- US Carrier compatibility: T-Mobile, AT&T, Metro, Cricket, Straight Talk
- Android version: Android 9.0, Pie; April 2019 Security Patch
- Price: $180
As you might expect, a $180 phone isn’t going to have the fit and finish of a $900 flagship (or even a $400 mid-ranger). With budget phones like this, you can expect cut corners—the hope is that the cuts are in the right places.
When it comes down to it, the G9 is a bit of a mixed bag. The finish on the device is what I would expect on a handset that costs less than half of what you’ll pay for a Google Pixel 3a. It seems well put together and looks really good. The chameleon blue on the plastic back offers a much more premium look than you might expect to find on a phone at this price point.
That premium look is quickly put in check as soon as you pick up the device, however—the build is solid enough, but you can immediately tell this is a sub-$200 phone and nothing more. The plastic shell feels somewhat flimsy, especially when compared to a more expensive phone. Still, you have to keep your expectations in check with budget phones—you can’t expect $400 worth of hardware for less than $200. And, that considered, the G9 feels fine—but the glossy plastic back is a damn fingerprint magnet. Good thing there’s a thin, clear case in the box—you’re going to want to use it. (It’s pretty flimsy too, though. Heh.)
Flipping the phone around to the front you’ll find the biggest compromise on this handset: the display. It’s big and relatively bright, but the 720p resolution is immediately noticeable the second you look at it. It’s 720×1520, which is on par with comparable budget phones like the Motorola G7 Power and Samsung A10, so I can’t criticize Blu too heavily for using this panel—it seems par for this course, anyway.
When it comes to brightness, the panel is also pretty okay. It has 470 nits of brightness, but the Adaptive Brightness feature (Settings > Display > Adaptive brightness) doesn’t make good use of it at all. Even in a decently-lit room, the display regularly stayed below 10 percent brightness using the automatic setting. I recommend leaving this off and just tweaking the brightness yourself as needed.
Software and Performance: It Gets the Job Done
Like many other Blu handsets, the G9 runs a slightly modified version of Android. This model is running the latest Android version (9.0, Pie) with a security patch of April 2019 out of the box, making it about as up-to-date as you’ll find a device outside of the Pixel line… for now, at least. Blu hasn’t had too much of a chance to prove itself on the promise of better support and more frequent updates, so only time will tell how that all plays out for the G9.
The most significant change from stock Android on the G9 is the Settings menu—it uses a similar style to what I’ve seen from Blu in the past where it re-arranges the Settings menu to focus on the most-used options. While I don’t prefer this method over the regular Android Settings menu, it’s fine. It takes a bit of getting used to, but then again you probably don’t spend that much time in the Settings menu in the first place.
But past that, it’s a pretty standard Android experience where software is concerned—I really wish it supported Android Pie’s dark theme feature because man this is a very bright experience. Very. Blu did bake in a few of its own features here and there, though. Like a customizable navigation bar (which includes a proprietary gesture system) and a customized version of Launcher 3 that also provides access to Google Discover (a la Pixel Launcher).
Overall, it’s not a disjointed Android experience at all. It’s usable and not jarring for anyone coming from another Android version.
When it comes to performance, it’s pretty much on par with the price. In my use, it’s been usable—by no means a performance monster, but not enough lag to bother me. If you like benchmark tests (which I personally only find useful on budget devices like this because they allow easy comparisons to similar devices), I ran Geekbench to see how the G9 compares to a couple of other phones I have lying around at different price points: the Pixel 3a ($400) and OnePlus 7 Pro ($750 as tested). Unsurprisingly, the Helio P22 performs poorer than the Snapdragon 670 in the 3a and is demolished by the Snapdragon 855 in the OP 7 Pro.
L to R: G9, 3a, OP7 Pro
Benchmarks only tell half the story, of course, and aren’t used for a reliable metric any real-world use. In this case, I find the results to be pretty spot on comparable to the experience—the G9 is slower than the Pixel 3a by a small margin that is still tangible. But it’s also less than half the price of the base 3a model, which shouldn’t be downplayed.
The nice things about the G9’s hardware, however, is the fact that it pairs ample storage—64 GB—with 4 GB of RAM. Those are some pretty big numbers at this price point, especially when you consider flagship phones like the Pixel 3 still ship with only 4 GB of RAM.
Finally, let’s talk about the camera setup for a second. The G9’s main cameras are a dual set of 13 MP shooters, with another 13 MP camera around the front. Despite running dual shooters on the back of the phone, it still uses “advanced AI” for portrait mode shots (which are also available on the front camera). I didn’t realize it had a portrait mode option initially—it’s not a specific camera option like on most phones. Instead, it’s activated with the tap of a small shutter-like button in the top bar of the camera app. It’not clear until you start messing with the camera.
As for how well the portrait mode setting performs, well, I’ll let you be the judge. Here are some shots with the device’s front camera—the original is on the left, with portrait in the top-right (lol look at my ear), and “beauty” mode in the bottom right.
As for the rest of the camera, here’s a small gallery of candid shots:
Overall, the camera setup is fine. It’s not winning any awards for the best camera on a smartphone, but for the money, it’s a fine option—especially if it’s the camera you have with you when you need it.
Conclusion: It’s Worth A Hunnit-Eighty
If you’re looking for a new phone in the sub-$200 price range, the Blu G9 is worth your consideration. The odds are you’ll be comparing it to something like the Motorola G7 Power ($200) or Samsung A10 ($140), but there’s reason to consider the G9 over each of those—it’s less expensive than the G7 Power out of the box and offers double the RAM/storage than the A10.
Here’s What We Like
- Excellent price-to-performance ratio
- Aesthetics that appear higher than its price suggests
- Good camera for the cost
And What We Don't
- Disappointing display
- Slightly sluggish processor, especially under load