Blu sub-brand BOLD just released its first smartphone, the N1. It’s a $250 phone with high-end features, like wireless charging, an in-display fingerprint reader, and an edge-to-edge display with a pop-up front camera. Let’s talk about it.
Who is BOLD?
BOLD is the new sub-brand from budget phone maker Blu. The company will heavily limit the number of devices it releases every year and will guarantee two years of security patches and at least one Android version upgrade. The ultimate promise is “flagship-like performance and design at a fraction of the cost” and releasing phones with “specs that have never existed at similar pricing.” It’s a compelling prospect, no doubt.
Ultimately, you can expect high-end budget hardware packed into these phones along with reasonable prices given all the features in the package. If the N1 is any indication of what to expect from the company’s future devices, a sleek, understated look may also be part of the design language.
You can liken BOLD to a budget version of OnePlus. Both companies have essentially the same philosophy: to offer devices with features and hardware at unprecedented prices. OnePlus goes for all-out flagship products, while BOLD is focused on bringing the same features to the budget market. It’s a high-end budget company if you will. That’s almost a new category on its own.
Now, let’s talk about the first phone under the BOLD name.
Hardware and Build Quality: $500+ Worth of Phone for $250
When I first read the spec sheet for the N1, it was hot off the heels of the Blu G9 Pro review. So what I saw was a phone with a slightly boosted processor and otherwise similar hardware. But it’s everything in between the main specs that makes the difference here—things like the in-display fingerprint reader, pop-up camera, and curved edge-to-edge screen all provide a more premium feel than you’d expect at the $250 price point.
Alas, I’m approaching this as a new phone from a new company and drawing as few comparisons to BOLD’s parent company as I can. It’s going to be hard with the G9 Pro so fresh on my mind—it’s still just a few inches to my left as I type this so you may have to bear with a few comparisons here and there.
But I digress. Let’s take a look at the N1’s specs:
- Display: 6.4-inch 19.5:9 FHD+ (2340×1080) AMOLED all-screen display w/ pop-up camera
- Processor: 2.1 GHz Octa-Core MediaTek Helio P70
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 128 GB, microSD card slot
- Cameras: 16 MP main shooter + 5 MP depth sensor;13 MP pop-up front camera
- Ports: USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack
- Headphone Jack: You betcha
- Battery: 3,500 mAh w/ Quick Charge and Wireless Charging
- Fingerprint Sensor: In-display, ugh
- 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; July 2019 Security Patch (Promised updates to Android 10 and two years of security patches)
- Price: $249
The front of the phone is the star of the show here, as the edge-to-edge AMOLED panel is an exceptionally nice touch on a $250 phone. The colors are vibrant without being overbearing, and it’s honestly just a pleasure to look at. As far as AMOLED panels on budget phones are concerned, this one looks great—there’s even a color tuning option in Settings > Display for those who want to warm it up or cool it down a bit.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is also a nice, high-end touch, though I really would’ve preferred a rear-mounted sensor. In-display fingerprint readers are still playing catch up in terms of speed, and the one found in the N1 is the among the slowest I’ve ever used. Coming from the OnePlus 7 Pro, which has the best in-display fingerprint reader I’ve personally used, the N1’s feels insanely sluggish. It does work, however, and I haven’t had any issues with inaccurate readings or the reader simply not working.
Another irritating thing about the fingerprint reader is that it requires the screen to be on full brightness to work. That doesn’t mean you have to leave the brightness turned to the max all the time, mind you, but when an app requests access to the fingerprint reader, the screen will automatically go full throttle on the brightness. If you’re in a dark room when this happens, get ready to be blinded. It’s worth noting that this isn’t just an issue on the N1, of course—it’s the nature of this new technology. Bleh.
Anyway, let’s move past the screen to the rest of the phone. The N1 is a clean, ultra-minimal device with a classy all-black shell and subtle branding at the bottom. I’m a big fan of its understated looks, but with the current trend of colorful phones (like the G9 and G9 Pro!) it the all-black finish may not appeal to everyone. But if you’re a fan of all black all the time, this phone will be a hit. It’s super sleek.
To have wireless charging, there are only two options for the materials used on the phone: glass or plastic. Despite being a $250 phone, the N1 features a sleek glass back. That said, the back of the device is very slippery thanks to its shiny-as-hell finish, so you’re going to want to throw a case on it. Good thing there’s already one on the box, huh? Oh, that reminds me: the N1 comes with a case. And a screen protector and earbuds (you know, for the 3.5mm headphone jack that the phone actually has).
Past the back and sides and all that jazz, you have your other smartphone normalities: single speaker, USB-C charging port, and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom; SIM card slot (it’s dual SIM, by the way) on the left side; pop-up camera on the top; and volume rocker and power button on the right. That brings me to the main issue with the device’s build: the power button on my review unit—which is a pre-production unit, mind you—is finicky. It’s slightly wobbly and has very little travel, so it’s honestly hard to tell when I’m pressing it. And that’s without a case—throw the included TPU case on, and the issue is exacerbated. I found myself hitting the button three or four times in a row because I couldn’t tell that I actually pressed it.
I talked with BOLD about this issue, however, and was assured that this was an issue with my pre-production unit and not something they’ve seen in production devices. I believe them, but I’d still be remiss not to mention it here.
Software and Performance: Snappy and Stable
One of the most interesting things to me about the N1 is that, despite this being a separate division of Blu, the software is identical to the last two Blu devices I reviewed (the G9 and G9 Pro). Like, completely identical—same launcher, same Settings menu aesthetic and layout. It’s the same.
Now, that isn’t necessarily good or bad—it just is. Something I thought was interesting, mostly because I expected a different experience from the N1 compared to what I’ve had from Blu recently. But anyway.
The phone is running Android 9 out of the box, with a guaranteed update to Android 10 (which recently started rolling out to Pixel and Essential devices), though it’s unclear when that update will happen. If I were a betting man, I’d assume that later would be the more likely option than sooner, so take that for what it’s worth. But, you know, people don’t buy $250 phones for their timely updates, either.
As for the modifications to stock Android, there isn’t really a ton here. The quick settings panel has been themed, as has the Settings menu. The organization of the latter is also slightly tweaked, with BOLD opting for a simpler layout there. But it’s similar enough to other Android devices that you should be able to find your way around easily enough.
As for performance, it gets the job done. Like the G9 Pro, the N1 is easily comparable to the Google Pixel 3a, the company’s budget Pixel that still costs $150 more than BOLD’s N1. Benchmark tests, which are worth a grain of salt at most but still provide some kind of reasonable comparison between devices, show just how close these two devices are in terms of raw numbers:
And in terms of actual use, it’s pretty much more of the same. I’ve used both the N1 and 3a extensively, and they’re pretty much on par with each other. And if you’re sitting on the fence between the BOLD N1 and the Blu G9 Pro, the Helio P70 might be a hair faster the P60 found in the G9 Pro, but honestly, it’s not a tangible difference. Clock speed ain’t nothin’ but a number, baby.
But while we’re comparing specs and junk between the N1 and Pixel 3a, it’s also worth mentioning that the N1 has double the storage—128 GB vs. 64 GB—and an SD card slot. Throw in wireless charging and the fact that the N1 is also $150 cheaper and the value of the Pixel 3a’s day-one updates starts to seem less important. But you know, that’s your call.
Finally, let’s talk about battery life. I haven’t had a ton of time to gauge battery life with the N1, but that’s where my favorite battery testing/track tool, Accubattery, comes in. Accubattery monitors your device usage, charging times/speeds, screen-on time, app usage, and pretty much all other metrics that affect battery life, then gives you some real-world numbers.
And according to Accubattery, the N1 gets around 5 hours and 14 minutes of screen-on time with regular use. That’s a little more than I expected, give my time with the phone—I would’ve estimated somewhere around four or four and a half. So, realistically, you can expect to get somewhere between four and five(ish) hours of regular use from the N1’s 3,500 mAh battery. Not bad.
Cameras: Solid Shooters
So, let’s talk about the cameras. The N1 has dual rear shooters—a 16 MP primary shooter and a 5 MP depth sensor for getting good portrait mode shots. These are the same 16 MP and 5 MP sensors found in the G9 Pro, though that phone also has an addition 20 MP sensor for night mode shots, which is surprisingly absent on the N1. That doesn’t mean the N1 is lacking night mode, however. It’s still present in the main camera app. There just isn’t a specific sensor for it.
The pop-up front camera—which can be raised and lowered 50,000 times without failure, according to BOLD—packs a 13 MP wide-angle sensor, and it’s a damn serviceable little shooter. Like on the recent Blu phones I’ve reviewed, portrait mode on the front camera is just not very good, but otherwise, the camera itself is fine.
It’s also worth noting that the front camera was completely unable to create a portrait shot while I was wearing sunglasses, hence my stupid squinty eyes in the second pic below. The moment I put them on, portrait mode wouldn’t be able to detect my face (perhaps because of the mirrored lenses?) and essentially disable itself. When I took them off, it would recognize my face/head and, um, do the thing it does.
L: Front camera; R: Front camera with portrait mode. Oof.
If you want good portrait mode shots, I recommend flipping the phone around and use the rear. The dual shooters on the back are made for this and do a much better job. Much better.
Conclusion: BOLD’s First Phone Is A Winner
For the first release under the BOLD name, the N1 is a good phone. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a winner if you ask me.
If you want high-end feature without the matching price tag, you’ll want to at least add this phone to your shortlist. The in-display fingerprint reader, while slow and cumbersome, is still a very forward-thinking feature for a device in this price range, the cameras are better than flagship phones from just a few years ago, and wireless charging is a real game-changer once you get used to it. Add the edge-to-edge, notch-less display to the mix, and you have a killer package for a crazy-reasonable price.
To find all of those things on a device that costs roughly a fourth of a single flagship phone from Samsung, well, that really says something. To put it another way, you could buy BOLD N1’s for a family of four for roughly the same price as you could get one base model Galaxy Note 10. And it’s 90 percent of the phone at 25 percent of the price.
If you buy the N1 from BOLD’s official website, the company is temporarily offering a $50 rebate with the purchase, effectively bringing the price down to $200. This offer is not valid on Amazon.
Here’s What We Like
- Unprecedented design at this price point
- Beautiful display
- Snappy performance
- Good cameras for the money
- Wireless charging
And What We Don't
- Slow fingerprint reader
- The phone is very slippery without a case
- Portrait mode on the front camera isn't great