Review: Blu Vivo 5
Blu is selling the Vivo 5 directly to consumers unlocked. This Android device is slim, attractive, and made from good materials. It boasts a big screen, solid camera, exceptional battery, and compatibility with AT&T and T-Mobile. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth report about Blu's latest.
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The Blu Vivo 5 is a mid-range handset that should appeal to those who prefer unlocked phones that have a bit of class. The Vivo isn't available from carriers, so you'll have to seek it out online yourself. It targets the affordable premium category and manages to get most things right.Body
The V5 could easily be mistaken for a high-end phone. Blu chose to dress the handset in aluminum and glass, and its thin profile gives the V5 all the earmarks of a flagship. It's not a flagship, but it could pass for one, and that's probably the point. Carrying the Blu Vivo 5 will let you blend in with the hip crowds.
The Vivo 5's design is conservative, but appealing in its simplicity. It is a slim slab that comes in either gold or silver/white. The metal has a smooth finish and Blu was sure to polish the chamfered edges to a nice shine. At a glance, you might think the Vivo 5 is flat, but it is not; the back surface has a slightly curved shape. The Vivo 5 is a sharp-looking handset.
At 5.98 inches tall and 2.94 inches wide, the Vivo 5 is a large handset. It's not quite as bulky as the Moto X, nor as tall as the Nexus 6P, but it's close in size to those phones. The width of the phone and the sharp, flat side edges detract from hand comfort. The chamfers help prevent the phone from cutting into your flesh, but only fractionally. The Vivo 5's 6.7mm profile is one of the thinnest out there.
The aluminum doesn't feel as strong or weighty as the metal used in high-end phones such as the LG G5 or Apple iPhone. Perhaps Blu used a thinner gauge metal. The glass panel feels good under your thumb and is fitted into the frame with care. The phone is assembled tightly and the fit and finish are fine.
Due to its size, the Vivo 5 is tough to use one-handed. My thumb can reach only half the display comfortably. I often found myself adjusting my grip to reach the top edge of the screen; Just as often, I used my other hand instead. You should have no trouble carrying the phone around. It slips into pockets with ease.
I like the clean and simple front surface of the phone. The screen fills the majority of the front, but there are generous bezels above and below the display. A small, metal screen covers the hole cut into the glass for the earpiece speaker. A camera and sensor are visible on either side of the grille. Blu decided to go with hardware buttons, so you'll note three capacitive keys (multitask, home, back) below the display. I didn't have any trouble using these keys.
Blu put the volume toggle and screen lock key on the right edge of the phone. These controls are slim, but their profiles are raised enough to make them easy to find and use. I was pleased with travel and feedback of both. There's a card tray tucked into the left edge of the Vivo 5. It can hold either two SIM cards, or one SIM card and a micro SD memory card. The tray will accept either micro or nano SIM cards, which gives you some flexibility. The headset jack is on top.
The Vivo 5 includes a USB Type-C port for charging and data transfer. The Type-C port is appealing because it is reversible (easier to use), quick at pushing data, and can send power in both directions. However, Type-C cords and accessories are still a rare commodity and have not yet become commonplace. The Vivo 5's speaker is also placed in the bottom edge of the phone.
Like most all-metal phones, the Vivo 5 is sealed up. The back panel cannot be removed and the battery is snugly entombed within. The rear surface is mostly uniform metal, with the exception of plastic panels at the top and bottom, for the antennas. Those panels are almost the same color as the metal, but not quite.
The Vivo 5 is well-designed and well-made.
Blu gave the Vivo 5 a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen. I was worried the large panel and mid-range resolution would be a bad pairing, but those fears were unfounded. The Vivo 5's display looks quite good. Your eyes cannot see individual pixels, and on-screen graphics appear sharp. You'll be able to use the phone outdoors as long as you set the brightness up all the way. Colors are accurate, but there's a noticeable blue shift when you tilt the phone side-to-side. That means viewing angles aren't the best. Still, it's a fine screen for a phone in this class.Signal
The Vivo 5 is sold unlocked and is sort of compatible with the networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile (and their prepaid services, Cricket and MetroPCS.) The phone supports LTE bands 2, 4, and 7, which are 1900 MHz, 1700 MHz, and 2600 MHz, respectively. That means no low-band spectrum (700 MHz AKA band 12/17) for either AT&T or T-Mobile. I tested the Vivo 5 on both AT&T and T-Mobile around New York City. On AT&T's network, it found LTE (4G) about half the time and connected to HSPA (3G) the rest of the time. For T-Mobile, the Vivo 5 rarely connected to LTE and instead offered HSPA service the majority of the time I tested it. In other words, don't count on getting a reliable 4G LTE signal with this phone.
On both networks, the Vivo 5 connected most calls on the first dial, but missed calls here and there. Data speeds were below average across the board. I was able to use the phone for simple browsing and checking email or the weather, but more network-intensive operations, such as downloading apps or watching YouTube, varied greatly in performance.
The Vivo 5 performed better overall on AT&T's network in my experience.Sound
I found the Blu Vivo 5 to offer average voice quality. The clarity of voices in the earpiece speaker is pleasing and callers have a warm tone, but the volume levels just aren't good enough. I was forced to keep the volume set all the way up at all times and even then couldn't hear calls in normal places, like the car or outside. The Vivo 5's phone is most usable when indoors. Coffee shops and other public spots overwhelm it quite easily. People I spoke to through the Vivo 5 said I sounded pretty good.
The speakerphone added a layer of distortion over calls that detracted from clarity. Paired with poor volume output, and the speakerphone is all but useless anywhere other than a quiet spot.
The ringers and alerts are acceptable, but I did miss some calls because the vibrate alert is a bit subtle.Battery
Battery life is one of the Vivo 5's strong points. Blu somehow jammed a 3,150 mAh battery into the phone's slender profile and it delivers big time. The phone consistently pushed from breakfast to bedtime with power to spare. The battery often had 30% or 40% capacity left at the end of the day, even with moderate to heavy usage and the screen brightness cranked up. It really performs quite well and should deliver enough juice for most users.
The Vivo 5 has limited power management tools. You can choose to enable "standby intelligent power saving" if you want. This cools off background processes when the phone is not being used. That's about it.
The phone supports rapid charging, but not wireless charging. It was able to go from 30% to 100% in just over an hour.
The Vivo 5's secondary radios did their job without complaint.
The Bluetooth radio let me pair the phone with headsets, speakers, PCs, and my car. Voice calls sounded OK through a headset, but pretty bad in my car. The quality of music playback was below average; I've heard much better.
Google Maps worked hand-in-hand with the Vivo 5's GPS radio to locate me swiftly and accurately. The phone often pinpointed me in just a few seconds, with accuracy as good as 20 feet. The Vivo 5 worked great as a navigation device and search tool for unearthing nearby spots of interest.
The WiFi radio didn't give me any trouble at all. The Vivo 5 doesn't have NFC.
The Vivo 5 adopts a new, more aggressive user interface skin than we've seen on Blu phones to date. That means the lock screen and home screen experience is a bit different.
A quick press of the screen lock button will wake the screen, which places a fat, digital clock at the bottom and notifications in the middle. As on most Android phones, you can control how much detail is shared by notifications. Dismissing them requires but a swipe. The lock screen allows you to access the full notification tray, as well as the control center, if you want. There are no app shortcuts.
Blu didn't include any fancy gestures or motions for waking the phone up, and it doesn't include a fingerprint sensor. Security options run the typical, which means PIN, pattern, password are available.
Interestingly, the Vivo 5 has facial recognition software so you can use your face to unlock the phone. It took a bit of time to train the phone, but eventually I was able to successfully unlock the Vivo 5 by staring at the user-facing camera. This method works, but is way slower than a password, pattern, or PIN. Also, Blu points out that it is inherently less secure than a password, and can be tricked by people who look like you. In other words, consider reserving face unlock for a party trick.
I do like that the Vivo 5 has a guest mode, which lets you hand the device over to a kid without fear of them sending weird emails to your boss.
The Vivo 5 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop, but Google's UI is covered up by Blu's skin. Blu's take on the Android home screen drops the app drawer. This seems to be a growing trend among Android skins.
The phone has three home panels active out of the box. The left-most panel is the "home" screen and is where you'll see a Google search bar, weather widget, and some core apps. The following two panels are filled with preloaded apps. There is no app drawer, so all of your apps are on a home screen, similar to iOS. Users can rearrange the home screen panels however they wish. It supports folders, widgets, screen transitions, and so on.
The other big change to the UI is how Blu treats the Quick Settings panel. On the majority of Android handsets, the Quick Settings panel is accessed from the notification shade, which drops down from the top of the screen. Blu put the Quick Settings panel at the bottom of the screen, similar to Control Center in iOS. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access control toggles, brightness settings, and a few key apps, such as flashlight and calculator. My one gripe with this setup is that I often found myself pressing the capacitive home button when I intended to swipe up to reveal the Quick Settings menu.
I love that Blu gave the Vivo 5 a fake phone call app. The app is located in the Quick Settings panel and can be activated swiftly. The app counts down 15 seconds and then rings the device. In other words, Blu will help you make a quick exit from an awkward conversation with that creep who lives in your building.
The settings tools are simple to digest and let you take control of the phone's various features. One thing worth pointing out: because the phone supports two SIM cards, you can customize how incoming calls alert the device. For example, you can set one ringtone for your personal number and a second ringtone for your work number. The same goes for message and email alerts.
The phone is powered by an octa-core MediaTek processor and 3 GB of RAM. The chipset may not be a Snapdragon, but it delivers more than enough grunt to handle the Vivo 5. Not once did the phone feel slow or underpowered. It performed all actions in a blink and didn't give me a bit of trouble. Apps opened quickly, screens transitioned swiftly, and games played smoothly.Camera
I genuinely like the Vivo 5's camera app. There's no shortcut to the camera on the lock screen, but you can open the Quick Settings panel from the lock screen, and a button for the camera is in there. It's not the most elegant solution.
The controls are arranged in a fairly typical manner: the shutter buttons are on the right side of the screen, while settings and other tools are available on the left. The controls make it quite simple to switch between rear and front cameras, toggle the flash on/off, adjust picture size, and adjust other minor behaviors.
Blu gave the Vivo 5 14 different shooting modes: normal, professional, HDR, panorama, night, face beauty, filter, magic focus, take anytime, scan, picnote, GIF, ultra pixel, and smart scene. Many of these modes are self explanatory and work as you expect them to.
The professional mode is robust and allows users to adjust brightness, ISO, white balance, exposure, and focus. You can create exposures up to 14 seconds long, which can be fun to use at night. The “smart scene” and “take anytime” shooting modes are similar in that they adjust dynamically to the subject matter, such as sports, sunsets, landscapes. “Picnote” is for capturing text, while the “ultra pixel” mode takes 5 exposures and overlays them. The “magic focus” tool creates bokeh effects, while “scan” is specifically for barcodes.
Most people will be happy to use the normal shooting mode, which is the default setting and easiest to manage.
What I like about the camera app is its use of color. Most camera apps use white controls on a black background. The Vivo 5's camera app introduces some color to the UI that makes it more cheerful. Moreover, it performs well.
The Vivo 5 has a 13-megapixel camera and it does a very good job. It's not going to rival the likes of today's top flagships, but it outperforms other devices in the low-cost category.
I found the Vivo 5 delivered the best results outdoors. It managed to set exposure, focus, and white balance accurately most of the time; I rarely saw any problems. Perhaps the biggest problem I saw was muted color tones, which means colors didn't pop as much as I wanted them to. The Vivo 5 struggles a bit indoors. Focus becomes softer, colors remain muted, and images start to show grain (see the balloon). Still, I've seen a lot worse at this price point.
The 5-megapixel selfie cam is acceptable, but not great. As is often the case, grain besmirches photos and gives them a hazy appearance.
This phone can capture video up to 1080p HD and the results are about average. I'd be happy sharing the full HD footage I captured with friends and family, but it's not professional grade by a long shot. Focus and exposure were generally spot on, but colors were dull and I saw more grain than I'd like.
Bottom line: the Blu Vivo 5 suffices for everyday imaging and video, but might not cut it for those special moments.
Blu installed a fairly normal assortment of apps on the Vivo 5. Google's core apps are on board, of course, as are some Amazon apps for good measure. Blu gave the Vivo 5 its own music and video player apps, which are perhaps best left for consumer sideloaded content.
The two most interesting apps are called Chameleon and Theme Park. Chameleon helps you customize the colors of your phone. It uses the camera to spot colors in its field of view, for example a red t-shirt or brown desk. It then matches the color, generates a complimentary shade, and redraws the UI skin based on those two shades. It's really quite neat, and the animations are fun.
The Theme Park app is a more direct way to tweak the appearance of wallpapers, themes, clocks, and other personal settings of the phone. Okay, so maybe it's a glorified wallpaper tool, but I like the way it was put together. It's more fun to use than the system settings.
The Vivo 5 smartphone from Blu isn't for everyone. It's an unlocked handset that's only being sold online. While there are a growing number of people who prefer to buy unlocked phones, the Vivo 5's limited support for AT&T and T-Mobile LTE causes me concern. Our phones are little more than paperweights without a network. It's best to think of this as a 3G phone that sometimes gets 4G service as a bonus. If you're accustomed to 4G speeds, that may be a deal-breaker for you.
Blu succeeded in crafting an attractive, slim, and approachable phone. The hardware shoots high above its price tag and the phone is well-made. The screen is average, voice performance is a bit below average, and battery life is above average. The 13-megapixel camera delivers results that match the phone's price tag and mid-range specs, but at least the camera app looks nice.
The Vivo 5 costs about $270 - $300, depending on where you buy it. That's certainly a reasonable price considering all that the phone offers. There are probably better options for US consumers, however, such as the LG G Stylo or even last year's G4, which AT&T and T-Mobile sell now for close to $300.
I'd only recommend the Blu Vivo 5 to those explicitly looking for an unlocked phone that treads a bit off the beaten path.
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What a shame...