Review: Blu Life One X2 Mini
This inexpensive, unlocked Android smartphone is smaller than its predecessor and yet better in many ways. The Blu Life One X2 Mini is a fine little phone for those who prefer or need to change networks often. It runs Marshmallow and manages to include a 5-inch, full HD screen, Snapdragon processor, and 13-megapixel camera for less than two Benjamins. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.
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Is It Your Type?
The Blu Life One X2 Mini is a smaller, slightly less-expensive version of the One X2. It also reins in the specs a bit, but not enough to impact performance in an overly negative way. The One X2 Mini is a low-cost Android handset that aims high with a stylish design and premium features. If you prefer cheap, unlocked smartphones, it's another option to weigh.
Blu did an admirable job bringing a metal-and-glass design to the One X2 Mini, which is almost indistinguishable, visually, from its larger brother. The Mini is a compact handset that merges classy looks with mid-range specs. It could easily be mistaken for a more expensive handset.
Black or white glass forms the front surface of the X2 Mini and it's curved very slightly along the edges to help smooth out how it feels. The rear of the phone is made from a metal shell that wraps around and forms the side edges. It comes in dark gray, gold, or rose gold with a matte finish that I rather like. Shiny, reflective bands run from side-to-side across the top and bottom edges. These bands separate the metal portion of the rear shell from plastic end caps. The plastic is color-matched to the metal fairly well. Other metal accents help break up the front and back surfaces. Overall, the X2 Mini has a conservative, upscale design. It's definitely stylish enough for the club on a Saturday night.
The X2 Mini's 5.0-inch screen is just 0.2 inches smaller than that of the X2. The smaller diagonal helped Blu reduce the Mini's footprint a few millimeters in each dimension. It helps. To give you a frame of reference, the X2 Mini is about the exact same size as a Samsung Galaxy S7, or just slightly wider than an iPhone 7. I found the X2 Mini very easy to hold and use with one hand; the size and weight is really nice. People with smaller hands should find the X2 Mini comfortable to use for long periods of time. The phone will fit in most pockets without issue.
The phone feels much better to me than the original thanks to the rear panels, which decidedly feel like quality, solid metal. Moreover, the sharp edges I encountered on the original have been smoothed out. The result of these two changes is a much more enjoyable phone to hold and use. The glass panel on the front is quite nice. The X2 Mini is put together well. I found no gaps in the chassis or between panels. It's clearly manufactured with care.
Our X2 Mini review unit is rose gold, which comes with a white face. That means most of the functional elements stand out plainly; an LED flash, chrome earpiece grille, user-facing camera, and sensor module are all visible in the bezel above the screen. These elements would be harder to see on the dark gray model, which has black glass. The chrome-rimmed fingerprint sensor below the display is easy to spot. I'm surprised the accent is flashy silver and not rose gold like the rest of the phone's accents. Why the mismatch, Blu? The sensor doubles as a home button. Travel and feedback are just okay; it requires a lot of travel to get it to react. You can also set the button to act like a trackpad. (This feature is turned off by default.) There are no other buttons on the front, as the X2 Mini uses software controls for interacting with the user interface.
The side edges of the X2 Mini have a pleasing rounded profile. (The X2 Mini does away with the uncomfortably sharp lip of the X2.) The totally smooth shape is much more friendly to your hand. The screen lock key and volume toggle are on the right. These buttons have good profiles, making them a cinch to find without looking. Travel and feedback is good. The SIM and memory card tray is on the left edge. The X2 Mini supports either two nano SIM cards, which means you can have two accounts/numbers associated with the phone if you want, or one SIM and one microSD card. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on top and the microUSB (no USB-C) port is on the bottom.
Blu pressed the rear panel's metal into a nice shape. The phone is at its thickest in the middle and tapers a bit towards the sides. As mentioned above, the metal accents, metal shell, and plastic end caps all work well together. The Mini's rear shell is sealed on tight. That means the X2 Mini doesn't provide any sort of access to the battery.
The Blu Life One X2 Mini may be smaller than its older brother, but it's mightier, thanks to some smart design tweaks.
The X2 Mini's screen measures 5.0 inches across the diagonal and includes full HD resolution. I was pleased with the sharpness and clarity of text, icons, and so on. It's hard to go wrong with this size/resolution. The LCD panel puts out plenty of light for indoor use, but outdoor viewability could be better. Viewing angles are average; I didn't see a color shift when tilting the phone around, but the brightness drops pretty significantly. It's more than adequate for a sub-$200 phone.
Blu sells the X2 Mini unlocked. The phone is compatible with LTE Bands 2, 4, 7, 12, and 17, which means it works with AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/MetroPCS. It would be nice if it supported bands 5, 29, 30, and 66, but these aren't essential for basic connectivity. I tested the X2 Mini on AT&T's network in and around New York City. The phone performed about on par with other unlocked phones I've evaluated in recent months. Phone calls connected on the first attempt, and the X2 Mini didn't miss any calls nor drop any (even at highway speeds).
Data speeds were fine, but not the fastest I've seen. I didn't run in any issues with standard comm apps, like email or social networks. Streaming music via Spotify and video via YouTube worked best if I dialed back the quality a bit.
The X2 Mini is an average voice phone. The earpiece delivers plenty of volume for use in and around your home or office. You do have to turn it all the way up to hear calls in a moving car or on city streets. Voice clarity ranges from decent to very good. I heard some distortion on occasion, though the majority of calls were clear. People I spoke to through the X2 Mini said I sounded good.
The speakerphone is not quite as loud as I hoped. I had no trouble hearing speakerphone calls at home, but in the car or walking around New York City required me to crank it. Music, ringers, and alerts can all be loud enough to get your attention. The vibrate alert is powerful enough to get your attention when the phone is in your pants, but not when it is in a winter jacket pocket.
The X2 Mini's smaller screen doesn't do enough to offset the 25% drop in battery capacity when compared to the X2. The 2,300 mAh power cell in the Mini is just barely adequate. It gets the phone from breakfast to bedtime, but with no power to spare. It's always gasping for breath before my last TV show of the evening runs out. That's under light usage. Toss in any battery-draining activities such as gaming or YouTube and the phone will be more apt to konk out just after dinner.
Thankfully the X2 Mini supports rapid charging via Quick Charge 3.0. Plug the phone in for just 30 minutes and you'll net a huge 80% charge. Even better, the phone includes a fast charger in the box.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
I saw perfectly normal performance from the X2 Mini's Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi radios over the course of a week.
The X2 Mini's Bluetooth radio has no trouble finding and connecting to other nearby device. Calls made via my car's hands-free system worked perfectly and sounded pretty decent. Music sounded just so-so via my favorite pair of headphones. The WiFi worked well.
The phone's GPS radio was consistent. It was able to find me in about 10 seconds and resolved my location to within about 20 feet. It didn't exhibit any lag or speed issues when used as a real-time navigation device.
The X2 Mini doesn't have NFC.
The X2 Mini has a fairly traditional Android experience, and that includes the lock screen.
A quick press of the screen lock button will wake the screen, which places a digital clock in the middle of the display with notifications lined up underneath. 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 shade, as well as the Quick Settings tools. There are shortcuts to the phone and the camera apps in the lower corners of the lock screen.
Security options run the typical, which means PIN, pattern, password are available. The fingerprint sensor is a cinch to train and it worked quickly enough. (It's not as fast as the fingerprint readers on today's flagships, but it's fine for this price range.)
The X2 Mini carries over some of Blu's neat fingerprint-based features. For example, you can secure specific files with your fingerprint, or assign custom actions for your different fingerprints. This lets you choose to have the phone unlock with your thumb, but call your mom with your index finger, for example. The tools are easy to use and configure.
The X2 Mini runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Blu's light-touch user interface skin. (Some Blu models come with a heavier skin.)
Users can rearrange the home screen panels however they wish. The home screens support folders, widgets, animated screen transitions, and so on. The phone has two home panels active out of the box. The first is basically empty and the second contains most of the phone's preloaded apps.
This is odd, since an app drawer sits in the four-icon dock at the bottom of the screen. When opened, the X2 Mini's app drawer lines apps up alphabetically and allows you to search through them. It's not a traditional app drawer, per se, but it's better than no app drawer at all. (Seriously, it looks like a bad chart).
The Android Quick Setting panel slides down from the top as expected. The toggles adopt Blu's custom icon shapes, but this doesn't impact usability.
The Settings tools are standard Android. One thing worth pointing out: because the phone supports two SIM cards, you can customize how incoming calls on the two lines alert the device. For example, you can set one ringtone for your personal number and a different ringtone for your work number.
The phone is powered by a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 430 processor. It comes with either 2 or 4 GB of RAM depending on which model you select. I strongly suggest you pick the 4 GB model. The 430 delivers more than enough power to run the X2 Mini smoothly. Not once did the phone feel slow or underpowered. I tested the 4 GB model, which almost certainly helped.
There's no dedicated camera button, nor are there any trick shortcuts to open the camera. That means the lock screen shortcut is by far the quickest way to launch the camera app. It opens quickly enough.
The controls are arranged in a fairly typical manner with the shutter buttons on the right side of the screen. Swipe the viewfinder up to access all the settings and swipe the viewfinder down to access the shooting modes. Swipe either left or right to switch to the selfie camera.
The X2 Mini has 8 different shooting modes: normal, professional, HDR, panorama, night, face beauty, sports, and smart frame. Many of these modes are self explanatory and work as you expect them to.
The professional mode is mostly robust and allows users to adjust focus, exposure (brightness), ISO (speed), white balance, sharpness, and saturation. You can't set your own shutter speed, which means no creative night shots. The smart frame tool is kind of fun. It puts a picture you've taken into a frame, such as a mirror, laptop screen, TV screen, or billboard advertisement.
Most people will be happy to use the normal shooting mode, which is the default setting and easiest to manage. A quick tap of the screen will set focus and exposure, which I appreciate.
Changing most settings requires at least two steps. I dislike this. At a minimum, the flash and HDR tool should be directly accessible from the main viewfinder. They aren't. I do like that the settings tool is an array of icons rather than a boring list, but using the icons to make changes requires lots of pressing, diving into sub-menus, and pressing again. I prefer tools that cycle through a few options rather than ask me to consider a dozen all at once.
The camera app is a little on the slow side, particularly when it comes time to focus and capture pictures. Low light really can stymie the camera's ability to focus, which delays the picture-capturing process even more. I'm not talking lots of time here, but enough for me to notice.
The X2 Mini has a 13-megapixel sensor. It holds its own for a sub-$200 phone.
Images are generally sharp and white balance is mostly on-point. Look at the snow in the sample shots below. (Exposure is a little bit inconsistent, but shooting in sunlight with snow is often challenging.) I noticed a fair amount of grain in photos taken in low light. The selfie flash helps the 8-megapixel front camera little when taking photos in darker spaces. A little know-how in professional mode goes a long way with a phone such as the X2 Mini.
As for the 1080p HD video I shot, the X2 Mini produced usable results as long as there is plenty of light. I found footage of my kids' indoor games was a bit grainy, but footage of their outdoor practices was cleaner.
I probably wouldn't use the X2 Mini as my primary imaging device, though it suffices for simpler, spur-of-the-moment stuff. I'd say it's a small step up from the One X2.
At $180, the Blu One X2 Mini is a better value than the larger One X2, and yet it's hard to reconcile against what's available from even the prepaid carriers on a dollar for dollar basis.
I appreciate Blu's attention to detail, which shows in the X2 Mini's hardware. The phone has a pleasing design and build, a good screen, good voice quality, and good radio performance. The battery life is perhaps the weakest aspect of the hardware, and it may be a dealbreaker for some at just barely a full day.
The software is as minimal as you can expect to see on a modern Android device. Moreover, the Snapdragon 430 processor gives the phone all the power it needs. The camera app works reasonably well and the X2 Mini turns out surprisingly good images to boot.
Given the phone's compatibility with Cricket and Metro, it's only fair to compare the One X2 Mini to what's available on store shelves from those prepaid carriers. Cricket, for example, offers the excellent Alcatel Idol 4 with a VR headset for the same $180 price asked by Blu for the X2 Mini.
The Blu One X2 Mini's biggest strengths are its support for dual SIM cards and easy one-handed use. If you need an unlocked phone that offers those features, then perhaps the X2 Mini is exactly what you need. Everyone else should probably stick with carrier phones.
Mar 17, 2017
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