Originally Published: August 29, 2018
Update: Best Buy is offering a two-day only sale on the Vivo XI+ which sees the price dropped by $50. The limited time offer is valid on September 8th and 9th and is limited to supplies on hand. Head to your local Best Buy or purchase online and get the phone for $250.
When it comes to smartphones, the term “flagship” is thrown around an awful lot. It seems every 3-6 months you an announcement touting a device as a flagship or flagship killer. And when it comes to Blu, that seems to be the case even more frequently.
In the past Blu would take it rapid fire approach to releasing devices. It would not be uncommon for it to release anywhere from six to eight phones a year. Many of them, sadly, tend to look and sound similar to one another.
As a company who specializes in unlocked devices for GSM phones, Blu tends to focus on the entry-level and mid-range experience. Prices are often a fraction of what you would find in another brand, such as Samsung or LG.
Generally speaking its competitors are usually brands that you’re not too familiar with here in the United States. Sure, its phones can take on the bigger global brands on paper, but in practice it is more akin to “no name” or less recognizable models from overseas.
As a whole, we like the devices that we review from Blu and often find ourselves recommending them for first time users or for customers who need affordable replacements; they make excellent Band-Aid phones, or something to get in a pinch. If you have a young user in your house or are just starting to dabble in smartphones, Blu makes excellent options.
The problem that we run into is that it’s often a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience from the manufacturer. Software updates are never promised and rarely show up.
As longtime smartphone users, we like to focus on security updates and timely patches, and it’s even here where Blu has a so-so track record. What’s more, it has run into its fair share of vulnerabilities and bad press.
All of this leads to a less-than-stellar experience from the phone maker. Despite its best intentions, Blu struggles to break out of its current mold. Looking ahead, things look to be changing for the company.
Today marks the release of Blu’s latest smartphone, the Vivo XI+. Launching with a limited-time price tag of $250, the phone will ultimately stay around $350 when it’s introductory offer expires. It’s not a 24 hour sale but it does have a short time frame.
What can customers expect in the device? You guessed it, another flagship. It arrives on the heels of its predecessor which launched just six months ago, signalling it might not be all that different…
Wait, you’ll want to hear this one out.
What makes the Vivo XI+ so different? For starters there are a number of firsts in this phone. But, before we get into the hardware let’s talk about the new path ahead for Blu.
Slow Things Down
Rather than launching with many devices and flooding the market with confusing and overlapping options, Blu is opting to slow its pace. What’s more, it is taking a strategic approach to software updates and is even making promises. Indeed, this phone comes with the company’s first promised Android update.
One only need look at the recent statement from its CEO to see that Blu understands where it can do better. Assuming things go the way they hope, the horizon looks good for the brand.
VIVO XI+ Impressions
When you look at the hardware on this phone, one finds that it matches up nicely with devices that tend to run a good $700 or more. As we’ve seen from Blu time and again, this unlocked phone works with GSM carriers and features an incredible amount of bang for the buck. Things are no different for the 11th generation of the flagship line.
- MediaTek Helio P60 with AI Technology 2.0GHZ Octa Core Processor
- 64GB/128GB internal storage (with microSD slot up to 128GB)
- 6GB RAM
- Android 8.1 Oreo
- 6.2-inch display with 19:9 and 18:9 aspect ratio (1080 x 2246 pixels)
- Dual rear cameras (16-megapixel, 5-megapixel)
- 16-megapixel front-facing camera
- Fingerprint sensor
- 3,050mAh battery
- USB Type C
- Wireless Charging
- 4G LTE: 1/2/3/4/7/12/13/17/28/66
That’s quite a bit of heavy hitting hardware to be sure. And, that’s not really painting the whole picture. There’s a few things going on here that aren’t super obvious when reading bullet points.
As indicated above, this phone launches with Android 8.1 Oreo, the most recent version widely available. Very few others offer Android 9 Pie so it’s nice to see Blu keeping pace with the big brands. According to the phone maker, the Vivo XI+ will see its Android 9 update at some point in the first quarter of 2019.
With a window of around six months to work with it’s not too bad. It could definitely be better but we suspect it will still beat other phones with an update.
The review unit provided to us by Blu looks to be the same as what consumers will purchase. To that end, this does mark the first time one of its phones came shrink-wrapped in the box. We didn’t see anything inside all that different from previous phones, but we did take notice.
Inside we find the standard fare of Blu pieces and parts. In addition to the phone you’ll get a protective carry case (that matches the box), an already applied screen protector, sticker, SIM key, charger and cable, 3.5mm earbuds, and an adapter.
Although there is no headphone jack on the Vivo XI+, Blu throws in the adapter so you can plug into your car stereo or, of course, the included headphones. Otherwise, feel free to pair your Bluetooth earbuds and rock out.
Constructed from a solid metal body with a curved back design, the Vivo XI+ looks and feels like a solid experience. There’s a good amount of heft to the phone, but we would expect that when we’re approaching small tablet-sized displays and these materials. One glance signals to us that the phone is to be taken seriously.
Powered on we see that Blu has opted to go the same route as nearly every other phone maker. Yes, there’s a “notch” on the display. Not to worry, though, you can toggle it on and off with a simple swiping down gesture from the top left. In essence you can go from 19:9 aspect ratio to 18:9.
You have to look closely to see that there is screen up near the top edge. When not in use you get an image that resembles more traditional smartphone designs. It’s really a matter of opinion and personal preference as to whether the notch works or is necessary.
Internally, we here at AndroidGuys are pretty mixed when it comes to the idea and day-to-day usage. To us, at least, it’s fairly easy to get used to both experiences in the Blu Vivo XI+.
The power button and volume rocker are located to the right side of the display, which is typical for most phones. Across to the left side is where one finds the microSD card and dual SIM card trays.
On the bottom edge of the handset we see the USB Type C port flanked by speaker grilles. We’ve seen Blu dabble with this charging port in other models but it has yet to fully commit to it. Here’s hoping the new direction means a standard approach to devices.
The fingerprint reader is found on the back in the upper center of the phone. It’s right about where your finger wants to fall naturally, but we may have liked for to be just a smidge bigger or maybe even a little more of a pronounced edge. We can find it without looking — but it sometimes blends in a bit too well.
There are two cameras, which are stacked on top of each other, on the rear left of the phone. Below them is the LED flash. We like having these away from this fingerprint reader if only because we’d hate to run our finger across it when blindly unlocking.
If you’ve read our reviews on Blu before, you know we like the experience. It’s a nearly unadulterated version of Android and doesn’t have very much in the way of pre-installed apps. There are usually a couple added but they’re not the invasive carrier-branded stuff you get from wireless providers.
The Vivo XI+ is exactly what we expected: lean and mean Android with a touch of custom Blu flourishes and a sprinkling of apps. The model we received came with Opera, NextRadio, Amazon Prime Video, Wish, and Amazon Shopping.
The first two had icons on the home screen and could not be directly uninstalled; the other three could be uninstalled completely. For what it’s worth disabling NextRadio and Opera ultimately results in them being removed from the phone.
There’s also a couple of smaller apps like Blu Help, Compass, and Data Clone (new phone setup), Torch (flashlight), SIM Toolkit, Sound Recorder, Video Player, Music Player, Notes, and File Explorer. Unfortunately, you can’t remove these or disable them. Thankfully, they are lightweight and take up next to zero space. All in all, it sounds worse than it really is and it definitely beats a bunch of games and apps selected by the carrier.
In terms of Google apps, the gang’s all here. Look for Google, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Play Music, Play Movies & TV, Photos, Messages, YouTube, and Duo.
We’ve had our unit for approximately ten days as we readied our review. In that time we’ve installed nearly all of the software that we use on a daily basis. Given the hardware we felt no reason it couldn’t meet our demands. To that end we loaded up multiple accounts, and a handful of apps, and games.
We tried as much as possible to use the phone as a “daily driver” over the time we had the review unit. There were times where it did stay back for a few hours while we took a different model with us, but we didn’t mind coming back to it at all.
After living with so many different phones over the years we come to appreciate certain things over time. Take wireless charging, for instance. Once you get used to doing it, you tend to not want to go back. In previous Blu models we couldn’t do this; going from a more feature-rich flagship to other Blu devices left us missing the option.
The same goes for USB Type C. Yes, we still have plenty of reasons for microUSB ports and chargers in 2018, but we don’t rely on it for our phones. Those cables have been replaced either outright or with a wireless dock. It’s nice to see Type C if for no other reason than us not having to swap out car chargers and other cables.
The Vivo XI+ also comes with a few other goodies baked in, too. The Real 3D Face ID lets you unlock your phone using your face. Blu indicates that you can’t trick it with photos, masks, or “even wax sculptures”, adding that its IR sensor aids in detection in all light conditions, including total darkness.
Setting this feature up only takes a couple of moments and it really makes for a hassle-free unlocking experience. We found it to be not only fast and accurate, but true to its promise. There were no instances where we couldn’t get it to register, regardless of environmental light.
It didn’t really matter what apps or games we played as the phone handled the duties in stride. Hopping from one app to another didn’t yield any delays and there were no noticeable lags or stutters.
You can say that an octa-core 2.0Ghz processor doesn’t stack up on paper and be right. But, in practice, you have to run benchmark tests and really look for the differences. Coupled with 6GB RAM, there’s enough horsepower in the Blu Vivo XI+ to qualify the phone as more than capable for demanding users.
There are a handful of gestures and settings that help you really tailor the experience around your personal preferences. It’s not unlike what Motorola offers in that it’s helpful stuff if you want to use it. There’s nothing that is vital to set up; however, playing with stuff like navigation settings, display notch, camera options, and Face ID can make the phone feel like “yours”.
The phone boasts a dual camera setup on the back, which is “powered by AI technology” for smarter and better pictures. With a 16-megapixel main camera, it has an F/2.0 aperture, 1/3 inch sensor and 5P lens. The 5-megapixel secondary shooter is what captures your depth of field and is what’s responsible for the blurred backgrounds in portrait shots.
The Vivo XI+ focuses on its subject quickly thanks to the Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) with Laser Focus. Pictures, even those in taken with filters or additional settings, are captured quickly and accurately.
To be perfectly honest, one of the main reasons we would leave the phone at home in favor of the daily driver (Pixel 2) is because we know what we’re getting in the camera. After having spent most of a year with that one we didn’t want to take a chance on missing out on key moments with a goofy camera app or experience.
Over the last two weeks, though, our anxiety over this has eased. Each time we pick it up and play with the camera we like it more and more. We’re more confident now that we can take it out and capture candid moments and look forward to really using it over the next few weeks.
With that said, the pictures we’ve taken so far have been solid. The color is accurate and they’re crisp and vibrant. Playing with the different shooting modes is pretty intuitive, giving us pretty much what we could hope for in the end results.
We expected the phone to struggle more in lower lighting if only because of price and previous experience. Blu did well here, providing sensors that capture more light than in its predecessors. It will be fun to figure out where the line is on the Vivo XI+ and learning where its capabilities end.
If you’re on T-Mobile, AT&T, or one of their respective prepaid networks and don’t care about whether your phone has a major brand name, this is an excellent place to start. As an unlocked phone, the Vivo XI+ is compatible with GSM networks [4G LTE (1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/28/66), 3G (850/900/1800/1900), and HSPA (850/900/1700/1900/2100) ]. Like other Blu models, this one comes with support for two SIM cards so feel free to mix and match, especially if you travel.
There may be more exotic or sexier models out there, but you could pay double for that experience. Moreover, we tend to protect our phones with cases, often hiding a glamorous finish or fancy flourishes. When that happens, it’s pretty much a level playing field on the front.
Unfortunately it’s all to easy to look at devices for what they don’t have as opposed to what they do have. After nearly two weeks with the Vivo XI+ we’ve come to like it quite a bit, finding it more in line what we want from a phone.
The things we didn’t love in its predecessor are pretty much addressed and it falls within about $50 of its price. If it’s a case of fixing the little stuff that bothered us, Blu did very well.
We often recommend that anyone considering a first Android phone start with something in the middle of the pack. This way you can figure out whether they want, or need, more later on. Luckily for today’s buyers, the mid-range is more than strong enough to handle daily needs.
You’re going to have a tough time beating this phone’s specs at this price, at least from a brand you’ve heard of before. If you’re looking for a phone for T-Mobile or AT&T in the US, start here and work your way out. Likewise for those overseas considering something new for Orange Vodafone, O2, or other GSM carriers.
It’s a fantastic phone at $350 and an even better buy if you’re an early adopter.
We’re optimistic about the future of Blu, especially if it delivers on its new promises. If it can meet the self-imposed deadline for Android 9, and slow down on the sibling releases, then it will be doing well for itself.
Throwing stuff at the wall so many times a year likely has a negative effect. If it wants us to think its phones are special, it needs to take a more measured approach. There’s nothing wrong with a couple of annual releases but they ought to be spread out across various lines. Here’s hoping that’s what is in store for us.
The Blu Vivo XI+ is available from Amazon at launch with an introductory, limited time price of $250. This is a $100 off the standard retail cost and is subject to available stock. After the short window Blu will set the price to its everyday sticker of $350. Sold in Midnight Black and Chrome Silver, it comes with free shipping, too.