BLU, America’s top brand in unlocked phones, is back with another entry in the low-mid range market. This time, they’re bringing us the BLU VIVO 8L – a 5.3 inch, 720p, octa-core MediaTek device that’s running Android 7.0 that can be had for only $149. I’ve been pleased with BLU phones in the past. Read on to find out if this fits the rule or is the exception.

 

DESIGN

There’s no denying that the VIVO 8L is an attractive phone. The VIVO 8L is an all-black affair. Black bezels, black metal back, black fingerprint reader, and black embossed BLU logo. There are no other colors available. The front glass tapers off slightly and the back of the phone is gently rounded so that there are no hard edges. It’s handsome and quite comfortable to hold.

BLU VIVO 8L

Down below the screen you’ll find capacitive buttons in the task/home/back Samsung configuration. I found the buttons to be responsive and easy to use. I’m in love with the fingerprint gestures on the newer Motorola phones but I’ll take capacitive over on-screen buttons any day just for the extra screen real estate.

The power button and volume rocker are along the right side of the device, in what has become a standard configuration. There’s a microUSB port along the bottom as well as a 3.5 mm headphone jack. I’m ready for these lower-tier devices to move to USB-C but I understand why they don’t. Most of these phones are rebranded versions of phones from China or India where price and accessory compatibility are driving concerns. The left side of the phone houses the micro SIM/microSD tray. The phone supports dual SIMs but is somewhat unique in that it supports two SIMs and microSD simultaneously.

Around back you’ll find the primary camera which protrudes slightly and a fingerprint reader. The fingerprint reader is colored to nicely match the rest of the phone – no garish silver ring here. There are shiny black antenna lines and a rear-facing speaker, as well.

BLU VIVO 8L

DISPLAY

The screen on the VIVO 8L is a nicely sized 5.3 inches. I’ve grown accustomed to 5.5 inch phones, but after using the VIVO 8L for a while I think I prefer the slightly smaller screen. The screen is bright enough for everyday use, but not overly so. There are two major display drawbacks, however. The first is the resolution. At only 1280×720 the DPI is a paltry 277. The second is that it is an LCD. I know there will be a minority out there that prefer LCD to AMOLED but I am not one of them. The true blacks and battery savings afforded by AMOLED win me over. When even Apple is abandoning LCD, you know it is time to move on.

All that said, for most the screen will be fine. Especially, I suspect, for buyers looking for sub-$200 phones.

BLU VIVO 8L

PERFORMANCE

Performance is always a concern on budget devices, especially those that sport MediaTek processors. The VIVO 8L runs on the MediaTek MT6753 platform with eight cores clocked at 1.30 GHz. It also has 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage (about 22 GB available). I’m happy to report that the phone performs admirably. Swiping around in the OS and applications is generally smooth and belies the low price. Apps load quickly and the available RAM is plenty for most (all?) current apps at the low resolution. In fact, the only place I notice consistent slowdown is when using the task switcher. It’s a little slow to load. All in all, the phone does a good job.

I ran Geekbenk 4 against the phone and it scores somewhere in the Galaxy S6 and Nexus 6 range. That’s a little better than I expect at this price point and a pleasant surprise.

BLU VIVO 8L

BATTERY

There’s not much to say here except that you can expect the 4,000 mAh non-removable battery to last you all day and then some. At no point did I see the battery dip below 25% after a day’s usage. MediaTek’s quick charging technology is supported and works with the included charger. And standby time is excellent.

SOFTWARE

The software section of BLU phones is usually where things go off the rails a bit. That said, things have gotten better with recent releases. The VIVO 8L ships with Android 7.0 and that’s where it’ll stay, most likely. I’ve never seen a BLU phone receive an OS upgrade. You get what you get. It’s not all bad, though. Android 7.0 is pretty good, still modern (at least it didn’t ship with 6.0) and it performs nicely on this phone.

The launcher on the phone is Launcher3, which is basically the open source version of the old Google Home Launcher. And that’s a good thing, in my book. Too often unlocked phones like this have some generic launcher that tries its best to ape the iPhone and they come off cheap and lame.

The settings menu is custom. It’s sorted and categorized into groupings like Basic Settings and Inteligent Control. Everything makes sense and is easy to find. But is is different than the stock settings menu. The lock screen? Also custom software, but it’s just a lock screen right? Stick your finger on the fingerprint reader and you hardy ever see it anyway. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

So far so good. But then you get to the quick settings. BLU has moved them from the notification shade to a very iPhone-like swipe up from the bottom of the screen. I’m not a fan, but I do think it’s something you’d get used to over time. It’s just that during the review period, I’ve constantly found myself swiping down the notification shade only to realize that the quick settings aren’t there. It’s frustrating.

The real killer, though, are the notifications. The VIVO 8L has one of those notification systems that tries to optimize your notifications. Basically, it hides ongoing notifications like music controls and tries to show you only “useful” notifications. I loathe this kind of system. Maybe its OK for users that never check their notifications and maybe that’s the kind of user that’s going to buy this phone. But I hate it. It’s annoying and frustrating and I never felt like I was seeing everything I should have been.

Apart from the notification system, everything else is pretty good. Miles better than BLU phones of years past.

CAMERA

The camera is about what you’d expect on a phone at this price. It’s a 13 MP shooter with an f2.0 aperture. Well lit pictures come out fine but it struggles in low-light situations. This is basically the same story for any low-budget phone.

The front camera is a huge 20 MP affair with a real flash. It does a fine job. It might be a bit of overkill, but I suspect BLU’s target market is very into selfies.

The camera app is very iPhone like. Swipe left and right to get to video mode, portrait mode, etc. The app is responsive and works well. I can’t say I love the all-out iPhone rip-off of the design but it isn’t the worst camera app I’ve ever used.

CONCLUSION

I didn’t think I was going to like this phone. I went into the review expecting it to be slow and hobbled. But, in reality it’s one of my favorite budget phones. It looks great. The size is excellent. Performance is good. I’d take the VIVO 8L over the Moto E4 any day. The phone can be had unlocked for any GSM carrier for $149 from Amazon for a limited time. There’s no end-date on this sale price but it won’t last long. Jump on it if you are at all interested. It’s definitely worth considering if you are in the market for a budget phone.

SPECIFICATIONS

CPU MediaTek 6753 Octa-Core 1.3 GHz
GPU Mali T720
RAM 3 GB
Internal Storage 32 GB
microSD Support Yes. Up to 64 GB
WiFi 2.4/5 GHz (a/b/g/n)
LTE Frequencies 700, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2600
Battery 4000 mAh
OS Android 7.0
Display 5.3 inches, 1280×720, 277 ppi, Gorilla Glass 3
Main Camera 13 MP with LED flash
Front Camera 20 MP with LED flash
Bluetooth 4.1
NFC No
Fingerprint Sensor Yes, rear