There's an interesting line drawn in the sand between smartphone users and smartphone makers: for the longest time, many companies thought users wanted the thinnest, lightest phones on the planet (and for a time, I think they may have actually been right). But now, that's not how it is. Users don't care how thin their phone is most of the time — they just want it to last all damn day. All-day longevity translates in one way when it comes to form factor: thicker and heavier. That's basically the opposite direction the industry was heading up until recently, and now we're finally starting to see large batteries show up in phones.
Earlier this year, Blu jumped on this new trend and released its first phone in the Energy line, the Studio Energy. It was packing a 5,000mAh battery, but otherwise it was underpowered for the most part. Fast-forward to last week, and the company announced two more Energy phones: the Studio Energy 2 and Energy X. As always, I've spent some time with both phones over the past few days — here are my thoughts on each.
Studio Energy 2
The Studio Energy 2 fills a sort of weird gap in Blu's product line, because its specs are sort of a mid-range budget phone. Or something like that. Here's the scoop:
I'm not going say the original Studio Energy was ugly… but it was pretty ugly. I mean, it was really just boring. And you know what? This one is kind of the same thing. It's really just understated and very plain, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's nothing to write home about either. It's a plain slab of a phone — but I do love the size. I miss the days of 5-inch phones.
But also like its predecessor, the Energy 2 is stout. I've come to expect a certain level of build quality from Blu — when compared to the price, the majority of the company's phones are just built so well — and the Energy 2 doesn't leave me wanting anything. The 5,000mAh battery gives the phone some heft, which I kind of like, and everything just fits together exceptionally well. Like with so many other Blu phones lately, even the fact that it has a removable back doesn't take away from the overall quality in my opinion. It's nice.
Speaking of that, beneath the back is where you'll find both microSIM card slots and the microSD card slot, along with the non-removable battery. This is basically becoming the norm for Blu at this point, judging by the last handful of phones I've spent time with from the company. Also, while we're talking about the SIM card slots, it's worth noting here that the E2 does have LTE (thanks to the Mediatek chip). That's good and also kind of sad that I have to point that out — you'd think all phones in 2015 come with LTE. But nope.
Like the rest of the phone, the Studio Energy 2's display isn't anything spectacular. It's not terrible by any means — it's a standard 720p Super AMOLED panel. At this point, most of you probably know what to expect from a SAMOLED display: vibrant colors, dark blacks, and slightly off-white whites. Well, that's exactly what's happening on the Energy 2. Like so many other Blu phones, it's a good-looking display for what it is, especially if you like Super AMOLED panels. I mean, let's be honest, for $180, you're not going to find anything much better.
For what it is, I actually found the Energy 2's camera to be pretty decent — despite being the same megapixel count (8MP) as the Energy X, there's a very noticeable difference between the two. I'd take the E2's camera over the X's any day of the week, but it looks a lot better outdoors. Don't expect too much if you prefer to take pictures indoors — the color reproduction is pretty wretched.
Here are some sample shots for you to look at if you want to.
Good display, decent camera, nice form factor. Those things are only important if the phone can handle what you want to do with it. The Energy 2 is packing a 1.3 GHz quad-core Mediatek 6735 chip, which MT claims is a chip for the "super mid-market." To put things into perspective here, this is a chip made to go head-to-head with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 410 — a chip that most of you know I'm not a big fan of. I just feel like it's underpowered for even the most basic tasks. Fortunately, the 6735 doesn't exhibit the same issues that I've had with the 410; while still nothing to really brag about, it's definitely a faster processor that's much better when it comes to multitasking. For comparison, the Studio Energy 2 scored 626 in Geekbench's single core benchmark and 1813 in the multi-core bench, verses the Vivo Air LTE (with a Snapdragon 410), which got a 478 in the single core bench and 1399 in multi-core.
And that really translates well into real-world use. It's not bloody fast or flagship-level, but it'll get the job done, especially for users who don't require a lot from their phone. When it comes to the Energy 2's limits, they're not defined by the battery or processor, but rather the RAM. This phone only has 1.5GB of RAM, which is just plain weird (read: dumb) to me. Why not go with a full 2GB? Was it really that much more expensive to add a half a gig of RAM here? I honestly can't see how it would be, and 1.5GB is just absurd. I've said it time and time again, but modern versions of Android just don't do well on low-RAM devices, and I don't think 1.5GB is enough to get it to the point where it'll remain usable in the long-term. Sure, it'll handle itself better than a phone with just 1GB, but I'd still much rather see at least 2GB in any phone that's being released in 2015, regardless of price. There's more benchmark stuff below if you're into that. If not, well, you don't have to read that part, I guess.
So here's the interesting thing about the E2's software: it's running Android 5.0. That in itself isn't anything out of the ordinary, but the fact that the lower-end, more affordable Energy X is running 5.1 — anewer version of Android — is a head-scratcher. I can only assume that it's on an older version of Android because of the software layer on the phone; you know, the same one that we've seen on a ton of other Blu phones. The one that makes no sense to me. Yeah, that one.
Basically, it's the exact same thing that's running on the Pure XL. Android, but uglier. Skinned for the sake of being skinned. The settings menu has been "reorganized" in a way that makes little sense to me, and the whole overall feel of this skin is just tiring. The more I use it, the less I like it. Fortunately, a custom launcher (Nova, in this case) goes a long way in making things feel good again, and I don't spend a lot of time in the settings menu anyway. So it's skinned, but not heavily. It could be a lot worse, and while I don't necessarily like the skin, I don't hate it either. I just prefer stock.
As it sits, though, the Energy 2 isn't a bad phone, and it's a nice upgrade from the original Energy 2 (which is only some eight months old at this point). It's faster, has slightly more RAM, and runs a newer version of Android. Honestly, it's probably worth the upgrade if you're running the original Energy and just want something new. Otherwise, it would make a nice secondary or backup phone, especially if you need something that will provide a crap-ton of juice for whatever reason. Example: I carried the E2 as my secondary phone while testing it out. When I needed navigation, I threw it in the phone mount and fired up Maps. No charger needed — I just let it do its thing. Worked beautifully, saved the battery in my N6, and I still didn't have to charge it for a couple of days. 5,000mAh is a lot of battery.
But maybe you don't need 5,000mAh or want to pay $180 for a backup/secondary phone. For that, there's the Energy X.
OK, so maybe the Studio Energy 2 just isn't your thing. Maybe it's the software layer. Maybe it's the capacitive navigation buttons. Maybe it's some other third thing that I didn't think of just now. Maybe you're just interested in the other phone in this hands-on.
To be honest, I actually think this one is more interesting, even if only slightly.
Of the two phones, I definitely like the look of the Energy X better — it easily stands out in Blu's lineup as different. The two color-matched bars on the top and bottom of the front remind me of older HTC hardware, which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing. It's nice to see something other than a black slab for once.
Outside of that, however, it's a pretty basic phone. It has buttons and ports and cameras and whatnot…all the stuff you'd expect. While the back looks segmented, the entire thing is actually removable, and it's a surprisingly solid piece of plastic (compared to other recent Blu phones, anyway). At first blush the 4,000mAh battery looks removable, too, but upon further inspection I realized that it's not. Bummer…I guess.
Like the Energy 2, the X is a very sturdy, well-built phone. Since the battery is smaller, it's not quite as heavy, but other than that I'd say the two are very comparable when it comes to build quality — nothing really bad to say about either.
While form factor and build quality between the two Energy phones are similar, things start to change when you compare the displays. Where the E2 has a Super AMOLED panel, the X doesn't, and it shows. Colors aren't nearly as vibrant. Black aren't as dark. Whites and grays are a little more pleasant on the eyes, but otherwise the X2's SAMOLED display is just an overall better panel. But I kind of expect that from the more expensive phone anyway. It's not a bad display — especially not on a $109 phone — it's just not as good as the other phone, that's all.
And the camera is kind of the same story. Here are some sample shots, many of the identical to the ones I took with the E2 (for comparison). Like I said earlier, it's not hard to tell which camera is better:
You know how I said I prefer the look of the Energy X? Well, the same goes for software. Despite being the lower-end phone in basically every way, it's actually running a newer (and cleaner) version of Android: where the Energy 2 is on 5.0, the Energy X is running 5.1. I just don't understand what's going on here.
Aside from that, it's also stock 5.1. None of that weird white and orange menu crap here — all stock Android, all the time. I love it. Also, since it's just stock Android, I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about it. Throw a different launcher on here (it's running the AOSP launcher out of the box) and you've got a damn good experience. Android the way it was meant to be.
But don't expect it to be great all the time — this is basically a hundred-dollar phone, after all. The processor — a 1.3GHz quad-core Mediatek 6580 — just falls short when compared to the Energy 2's 6735. It's 32 bit, doesn't include support for LTE, and is just generally slower, both in benchmarks and real-world use. For example, you might as well plan on just giving up if you want to install app updates and do other things at the same time; not only is the processor performance not as good, but the write speed to the internal storage is also slower (according to AnTuTu, the X gets a meager 549 in storage I/O, where the E2 gets 1967). It basically makes the system unusable when there's a lot going on in the background.
All that said, I don't think the Energy X is a bad phone most of the time. It's snappy enough when apps aren't being installed, and I actually didn't have any other issues with it when I carried it as my secondary phone. It responded quickly every time I needed it to — like during the camera tests. Despite things being written to storage, when I snapped the sample shots back to back with the E2, there wasn't a notable difference in speed between the two. The same goes for simple tasks like checking Google Now, searching locations in Maps, and checking social media. For all intents and purposes, this phone worked very well for simple tasks that users interested in $100 phones would want to do.
If you're looking for all-day (or multi-day) battery life for less than a couple hundred bucks, these new Energy phones from Blu are the way to go. While each of them have their own set of drawbacks, they're both pretty good overall — especially for the money. A 4,000mAh battery, decent display, and acceptable performance for just a little more than $100? That's crazy — I remember when you could barely get a 4,000mAh battery pack for $100. Much less an entire phone.
If you want to spend a bit more, the Studio Energy 2 is clearly the better phone for the most part, with the skinned settings menu and fact that it's running 5.0 being the clear drawbacks. Otherwise, for just $70 more than the Energy X, it's a lot more phone: better camera, faster processor, and another half gigabyte of RAM. It's worth the extra money in my opinion.
But honestly, they're both easily worth the money you'd spend on them. Whether you want a backup/secondary phone in case something goes wrong with your daily driver, are looking for something that will keep you juiced for a weekend in the woods, or just need an inexpensive phone for whatever other reason, these are two phones that I'd probably throw on the list and at least considering. You probably won't find a better price to battery life ratio anywhere else.