It isn't just the big phone makers that are jumping into the oversize smartphone, or phablet, market. Lesser-known companies are entering the huge-screen scrum too. For example, the $299 Life View from Miami-based handset creator Blu features a 5.7-inch LCD screen that's bright, colorful, and engaging. The device is a handful too, in the same size league as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One Max, and yet isn't terribly unwieldy. It also feels solid and well-crafted. I also appreciate how the Life View serves up Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and a sharp 12-megapixel camera at its affordable unlocked price. Heck, the gadget even has dual SIM card slots if you're into that kind of thing. Of course the smartphone's off-brand processor and lack of LTE leave me cold and are serious negatives for mobile power users.
Measuring 6.3 inches tall by 3.3 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Blu Life View is more than just large, it's gargantuan. Its hefty 7.8-ounce weight also makes the View a hair heavier than the One Max (7.7 ounces), a phone I found to be much too unwieldy. That said, the One Max has slightly bigger dimensions (6.5 inches by 3.2 inches by 0.4 inch), which is part of why the View feels easier to manipulate and operate.
More than just a hybrid of phone and tablet, the Blu Life View blends the design language of two popular handset makers. Seen from the front, the Live View's rounded corners, oval shape, and plastic bezel is the spitting image of multiple Samsung devices, including the Galaxy S4 and oversize Galaxy Mega.
Unlike Galaxy gadgets, though, the View lacks a physical home button. Rather, under the View's huge 5.7-inch screen are three capacitive Android keys. Above the display sit the earpiece, a faint notification light, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Yes, you heard correctly, 5MP and not the typical 2MP- or lower-resolution sensors you'll find on typical Android handsets.
On the top edge is the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack, while the left and right sides house volume and power controls respectively. For charging the phone and and shuttling files between phone and PC there's a Micro-USB port on the View's bottom lip.
The look and feel of the Blu Life View change drastically when you flip it over on its back. The phone's rear side sports a silver metallic surface that in my view is inspired by (or blatantly copies) the HTC One and HTC One Max. The device's back even has One Max/One Mini-style white, grooved accents at its head and foot.
Above the topmost of these ridges is the View's primary imaging system, a 12-megapixel camera with LED flash. You can also remove the plastic panel surrounding the camera to get at a pair of mini-SIM card slots.
The primary motivation for buying a phablet is to have a massive screen in the palm of your hand. With a huge 5.7-inch LCD that's both bright and colorful, the Blu Life View has you covered in that department. While its 720p resolution (1,280x720 pixels) is not as sharp as that of the HTC One Max or Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which both boast full HD sharpness (1,920x1080 pixels), the View nevertheless makes an impression.
Core components and software
The Blu Life View runs on a 1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek processor paired with 1GB of RAM. On face value this mobile computing setup looks decidedly underpowered, especially compared with sexy name-brand Snapdragon chips from dominant smartphone CPU maker Qualcomm.
I'm also not thrilled with the View's lack of an SD card slot since it provides no way to expand its 16GB of onboard storage. By contrast, the HTC One Max and Samsung Note 3 ship with generous amounts of both internal storage (32GB) and RAM (2GB for the One Max, 3GB in the Note 3). Even the Samsung Galaxy Mega is better equipped. Powered by a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 400, the Mega comes with 1.5GB of RAM plus an expansion slot.
Despite my misgivings, the Blu Life View handles its Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system with a decent amount of pep. In the short time I've played with the View, I was able to flip through home screens and open apps without any major delays or hiccups. A quick run of the Quadrant benchmark, however, didn't achieve spectacular results. The phone notched a very low score of 4,092, which is light years behind the
Perhaps the Life View's Jelly Bean OS, which is mostly stock Android though tweaked a tad by Blu, has been optimized for better speed. That could explain the phone's dismal Quadrant performance but apparently smooth operation.
First impressions and outlook
So far I have to say I'm impressed with the overall package the Blu Life View offers. For $299 unsubsidized and unlocked, it offers an acceptably big-screen Android experience at a reasonable price. Even so, the handset isn't without its drawbacks. One is a lack of 4G LTE support for fast data throughput on cellular networks. Another is the View's reliance on what seems to be a pokey and underpowered processor.
Also, while I found the handset's 12MP camera took well-exposed pictures with crisp details, it needed about a second between shots. Still, the camera app does have lots of multiple scene modes such as HDR and Panorama to choose from. Essentially, however, if you can live with its Samsung Galaxy Mega-and-HTC One Max hybrid styling and if having dual SIM capabilities is a must, then the Blu Life View is certainly worth checking out.