If you've never heard of Blu Products, we don't blame you. We first encountered the Miami-based manufacturer at CTIA this spring, which was the company's first U.S. tech show, we learned. Blu only popped onto the scene in 2009 and sells most of its handsets in Latin America, with limited U.S. distribution. The entry-level Tango is an Android 2.2 world phone with all the usual Froyo fixings, including voice search and mobile hot-spot capability for up to five devices. Blu bills the Tango as "your first Android phone," and indeed, while the tiny 2.8-inch resistive touch screen and 600MHz processor will disappoint Android devotees with its combination of sluggishness and poor design, it may still appeal to newcomers who absolutely must have an affordable, unlocked Android device. The Tango comes in black and white for GSM networks (we reviewed the black model) and costs $169.99 for U.S. customers through select online distributors like Expansys.
Looking buttoned up compared with the riotous colors and outlandish designs of Blu's other phones, the Tango has a simple candy bar shape in either black or white with silver accents. Dimensions of 3.9 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick make the Tango ultraportable, albeit a bit chunky. At just 3.2 ounces, its lack of heft compounds the impression of cheapness. We do appreciate the soft-touch finish on the sides and back cover.
Jumbo Android screens are all the rage these days, but Blu hasn't taken that tack. In fact, the Tango's petite 2.8-inch TFT LCD display is far too small for a touch-screen phone, especially for typing on the standard virtual keyboard. If that weren't enough, the Tango's resistive touch screen requires more pressure--or a plastic pen tip--to make a selection. The combination makes composing messages inconvenient and often frustrating. For instance, it took at least double the time we expected to painstakingly tap out an e-mail. Mistakes were the norm rather than the exception, and that was using our nails to make more-precise selections. To top off the disappointment, we noticed an odd ridge (like a speed bump) running across the top of the screen, a sure sign of poor build quality, at least on our review unit. The back cover also pulled off too easily.
The Tango runs an unadulterated version of Android 2.2 Froyo, with no custom interface. That's either good or bad depending on your taste, but we always enjoy the simple Android experience. There are the standard five customizable screens (our model was preloaded with animated aquatic wallpaper), and the three static onscreen buttons for calling up the dialer, opening the application tray, and launching the browser. Blu preloads the Tango with plenty of widgets and app shortcuts, which you can personalize further. Although you can still see the notification icons in a menu bar up top, we were only able to get the menu to pull down when we used a pen tip.
Beneath the display are four touch-sensitive buttons for home, search, back, and menu. This is a slightly different order than many Android phones that cross our desks, and took just a little getting used to.
You'll find the volume rocker on the right side and the covered microSD card slot on the left. There's a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack up top. On the back sits the 3.2-megapixel camera lens. We wish there were a hardware shutter button as well, since that would tend to reduce shaking when you're snapping a photo. You'll need to use the onscreen shutter control instead. The Tango has 256MB RAM and takes 32GB of external storage.
Hardware aside, choosing any phone running Android almost guarantees you a modicum of features and platform reliability, since Google has done all the hard work creating its open-source operating system. So you'll get an e-mail inbox that optionally integrates messages from a variety of POP, IMAP, and social networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter. We find it gets cluttered, and prefer to filter messages ourselves. Also be forewarned that while syncing photos and other contact information works fairly well in Android, you'll likely find yourself manually adjusting several records.
Right out of the box you get Android's characteristically excellent integration with free Google services like Google Maps and turn-by-turn voice navigation, search, YouTube, and Google Talk. In addition, there's Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, and assisted GPS (A-GPS) support, and essential apps like a clock, an alarm, a stopwatch, a calendar, and a calculator. There's also the standard Android music player, which lets you build playlists and organize your song library. Android's hot-spot and tethering capabilities are also onboard, as we mentioned above, but keep in mind that carriers usually impose an additional $20 to $30 monthly fee to use them.