BLU Life Max review: A budget phone that goes the distance

Working with flagship smartphones every day means that it can be quite a shock when you have to use an entry-level handset. I’ve realized that after reviewing phones such as the Huawei P9 and the Mate 9, I’ve become something of a phone snob, having lost touch with the truly budget-minded smartphones that are on the market. Moving to an entry-level handset doesn’t have to be the end of the world, though, so long as you are realistic in your expectations, as I found when I reviewed the BLU Life Max.

BLU has managed to cram a 5.5-inch 720p display, a huge 3700mAh battery, dual-SIM’s, and a fingerprint reader into the Life Max for £109, although it can be had for just £89 as part of its launch promotion.

So is the BLU Life Max the budget champion of 2017? Join us after the break for our review of the BLU Life Max.

Design

The first thing you notice about the BLU Life Max when you pick it up is that it’s extremely light, almost too light, in fact. Coming in at 153 grams, and dimensions of 154.5 x 77.1 x 8.7mm, the phone is fairly comfortable to hold.

The BLU Life Max quirkily has its micro-USB port situated on the top of the device, to the left of the audio jack. It’s an odd arrangement and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a charging port placed anywhere except the bottom of a handset. Personally, I’m not sure I like the change in position but it’s hardly something to cry about.

The faux leather rear panel is reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 3 and the fake stitching reinforces that feeling. Being made of plastic isn’t a terrible thing for a budget handset because it means it’s one less thing to worry about if you drop the phone, plus it’s an easy corner to cut that won’t impinge much on the user experience, if at all. The BLU logo is situated just beneath the fingerprint reader, which in turn is sat just below the flash and rear camera. 2.5D Glass joins the display to the metal frame that runs around the phone, and while it isn’t quite as effective as it is on more expensive handsets, it’s still a nice touch.

The volume and power buttons are placed on the right-hand edge and using them results in a satisfying click. The bottom of the handset sports dual speaker chambers, although there is just a single speaker providing sound.

Hardware

 BLU Life Max
AnnouncedJanuary 2017
ReleasedFebruary 2017
Display5.5-Inch HD (720 x 1280) IPS LCD 267ppi
ProcessorMediaTek 6737 Quad-core with Mali-T720 GPU
RAM2GB
Storage16GB with MicroSD card slot
Rear Camera8MP with Autofocus, LED Flash
Front Camera5MP with flash
Battery3,700mAh (removable)
ChargingMicro-USB Type-B 2.0
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
SensorsLight, Proximity, rear fingerprint scanner
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.0, WiFi
NetworkDual nano-SIM, GSM Quad Band, 3G: 900/2100, 4G LTE: 1/3/7/20
Measurements154.5 x 77.1 x 8.7mm
Weight153g
ColorsBlue

Performance

In the days where we scoff at pricey flagship smartphones launching with just a Full HD display, the BLU Life Max makes do with a 5.5-inch 720p IPS panel with 267 ppi that is bright enough to use in all conditions with good viewing angles. It’s a goodly amount of real estate on offer when you consider the phone’s budget price point. The sound is adequate, as in you can listen to a short YouTube trailer or voice message, but for prolonged use, you’ll want to slap a set of headphones on.

With a MediaTek 6737 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, the BLU Life Max isn’t going to win any benchmark contests. There are some noticeable stutters at times when the phone is being pushed, and playing 3D games with high detail levels will impact on the frame rate. That being said, the BLU Life Max is a budget handset, with a price tag of £109 (or £89 on promotion), as such, it’s a very capable phone. There’s 16GB of built-in storage, which you can augment via the microSD card slot hidden under the removable rear panel.

While the fingerprint reader isn’t quite on par as say the ultra quick and accurate reader found in the Huawei Mate 9, it does the job and for the price, it’s pretty darn good. Can you see a theme here?

Dual-SIM’s are supported in the form of one microSIM slot on either side of the rear camera, and 4G connectivity is supported. The rear panel also covers the big, removable 3700mAh battery. Sadly, the BLU Life Max doesn’t support any form of quick charging, but you can always buy an extra battery to simply replace the depleted unit. This could be a positive feature for some.

Battery

Boasting a big 3700mAh removable battery, you might be thinking that the BLU Life Max would offer supreme battery life. Well, you’d be correct. That combination of the power-efficient MediaTek 6737 processor, the 720p resolution display, and the hefty battery means that you can get at least two days worth of normal usage out of the phone. Whether you are taking pics, checking email or stalking friends on their social media accounts, the handset has juice to spare. BLU may have had to cut a few corners here and there, but battery life wasn’t one of them.

Software

Android purists will be happy because BLU has eschewed the usual practice of slapping a heavily customized user interface on the Life Max, instead, it’s a mostly stock affair with many of the usual Google apps present. BLU has restricted itself to only pre-installing a couple of Amazon apps, Opera browser, and the company’s own BLU Help app, keeping bloatware to a minimum. The BLU Life Max is running Android 6.0 with December 2016 security patches, with an update to Android 7.0 Nougat confirmed for the handset.

Camera

On to the camera, and the 8MP rear sensor and flash is capable of taking good quality photos, just don’t expect to see professional class imagery. Again, you have to adjust your expectations with the price tag. While you won’t be winning any photography competitions with the Blu Life Max, it’s perfectly fine for taking pictures to share on social media or instant messaging. HDR shots can take a second or so to process, and the colors aren’t the most vibrant you’ve ever seen, but the results are more than acceptable for a budget smartphone. On the plus side, autofocus works well, and the 5MP front-facing camera has a flash and HDR, which helps in low-light conditions.

Closing

So, we’ve established that the BLU Life Max isn’t a powerhouse smartphone that can compete with the Galaxy S7 or Google Pixel, that’s ok because it’s almost 80% cheaper than either of those phones. The BLU Life Max offers a high bang-for-your-buck ratio, with its outstanding feature being its 2-days or more of battery life. This, combined with reasonable performance, a competent rear camera, and the fingerprint reader means that everyone can be a digital native (whatever that means), even if you are on a tight budget. On promotion for just £89, the BLU Life Max punches well above its weight and is still a bargain at its normal £109 pricing.

So long as you remember how much it costs and adjust your expectations accordingly, the BLU Life Max is a plucky underdog that performs much better than you would have hoped and is possibly greater than the sum of its parts would suggest on paper. For normal smartphone usage such as messaging, social media, checking emails and browsing, the BLU Life Max will fulfill its duties with a minimum of fuss and give you decent images to boot for 2-3 days at a time.

Buy it now: BLU, Amazon, Amazon UK


About the Author: Peter Holden

I've been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being my first phablet. I currently carry around a Huawei P10 and a Galaxy Tab S2 8.0. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, I'm an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, I love a good Braai (BBQ).


  • Chris yaritz

    Nice to see a reasonable review, based on what it is, and how much it costs.

    I have seen many reviewers, give negative opinions on the Max, as well as other BLU offerings.
    I have the Max and a few other Blu phones, and as stated here, you need to be realistic with your expectations.
    With that said……My daily driver is a Oneplus 3, and it’s a great phone, but it is also 4 times the cost of a Blu life Max.

    Point being……The Max is a good phone based on its own merits.

    • http://www.talkandroid.com/author/peter-h/ Peter Holden

      Thanks for the kind words. It wasn’t an easy review to begin, as I mentioned, I had a certain amount of snobbery to overcome. What gave me perspective was a friend in South Africa that is going through tough times who said it sounded like a lovely phone and that he wished he could afford one. After that discussion, it became much simpler to complete with a more balanced view. I’m going to try and review a more balanced selection of handsets in the future.

      • Chris yaritz

        Agreed, it’s very easy to get caught up in the Pixel, S7 edge, Oneplus and others.

        We loose sight of good value, over high end specs.

        Curious of your thoughts on a Lecco Le S3.
        Bought one of those as well, and was more than happy, with it’s performance.
        Again the Lecco is a 200 ish dollar phone, depending on current deals.
        Keep up the good work.