If you go to a major wireless carrier and ask to buy a high-end, contract-free phone, they’ll usually make you pay upwards of $600 for the privilege.
Thankfully, some alternatives are emerging for the U.S. market. Next month, a Florida-based company called Blu Products will begin shipping a pair of $300 phones with aluminum bodies, surprisingly decent specs and the latest version of Android. Both phones will be sold unlocked and contract-free through online retailers such as Amazon.
Blu’s Life One has a 5-inch, HD display, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. There’s also the Life View, with a 5.7-inch HD display, a 12-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera. Other specs for both handsets include a quad-core MediaTek processor, 16 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM and a microSD card slot.
In addition to the $300 phones, Blu will also sell a $229 handset, the Life Play, with a 4.7-inch HD display, 8-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front camera, 4 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM and a microSD card slot. All three phones will ship with a stock version of Android 4.2.
As The Verge explains, Blu says it has access to many of the same technologies and manufacturing processes as larger companies like Samsung and Motorola. But as a small company, it doesn’t spend as much money on marketing, office space, human resources and other types of overhead, so it can pass that savings on to the customer.
It all sounds intriguing, though it’s worth pointing out a few caveats:
- None of Blu’s phones support LTE, and in most areas they’ll only support AT&T’s network for 3G and HSPA+ data speeds. In many areas, the phones will only provide 2G speeds on T-Mobile’s network — at least until the carrier finishes refarming a bunch of its wireless spectrum over the course of the year.
- The MediaTek MT6589 processor inside each of these phones uses an A7 subsystem, which is mainly intended for entry-level smartphones. While this processor does have the benefit of low power consumption, it won’t have the performance muscle of some high-end phones.
- I’ve seen reader comments on Engadget and The Verge claiming that Blu’s previous phones haven’t been properly optimized for the Android software, which could cause lag or other issues. This, combined with the A7 chip, would make me wary about buying the phones sight unseen.
Despite those concerns, I’m interested in what Blu is doing, and hope the phones turn out to be good low-cost unlocked options, along with Google’s own Nexus 4. Blu says it’ll begin shipping the phones in the last week of April.