Blu Life One X2

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The Blu Life One X2 continues a trend we've seen all year—that of the low-cost, high-quality unlocked phone. Like its predecessor, the Life One X, the $199.99 X2 offers a solid combination of features and performance for the price. But the $200 range is currently saturated with worthy choices, including the Motorola Moto G4, which is compatible with every major US carrier. And Blu's own R1 HD, our Editors' Choice for budget phones, can be had for even less. The X2 is a solid alternative in a crowded field.

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Design, Features, and Display
The One X2 comes in a 4GB model with 64GB of storage for $199.99, and a 2GB model with 16GB of storage for $149.99. The design and features remain the same across both models. We reviewed the 4GB, $199.99 version. The increase in RAM makes for a significant bump in performance, so I recommend paying the extra $50 for it.

No matter which you get, the phone is made entirely of polycarbonate, unlike the original, which has metal accents along the sides. That may seem like a step back, but in terms of the overall look, it resembles the attractive ZTE Axon 7. The gray plastic looks like aluminum, and feels sturdy to the touch.

The One X2 measures in at a reasonable 5.8 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 5.9 ounces. It's a refreshing change from all the larger unlocked phones we're seeing like the Moto G4 (6.0 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches, 5.5 ounces) and the Axon 7 (6.0 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches, 6.2 ounces). I found it possible to use the X2 in one hand without much difficulty.

The 5.2-inch, 1,920-by-1,080-pixel IPS display is covered by a pane of Gorilla Glass 3 that curves slightly to meet the edges. The resolution works out to a sharp 424 pixels per inch (ppi), slightly more dense than the 401ppi panel on the Moto G4. The Quad HD Axon 7 is sharper than both (538ppi), but the X2 gets very bright and offers good viewing angles. It's easily visible in direct sunlight, and colors are a bit richer than on the Moto G4.

A combination home button-fingerprint scanner can be found below the display, a feature that's becoming more common in this price range. It's a bit faster and more responsive than the one on the Moto G4 Plus. There's also an LED flash on the front for selfies. On the right you'll find a power button and volume rocker. The top houses a 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom has a micro USB charging port and speaker grille. The back cover peels off, giving you access to a pair of SIM card slots, and a microSD slot that worked fine with a 256GB Samsung Evo+ card.

Network Performance and Connectivity
Like all Blu phones, the X2 only works on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile. It comes with LTE bands 2/4/7/12/17. The presence of T-Mobile's band 12 is something you won't find on the R1 HD, and gets you better range and LTE coverage. I tested the phone on T-Mobile in midtown Manhattan where I saw strong network performance, with a top download speed of 23Mbps. In PCMag's test lab, which can sometimes function like a Faraday cage in terms of network connectivity, I measured an impressive 15.6Mbps down.

The presence of dual SIM slots gives you the option of having two phone numbers, a handy feature for work and travel. The X2 supports Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band, but doesn't work on 5GHz or have NFC. If you want those features you'll need to spring for a more costly device like the Axon 7.

See How We Test Cell Phones

Voice calls on the X2 are decent. Transmissions are clear and free from garbling, and noise cancellation is solid, but earpiece volume is on the low side.

Processor, Battery, and Camera
The Life One X2 is powered by a Snapdragon 430 processor, a newer offering from Qualcomm that's a step above the aging Snapdragon 410. The X2 performed relatively well on benchmark tests, receiving 43,984 on AnTuTu, which tests overall system performance. That's better than the MediaTek 6735-powered R1 HD (31,847), and just shy of the Snapdragon 617-powered G4 (46,260).

The model we tested definitely benefits from its 4GB of RAM. Multitasking was smooth and free from any serious instances of stutter or lag. Unlike the G4, which sometimes hits the RAM usage, that never happened with the X2, no matter how many apps I launched. It also handled processor-intensive games like GTA: San Andreas and Asphalt 8: Airborne with only rare instances of dropped frames.

Battery life on the X2 is good, clocking 6 hours, 16 minutes in our rundown test, in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum brightness. It's a bit longer than the G4 (5 hours, 58 minutes), though the X2's battery is sealed in. The phone is Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0-enabled, so it can charge to 35 percent in 20 minutes using the included adapter, and to full in little over an hour.

The 16-megapixel rear camera sensor is decent, but not very reliable. I was able to take good photos in well-lit settings, but any other lighting conditions presented issues. Outside on a cloudy day, pictures came out muddy, while indoors there was a significant amount of noise and it took several seconds to find focus. The lack of optical image stabilization takes a toll, with many photos turning out blurry. The phone can record 1080p video at 30fps, but it suffers from many of the same problems. The 8-megapixel front-facing camera is good in proper lighting, but a bit muddy in dimmer settings.

The camera app itself isn't the most intuitive, requiring you to swipe left to access settings (including switching between the front and rear sensor), and right for various modes like HDR and Pro (Pro is a set of manual controls that allow for adjustment of focus, exposure, ISO, white balance, and sharpness). Overall, the Moto G4's camera is sharper and more reliable.

Software
The Life One X2 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. I wouldn't count on getting Android 7.0 Nougat, since the Life One X never even received Marshmallow. There are also more changes to the interface this time around. You'll find custom icons, as well as a redesigned app drawer and notification shade. The modifications aren't as heavy as you'll fine on Blu's Pure XR, which removes the app drawer entirely in favor of an iOS-like interface, but they're still noticeable.

On the other hand, there's only a handful of pre-installed apps, all of which can be removed except Opera. That leaves you with 50.68GB of available storage out of the 64GB total. It's ample room for more apps, photos, and video, and you can use a microSD card to take advantage of Marshmallow's Adoptable Storage feature.

Conclusions
The Blu Life One X2 has just about everything you can want in an affordable unlocked phone. You get an attractive build, a crisp display, solid battery life, good performance, and even a fingerprint scanner. It edges out the Moto G4 in terms of performance, but the G4 has a better camera and a wider set of GSM, CDMA, and LTE bands that allow it to work on every major US carrier. If you're looking for an even more affordable option, the Blu R1 HD is our Editors' Choice, and one of the least expensive unlocked phones available, though it comes with significantly pared down specs. On the higher end, the ZTE Axon 7 is another Editors' Choice that gets you top-notch hardware and performance, but it costs twice as much as the One X2.

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