There are two things you really need to know about Life Max from BLU: it has a great battery life and it’s cheap.
For some, that will be reason enough to consider a purchase, especially as it does also come with a 5.5” screen, fingerprint sensor and dual sim functionality. But as with any budget device, you’ll need to be willing to make some rather large compromises to get that low price.
This is the Life Max, let’s see if the trade-off makes sense for you and your wallet.
Design and Build
The Life Max features a no-frills, budget-friendly build. It has a large 5.5” screen, no physical home button and blackish dark blue colorscheme.
The best thing I can say about it is that at first pass, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was budget phone.
Whether or not you like the design of the Life Max is likely to hinge on how you feel about the faux leather back panel. That’s the most noticeable design feature here and to be honest, it’s a lot better than you’re probably expecting. It’s rather understated and actually nicer than the feature found on the Galaxy Note 4. That said though, this is definitely still an acquired taste and won’t be for everyone. And you’re not going to be mistaking this for real leather anytime soon.
One thing about the design that we don’t like so much is the crazy positioning of just about everything. It’s all topsy-turvy with the microUSB port (not USB-C) on the top of the device and volume rockers on the right above the power button. Neither of these things are the end of the world, but it’s confusing and can be irritating – especially changing the volume. Presumably this was something to do with cost-saving, as it’s hard to imagine anyone thought this would be an improvement.
The device feels pretty cheap too. Despite being fairly large, it’s incredibly light and it probably wouldn’t take too much force to snap it in half. Without the battery in, it feels like one of those plastic place holders you find in stores.
But while it might not be the most logical or premium build, the best thing I can say about it is that at first pass, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was budget phone. For the asking price, that’s pretty impressive.
That IPS LCD screen is also pretty average. At 5.5”, it will give you plenty of real-estate for a variety of tasks and it is fairly bright too. At 720p (720×1280), it’s certainly not as crisp as many others, though you need to look closely in order to tell. It should be fine for consuming media, even if it’s not top of the line.
One feature that BLU seems keen to highlight is the ‘3D glass’ but it’s an incredibly tenuous claim and not one you’ll notice during use; it’s just that the screen is very slightly raised.
What will also define your media experience are the speakers and these leave something to be desired. The odd placement of the USB means that there’s plenty of space for the two speakers along the bottom. Except when you inspect more closely, you’ll realize that sound only actually comes out of one of them and is very tinny. In fact, this is one of the most ‘budget feeling’ aspects of the phone and it is a bit of a let-down when you’re watching YouTube or playing games.
What’s a little less budget feeling is the inclusion of a finger print sensor round back just below the camera. This is nice to find on a phone of this price and it’s increasingly useful for a range of apps and services these days.
Except when you inspect more closely, you’ll realize that sound only actually comes out of one of them and is very tinny.
Another very nice feature is the inclusion of a dual SIM slot. This is a rare option that will be very welcome for some users I’m sure. The phone comes unlocked which is a big bonus and I’ve had no problems with call quality or signal.
Speaking of games and performance in general, the Life Max is certainly no powerhouse. Processing is taken care of by a quad-core 1.3GHz CPU with a basic 2GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by the Mali-T720 GPU, which is a popular choice for budget phones coming out of China (BLU is based in Miami but its hardware is currently produced in China).
Benchmark scores put it significantly below even a Samsung Galaxy S5, so the CPU is far behind modern flagships. But for people who will just be using their device for Twitter and Facebook, this hardly matters. Mobile gamers will still be able to play most titles on the Play Store but should expect occasional stutters and lower framerates when playing the most demanding 3D games on high settings. I also had a few games fail to launch that run fine on my other devices.
I will say that rummaging through the UI isn’t the most buttery smooth experience, either. You do get the occasional lags and there’s a minor perceptible pause when trying to scroll through images in the gallery or switch between apps. It’s certainly not futureproof but for those mostly passive users, it should suffice. What’s going to be more troubling for a lot of people is the measly 16GB of storage, only around 10GB of which is free to play with. Thankfully, the Life Max comes with expandable storage but you’ll still need to be prepared to do some juggling if you want to store lots of large media files on here.
Some benchmarks for those that are interested:
The battery is where things get a little more interesting, as the Life Max sports a very impressive 3,700mAh battery. This puts it ahead of even BLU’s own higher-end offerings, such as the Vivo 6, or much more demanding phones like the Galaxy S7.
When you combine this impressive battery size with the modest screen resolution, good software optimization from Google and a lack of fancy gimmicks, you have a phone that really can last a decent amount of time before giving up the ghost. BLU claims that the phone can last 3 days with normal use. With my normal use, it’s closer to two but that’s still very impressive compared with most other handsets and it’s something I really wish that other manufacturers would prioritise.
As a phone that is named for its longevity, it’s a shame not to see quick-charging here. What is nice though, is the replaceable battery for the times you need a bit more juice or your phone has decided to freeze and refuse to turn off.
The camera is often one of the first casualties of cheaper phones and unfortunately, the Life Max doesn’t do much to buck this trend. Here you get an 8MP rear shooter and 5MP selfie camera. The inclusion of a front facing flash for the selfie camera wins points, although I can’t see anyone wanting to use this for much other than Skype calls.
The rear shooter meanwhile is a mixed bag. One the one hand, it produces photos that look washed out, struggles in anything other than perfect lighting and takes a very long time to take thanks to noticeable shutter lag (worse of course with HDR turned on). Photos often come out overexposed and a little lacking in detail. That said, if you’re willing to put the effort in and get creative, it can still produce some decent end results, especially once you have your Instagram filters in place.
Auto focus is surprisingly capable, even producing some decent macro effects without having to tap to focus. The camera app also has a few nice options, including controls for white balance, exposure and ISO, as well as some fun features like smile detection. Just be prepared to work for it and don’t go on holiday thinking you won’t need to take a separate camera. This isn’t great but I’ve seen worse.
Just be prepared to work for it and don’t go on holiday thinking you won’t need to take a separate camera…
The Life Max comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow installed out of the box. One nice thing about BLU’s phones is their lack of bloatware or unwanted customizations. This is a very vanilla Android experience, which is great news and helps tremendously with the performance and lifespan. Android 6.0 is a very user-friendly OS and one that technophobes should have no problem finding their way around (which is a potential market for a phone like this).
Updates for budget phones are always a question mark though and I wouldn’t hold your breath for Nougat.
|Display||5.5-inch 720p LCD display|
|Processor||1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6737|
|GPU||Mali T720 GPU|
|Camera||8MP main cam, 5MP front|
|Battery||Li-Po 3700 mAh, removable|
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||154.5 x 77.1 x 8.7 mm|
|Price||$109.99 / £89.99|
As a phone that’s available for an extremely pocket-friendly price, it would be unfair to compare the Life Max to flagship devices that cost hundreds of dollars. The question we should be asking is whether it is good value for money and the answer to that has to be yes. At such a low cost, you really can’t go wrong and when you consider the massive battery, fingerprint sensor and dual SIM slot, you’re actually getting more than the bare minimum here. This actually isn’t BLU’s cheapest phone – that honor goes to the R1 HD! BLU is a dab hand when it comes to budget, entry-level smartphones and the Life Max is just further evidence of this.
This is not a phone for anyone who loves smartphones though. Gamers should probably look elsewhere too, as should anyone who likes having the latest gadgets. This is a device for someone who wants a basic phone that offers some smart functionality on top, and won’t break the bank – you probably already know if that’s you. Just make sure that you’re happy to forego features like fancy cameras, top-end performance, good quality speakers or a 1080p resolution. Oh, and be prepared to be confused by odd placements for buttons and ports.
This is a device for someone who wants a basic phone that will act like a phone and won’t break the bank – you probably already know if that’s you.
That said, I can also see other scenarios where someone might want to pick up a phone like this. If you want a backup phone for taking on long trips, then the cheap price point and great battery will make this a strong choice.
The Life Max is available in the US for $109, and it’s available for just £89.99 in the UK until Monday March 6th. If you’re looking for a cheap phone, then this might be a good time to look into the Life Max.