- Gorgeous 1440p screen
- Front camera takes great selfies
- Priced competitively
- Too big
- Suspect build quality
- Poor Android experience
- Poor battery life
- Runs hot
Blu Products is an online retailer that has been operating for a while, but rather than always come up with its own hardware, it sometimes repackages smartphones not commonly available in the U.S. that are produced by other companies. In the case of the Pure XL, it’s also known as the Gionee Elife E8.
We’ve looked at Gionee phones before, and ended up feeling lukewarm toward them, so will it be the same story here? And will the Pure XL’s monster spec equate to a monster phone? Let’s take a closer look.
Surprisingly compact, but uncomfortable to hold
The Gionee Elife E8 was originally announced way back in mid-2015, and it would have been considered a design from yesteryear back then. Now, it looks even older. When you put it alongside the iPhone 6S Plus, the OnePlus 2, and even the comparatively tiny Nexus 5; it lacks character and panache. To paraphrase Michael Caine in Get Carter, it’s a big phone, but it’s in bad shape.
The Blu Pure XL has a 6-inch screen, a set of big bezels, and measures 9.6mm thick. It’s as subtle as a brick, and sized accordingly. While the latest fashion is for curved edges, rounded corners, and supreme in-hand comfort, Blu throws all of that out of the window and goes for squared off shoulders, sharp sides, and an overall size that only suits those who find bowling balls fit snugly in the palm of their hands.
Things aren’t improved when you pick it up. The plastic rear panel isn’t particularly tactile, and on our review model, it sat slightly proud on one side of the device, leaving a sharp and uncomfortable edge. The panel unclips from the phone to provide access to two SIM slots, and a MicroSD card slot — which boosts the already generous 64GB of internal storage. The chassis is an aluminum unibody, and the screen is covered in Gorilla Glass, but it’s not the premium beauty we were promised.
Ignore the thick bezels around the sides, and the Pure XL’s screen is a real beauty. It’s massive at 6-inches, and the 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution puts it in the same category as winning phones from LG, Samsung, and the Google Nexus 6P. It’s not overly bright, the contrast is great, and photos seem to come alive on the screen. Streaming video looked best when the brightness was turned right up, which sadly had a detrimental affect on the battery life. Still, the colors are gorgeous, and the display is a high point of the Pure XL.
|Launch OS version||5.1 (Lollipop)|
|Format support||MP3, WAV|
|Front camera photo resolution||8 MP|
|Rear camera photo resolution||24 MP|
|High quality camera||Yes|
|Phase detection auto focus||Yes|
|Rear camera video resolution||2160p|
|Format support||H.264, MPEG-4|
|4K Video recording||Yes|
|Screen size||6 in|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Digital compass, GPS, Gyroscope, Fingerprint, Proximity|
|Maximum external storage||64 GB|
|Headphone jack||3.5 mm|
|Charging connection||Micro USB|
|Talk time||38 hr|
|Standby time||800 hr|
Powerful processor, big battery
The MediaTek MT6795 Helio X10 octa-core chip with 3GB of RAM powers the Pure XL. Running the usual benchmark tests saw it return a 4,085 multi-core score on GeekBench 3, and 31,716 on Quadrant. These are strong, if average, marks; which perfectly sum up what it’s like to use this phone. Playing Riptide GP 2 proves the Pure XL’s power, and the game was smooth and speedy even with the graphics options maxed out. Danmaku Unlimited in HD was also faultless.
Don’t expect the Pure XL to stay cool under pressure, though. Playing just those two games for less than five minutes made the phone very warm – so warm that it was bordering on hot. Anything taxing also sucks power from the battery. Those five minutes of gaming, plus a couple of pictures, and a benchmark test saw the percentage meter drop by 15-percent. Rapid battery drain was a common problem with the Pure XL.
If you’re wondering how the phone scored on 3DMark, me too, but the app refused to run. It wasn’t the only one, either. For some reason, RunKeeper often fell over as well, and that has run on every other phone I’ve used. It gave me concerns over the software optimization, which coincidentally continued to prove troublesome when it came to the battery. The prospect of a phone with a big 3,500mAh battery is enticing, yet on the Pure XL, the usage time is disappointing. Use it hard, and you’ll just about make it through the day.
That is, under normal circumstances. Use it very frugally — by which I mean maybe once a day — and the battery lasts for a week. Really. It’ll be rare cases where this is useful, and I only found out that it lasted that long because I thought I’d turned the phone off, but hadn’t. I was surprised when I came back to it five days later and found 15-percent battery left. Hence concerns over the software optimization.
Power consumption is best described as erratic, and the MediaTek chip doesn’t seem to be running at its best inside the Pure XL.
There’s a circular fingerprint sensor on the back of the Pure XL, and although this position works well on other devices, including the Huawei Honor 7 and the Nexus 6P, it’s a bit awkward here due to the overall size of the phone. I’d constantly miss the sensor on the first try, especially trying with one hand, and I’d have to resort to repositioning it with the other hand before unlocking. It would be faster just to swipe up and enter a passcode.
Even if the fingerprint sensor was perfectly positioned, its sensitivity wasn’t quite good enough to recognize my finger every time on the first try. Two or even three attempts were common before the phone finally unlocked. The situation was improved with a software update, so the issue may not be with the sensor itself, but rather that it’s heavily recessed — a by-product of that removable rear panel — and my finger never quite connected properly without some wiggling about.
Happily, NFC is part of the Pure XL’s spec sheet, which should see it compatible with mobile payment systems. It also worked well when connecting to an NFC-capable Sony wireless speaker. I just had to turn on the feature before linking up in just a few seconds. A couple of NFC stickers were hidden inside the Pure XL’s box, which can be stuck around the house to quickly activate special modes on your phone when entering a room.
A camera with 24-megapixels sounds pretty awesome, and one should expect incredible photos from it. Just like everything else on the Pure XL, it over promises and under delivers. The camera’s good, but it’s no better than the OnePlus 2, or the current gigantic phone of choice, the Nexus 6P.
There’s an extensive range of modes to play with: a panorama, an HDR mode, a pro mode with some manual adjustments, and a magic focus setting to mess around with the depth of field. There’s also an Ultra Pixel mode that stitches together several pictures to make one, single, massive-megapixel photo. It’s handy if you’re into large-format printing, but you won’t notice the difference on the phone’s screen.
The HDR mode, and the camera in general, struggled in difficult lighting, and never revealed much detail. Shooting inside a low-lit museum was a challenge for the Pure XL, but the iPhone 6S Plus didn’t struggle quite as badly. Shifting the focal point around manually helped, but not much, and having to do so at all is unusual. Taking photos with the sun in front produced poor results, while the same shot on the iPhone 6S Plus looked considerably better.
However, the software-based magic focus feature is effective, taking photos that improved on the ZTE Axon Elite, which makes use of two camera lenses. Whip out the Pure XL on a normal, sunny day, take a normal, regular photo and it does a decent job. In more challenging situations, it may not take the best photo possible, and that’s a disappointment. It’s fun messing around with all the modes though.
On the side of the phone, below the sleep/wake key, is a quick access button for the camera. Press it from a dark screen and in a few seconds the camera app is open ready to use. Press it again, and it’ll snap a photo. It’s not the fastest shortcut we’ve used — LG, Samsung, and Apple all have a faster software option on the lock screen — but it’s handy because the phone’s so big, and unlocking takes time.
Above the screen is an 8-megapixel selfie cam, and it’s a good one. The f/2.2 aperture handles light well — seemingly better than the f/2.0 rear camera — and its wide enough to allow a degree of shot composition when used in landscape mode. The obligatory face beauty mode isn’t intrusive when used in auto, and the settings can all be individually tweaked if you’d prefer. The Pure XL is definitely a phone for selfie lovers.
The Pure XL runs Android 5.1, but not quite as you know it. There’s no app drawer, so app icons are arranged iOS-style across multiple home screens, which will frustrate Android purists. The lack of an app drawer won’t annoy Android fans half as much as the changes made to the notification drawer. It’s one of the best things about Android — you pull down the drawer and there are your notifications, and all the often-used tweaks such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the display brightness slider. It’s easy, convenient, and fast.
Not on the Pure XL. Pull down the drawer and there are your notifications, but that’s all. Blu has decided all the shortcuts should be removed, and instead, dumped all those handy controls in another drawer that you slide up from the bottom of the screen. Why? What harm were they doing up top? None. It’s a stupid change for the sake of making a change. It made me look at the Pure XL angrily, because it made me search for settings I’ve found in the same place a thousand times before.
Blu decides to continue being annoying by installing software no one wants. Opera is the default browser, which is just about acceptable, plus Amazon’s app store and Kindle apps are pre-installed. Don’t worry, though, Google Play is there, too. Chameleon is a camera app that captures colors around you, which can then be used to personalize the theme colors on your phone. There’s also Yahoo Weather, a theme app, a compass, sound recorder, torch, and a pointless shortcut icon that takes you to Blu’s product registration webpage. All of these, aside from Yahoo’s app, can’t be uninstalled. Thanks, Blu.
Right at the end of our test, after a software update improved the fingerprint sensor, Blu added revised Amazon apps that refused to stop draining the battery, and a McAfee Security app that can’t be uninstalled.
Blu Products provides a one-year warranty on its phones, but only six months on the battery and any accessories.
The Blu Pure XL is absolute proof that you should never, ever buy a smartphone based only on the spec sheet. Viewed on paper, the Pure XL is an absolute beast, with specs way beyond even the excellent OnePlus 2, which can be purchased for a similar price. In reality, the features don’t add up to what promised to be an astonishing phone.
The screen is superb, with the camera coming in second as the Pure XL’s other bright spot, and even that’s flawed. Almost every other major aspect is frustrating, broken, or inefficient. Blu sells the Pure XL for $350 without a contract, which is a very good price for a 6-inch octa-core smartphone with a 1440p screen and a 24-megapixel camera. However, don’t be fooled by those on-paper specs. The Pure XL isn’t the amazing buy it pretends to be.
Instead, spend your money on the OnePlus 2, the Motorola Moto X Style Pure Edition, or if you’ve got a little more money and simply must have a whopping screen, get the Nexus 6P. Quite often when I finish these reviews, I miss the phone for a few days. Unfortunately, I won’t miss the Pure XL at all.