Bluboo S1, the cheapest bezel-less smart phone?

Sep 4, 2017

The Bluboo S1 is one of the most affordable thin-bezel smartphone  equipped with a Octa Core MTK6757 processor and a dual camera.






The Bluboo S1 follows the current design trend with its version of thin-bezel smartphone
Like its competitors (Ulefone F1, Maze Alpha, Doogee Mix, ...) it embarks the Mediatek Helio P25 Helio P20* chipset, ensuring solid graphic performance (Mali-T880 MP2),  dual-camera support, fast memory and modern connectivity with GPS(/Glonass/Galileo/Beidou), BT4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11n, Gyro, compass, fingerprint scanner, USB Type-C . There's still no NFC but just the Mediatek HotKnot.

Highlights

Bluboo S1 4G Phablet, 5.5 inch Corning Gorilla Glass 4 Screen, Android 7.0, MTK6757 Octa Core with 4GB RAM and 64GB, 5.0MP + 13.0MP Cameras, USB Type-C


Main Features:
Display: 5.5 inch 1920 x 1080 FHD 2.5D Arc screen, Corning Gorilla Glass 4, 90% screen-to-body ratio 
CPU: MTK6757 Octa Core P25 2.5GHz*
Dimensions: mm 148.6 / 74.3 / 7.9


System: Android 7.0 
Bluetooth: BT4.0
GPS: GPS / A-GPS / GLONASS 
Features: Ambient Light Sensor*, Geomagnetic Sensor, Gravity Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Fingerprint Scanner 
SIM Card: dual SIM dual standby, nano SIM + nano SIM 
Network: 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, 3G: WCDMA 900/2100Mh, 4G: FDD-LTE 800/900/1800/2100/2600MHz
Weight: 175g


Unpacking



The phone comes well protected in a large box including a manual, a "thank you letter", the charger with its USB Type-C cable, a Type-C to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter, a tempered glass screen protector and a clear silicon cover.
Almost no fault if it wasn't for the USB connector hole in the silicon cover that is too narrow to plug the cable provided.

Screen & Display:

The "Tri-Bezel-less" screen to occupies 90% of the phone surface. This is in fact a thin bezel but it's nevertheless really nice with the 2.5D curved edges.
However this kind of design does not go well with the screen protections as only the flat portion can be covered. I'll keep mine in the box and will place all my hopes in the scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 4.

The 5 points "multi-touch double layer panel" works even with wet fingers or gloves (I tried).

The LCD screen is an IPS slab from Sharp with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. It is very bright and sharp (no pun intended) and interacting with this big smooth surface is a pleasure.

The advertised brightness sensor is either missing or no implemented. While it can be enabled through the floating "Free touch" shortcut panel, it is clearly not effective and does not appear listed in CPU-Z.

Telephony

A cards drawer can hold 2 nano-SIMs and 1 micro-SD (in case the internal 64GB are not enough).
The in-call audio quality is very good on both side of the communication.

I regret the absence of a notification LED which is not helped by the very soft vibration. So it is easy to miss a call of message if you set the ringer volume too low.

The proximity sensor should rather be called a screen contact sensor.
It is located 1 cm to the left of the speaker.
You have to literally touch this zone of the phone with your ear to activate the proximity, or the screen will not turn off, leaving it open to accidental interaction.

The proximity sensor takes 2 values: 0  or 10 with nothing in between, and the engineer mode (same code as used for MTK 6752: *#*#3646633#*#*) fails to calibrate it.
Update: Bluboo posted a firmware update on their forum that is supposed to fix the Proximity/light sensor. Unfortunately it's not a OTA and will require a phone reset.

Camera: "It's not enough to just throw a Sony IMX camera in your phone..."


The camera is powered by a 16Mpix Sony IMX214 Exmor RS sensor. This HDR-capable chip was introduced in 2014 and equipped some famous phones like Xiaomi Mi 4, One plus One, Huawei P7, Honor 6 and a few Xperia's.

It's then natural to have high expectations but we should know better by now.
Budget smart phones have always failed to impress with their cameras, no matter what amazing sensor they use, and the S1 is not breaking the tradition.

The reason is probably that Bluboo, and the likes (Ulefone F1, Maze Alpha, Doogee Mix) just throw the hardware for the sake of the renowned brand name with little to no software support while mainstream brands also invest a lot in developing better camera software.

Dual cameras: is more better?
Don't expect the second camera to make pictures nicer. It is only used in the "Blur" mode, where it helps the main lens to achieve a Bokeh effect
Some people suggested it was a fake dual camera. Using tips provided by Bluboo themselves some time ago, the second camera appears to be operational. 


I've spent a lot of time trying to like this camera and it can take good pictures when conditions are good: good light, quiet subjects (a stone, a statue, granddad...)
What You See Is NOT What You Get
The picture rarely matches what you see on screen as the camera tends to refocus while taking the shot.

Video recording simply unusable as it suffers from constant focus hunting.

In either still picture and video, it is an absolute necessity to install a camera app that can lock AF and AE (e.g. A Better Camera appOpen Camera). 

Click on the unprocessed pictures below to see them in full size.  




Front camera:
The Tri-Belzel-less design requires some sacrifices and the front camera has been relocated on the bottom of the phone. It is then necessary to turn the phone over to take selfies.











Nougat

The S1 comes with Android 7.0 and the factory build, BLUBOO_S1_Helio_P25_V06_20170728, had an OTA update waiting when I received it. I've used the initial build for a short time and then updated to 20170818.
The OTA log betrays the close relationship of the S1 with its Doogee Mix twin...


Overall I found the phone very stable.



Bluboo Launcher

I'm not a big fan of custom launchers like Xiaomi's MIUI but the Bluboo Launcher ("Phenix") is not the worst I've seen. The unique home screen is in between a "news and recently used apps" screen on the left, and the full list of apps (similar to the drawer) on the right. However it lacks some customization, like sorting the apps and adding more home screens.


During my tests, I've tried and adopted the Yandex launcher which is an excellent replacement.

Performance (and false advertising)

My Antutu score is slightly below the 60000+ claimed by Bluboo but I already had many apps services loaded and do not really value these benchmarks. Like its twin brother , the Doogee Mix, the Blueboo S1 is advertised to have the latest Helio P25, but instead embarks the Helio P20. Both are identified as MT6757, sometimes followed by a different suffix.
In fact the Helio P20 is identical to the Helio P25 apart from the slightly lower clock speed (2.3GHz vs 2.5GHz).
Hopefully, this regrettable marketing practice does more damage to the "brand" credibility than to the device performance.
In real use, the processor did a great job with heavy games and could play UHD videos with no lag and very little heat.
There's plenty of RAM and everything seems to run smoothly.


USB type-C and 3500mAh  battery

The reversible USB Type-C connector is used for charging, data transfer and as audio port (with the provided adapter).

The 5V/2A adapter will refill the S1 battery in about 90 minutes.
You can go comfortably 24 hours with a normal combined use of Wi-Fi/GPS/Camera/Phone/Screen. Since Bluboo lied on the CPU type, the battery capacity can be questioned as well but still did the job for me.



The sound restitution from the USB Type-C to headphones is excellent with deep bass and clear texture. A phone jack would have been far more convenient though.
The speakers are loud and their sound quality better than expected. Don't expect an Hi-Fi boombox but it does the job for hand-free calls and watching videos.

Front Fingerprint sensor

I haven't timed the fingerprint sensor but the response is fast and the failures are rare. I'm glad to see this feature working so well because my favorite Face Unlock method is not available .
As usual with fingerprint sensor phones, each finger can launch a different application. I scanned both thumb to unlock and one finger to launch the camera.
The button can also be used to go back in any app which is very useful when the navigation bar is hidden.

Conclusion


The Bluboo S1 is a very nicely designed smartphone that combines a superb large display and a fast user interface.
It's a pleasure to hold and use.
The S1 performs very well and offers everything you need from a modern smartphone with comfortable RAM and storage.

The dual camera is the only area of disappointment and maintains the status quo with its siblings (Doogee Mix, Maze Alpha, Umi Crystal...) due to a frustratingly average/bugged camera software.


Bluboo S1 is available from Gearbest for 143.15€/169.99$
Check also the September Sales at Gearbest.

Good:
* Good phone call quality
* Colorful and crisp display
* Great design
* Efficient fingerprint sensor
* Stable system with almost no bloatware
* Good performance
* Comfortable storage

Not good:
- Limited camera software ruining an otherwise decent hardware
- Brightness/proximity  sensor not operational (fixed by update, see Bluboo forum)
- Lack notification LED and vibration too soft
- Falsely advertised as a Helio P25 device where it is really a P20.


Special thanks to Kylie @ Gearbest
for providing this sample.


2 comments:

  1. Another review worth reading, many thanks.
    For a slightly higher price, you can get a phone that covers the limitations of the Bluboo S1 and more, especially the camera and battery life. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Original-Xiaomi-Redmi-Note-4-Pro-Prime-3GB-RAM-64GB-ROM-Mobile-Phone-MTK-Helio-X20/32788469356.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.iEI6Vy
    I bought one a few months back and really like it. For a budget mid-range smartphone it really hits the spot.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Alastair. Indeed, Xiaomi always seems to beat the competition when it comes to video and audio quality. I see that with their IP Cameras and the old Mipad 1 that I still use today. I hope my generous sponsor will allow me one to review :-)
      Cheers

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