BLU Win HD Review

BLU Win HD Review

There's a new option to consider

For the past few years, the Nokia Lumia lineup has dominated Windows Phone and provided a wide range of options—too wide, by some measures—hitting at every price point and market niche imaginable. But with Microsoft finally offering competitive Windows Phone licensing this year, we're seeing a fair number of Android device makers offering Windows Phone alternatives. And key among them is BLU, whose Win HD is no flagship but is quite affordable.

The Win HD looks like it might have come from the HTC product lineup, but it doesn't feature any of the high-end metals you might find in real—and far more expensive—smart phone flagships. Instead, the Win HD is unapologetically plastic, as Apple might say, though no one will confuse the middle of the road materials here with the high-end design of an iPhone 5C, let alone your typical Nokia Lumia.

But then, that's not the point.

The Win HD is all about value, the logical rather than the emotional. That starts with a truly low price for a phone of this caliber, or about $180 at Amazon.com sans contract. That means you can own a Win HD free and clear for the upfront cost of a typical smart phone with a two-year contract. Not too shabby, though you'll need a compatible carrier, which means T-Mobile or AT&T in the United States, though the latter will only get HSPA+ speeds online. (This doesn't bother me in the slightest, but it will be a sticking point for some.)

And what is "this caliber"?

It's a quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor running at 1.2 GHz, an admittedly low-end choice, though I'll point out for the umpteenth time that Windows Phone is much more efficient than Android and runs better with lower-end specs. You can fire up a game like "Asphalt 8" and have a wonderful, stutter-free experience with this device.

It's a full 1 GB of RAM, which helps to offset some of the low-end-ness of the processor while eliminating the occasional compatibility hassles that dog 512 MB devices.

It's 8 GB of storage, the minimum I consider to be usable with Windows Phone, but expandable to an additional 64 GB of storage with microSD. Get at least a 32 GB unit; you'll need it.

It's a surprisingly crisp and bright 5-inch screen running at 720p (1280 x 720), a sort of minimal HD resolution and one that users of high-end phones might scoff at. But even more so than with the processor, Windows Phone adapts brilliantly to any resolution, and most anyone will find this screen to look and work wonderfully.

It's a proximity sensor, which provides for auto-brightness phone capabilities, a feature found in the Lumia 730/735 and 830, but not in the 530 (or Win HD Jr).

It's a decent but not excellent camera. I've been navel-gazing about smart phone cameras since the first iPhone, and of course high-end Lumias have put me over the edge. The Win HD is not in that category, of course, but it holds its own spec-wise with an 8 megapixel camera on the rear and a 2 MP front unit. Sadly, the resulting photos are a bit washed out—which you can see as you take them, go figure—with pixelated backgrounds.

You won't win any awards with the camera, but it gets the job done

And it's also a bit of style, though your reaction to the Win HD will vary according to your love of neon colors. I happen to find the bright yellow of the review unit to be quite nice, actually, and you can also choose from neon pink or orange, or the more staid white for you conformists. Note, however, that the color is permanent, and not a replaceable cover. If you don't want neon, choose carefully.

(Likewise, the fit and finish isn't up to HTC or Nokia levels. The pry-off back cover won't seat fully on the review handset, which hasn't been an issue on the similarly-designed Lumia 830 back cover. It looks fine but when you hold it, it wiggles a bit as it's loose.)

The Win HD also comes with dual SIM capabilities, still a rarity here in the United States, but an nicety or necessity depending on your habits and needs (and, potentially, home location). On the Nokia side of the fence, you pretty much have to purchase special dual SIM versions of certain Lumia models; with BLU, this capability is made available to everyone.

The Win HD is also shockingly light. You may recall me mentioning that the air-like Lumia 735 weighs only 134 grams in A Second Look at the Lumia 735 and 830. Well, the BLU Win HD weighs just 139 grams. They're both super-light.

BLU Win HD (left) and Nokia Lumia 735 (right)

So why would you choose a Win HD over a similar Lumia?

First you need to define what a similar Lumia is, as the Win HD is technically most similar to the Lumia 735, but is priced at about the same as the Lumia 635. And that's the first reason to consider the Win HD, as it turns out: The price. This phone is an opportunity to step up a bit from the mostly pedestrian Lumia 635. I've had cell phone bills that are higher than the upfront cost of this phone. It's a good deal.

Like the Lumia 635, the Win HD is a great phone for kids, or for anyone who can't afford to repair a higher-end phone but is waiting out their contract expiration and doesn't want to slum it too much.

It's also a great phone for those who don't want to be tied to a monthly contract—here in the US, still a bit rare—or just don't have that option, which is the case in much of the world.

And you may simply be tired of, or not interested in, the whole Lumia design thing. I get that too.

The Win HD isn't a slam dunk, of course. I happen to prefer the look and feel—and customizability—of the Lumia 635, for example. And the inability to use Nokia's stunning collection of largely photo-oriented apps is a problem. I do hope Microsoft rectifies this situation by making them available to all Windows Phone users, but for now all you can get is HERE Drive+ (which of course isn't going to Microsoft anyway). So that may be a deal-breaker for you as well, unless of course photography isn't near the top of your smart phone needs list. (The BLU lacks a hardware camera button, as you might expect.)

Overall, though, BLU succeeds in its central mission of providing a great value. The BLU Win HD is recommended.

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