All Things Portable
One of the benefits of the Android platform is how many different devices the consumer gets to choose from. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have established themselves well into this sector and offers a handset for every type of customers out there. Want a large screen? There’s the Galaxy Note II. Maybe perhaps something reasonably smaller without compromising user experience? There’s the Galaxy S III.
Although there’s many commendable handsets for the high end market, the low end market never had a solid handset when it comes to keeping it under $400 without a contract. The arrival of the LG Nexus 4 certainly made waves in the smartphone market, where originally it was only feasible to spend at least $500 for a high performance smartphone. In fact, the low starting price of $300 for the Nexus 4 is practically unmatched even til today, but other manufacturers are trying to dip their feet in this budget range as well.
BLU is one of the more discreet handset manufacturers, and are better known for their somewhat generic handset that while are quite affordable, sacrifices features and performance. For 2013, the company has announced their new Quattro 4.5 HD handset, an Android device sporting a 4.5″ 720p IPS display with a Tegra 3 processor keeping things churning. Pricing it at $350, it appears BLU is trying to make a leap into the higher end tier. But is a high resolution screen and quad core processor enough to sway consumers away from the Nexus 4?
BLU has definitely upped the ante with the materials for the Quattro 4.5 HD, which sports a powder coated aluminum frame that surrounds a relatively firm black plastic casing. The back of the handset is made of softer plastic, finished in a glossy black that looks sleek but does attract fingerprints. The power and volume buttons are made of aluminum as well, and has a nice firm feedback when press without sounding cheap or suffer from rattling when fiddled with.
For the internals, the Quattro 4.5 HD is powered by nVidia’s aging Tegra 3 T30 processor, operating at 1.4 GHz in multithreading mode and 1.5 GHz in single threaded applications. Furthermore, 1 GB of RAM supports the processor while 16 GB of internal NAND storage provides 11 GB of user storage and 2 GB for OS applications. Unfortunately as with the majority of $350 or less off contract devices, the handset makes do without LTE data connectivity and supports HSPA+ 21 Mbps solely, exchanging data transmission speed for compatibility with its pentaband UMTS radio that supports all GSM carriers. Interestingly the Quattro 4.5 HD’s packaging and even the screen protector advertises a MicroSD card slot, although it does not have one. Perhaps an oversight by packaging?
The Quattro 4.5 HD’s aluminum frame gives it a nice weighed feel, but there are some minor oversights that indicates this is still a lower price budget device. While the frame is painted to give it a nice, uniform look, BLU left the Quattro’s volume rocker button’s finish alone. This makes the volume button stick out a bit from device, and in this instance detracts from the overall luxurious look the company tries to shoot for as unfinished aluminum tends to have pits and other small imperfections on the surface.
In general, the Quattro 4.5 HD appears unassuming and probably isn’t for those that prefers eye catching devices as it really looks too discreet for anyone passing by to take notice. The phone’s contour is well suited for long term handling, and the aluminum frame rounds off the corners nicely to make the device pleasant to hold in landscape or portrait position.
In an attempt to further make the handset really pop out when it comes to value, BLU has included a silicon case with the phone, which wraps around the casing perfectly and does not intrude into the screen. While it does hide the frame and take away from the look, the case will preserve the frame’s finish and prevent any premature abrasions or scratches on the surface.
One of the biggest strengths for the Quattro 4.5 HD is the screen. While it may not be up to par with the recent trends for 1080p resolution panels, the IPS panel offers great viewing angles and crisp, sharp text. Colors are vibrant and white balance is spot-on, allowing pictures to look natural but not washed out at the same time. In most cases, it is on par with the HTC One X and LG Optimus G.
Similar to the Apple iPhone 4, the Quattro 4.5 HD utilizes a pair of symmetrically positioned speaker grilles that actually houses the mono speaker on the left bottom of the handset and the primary microphone sits on the right side. Unfortunately for the Quattro, the speaker sounds tinny and the volume is average at best. At higher volume, music and prolonged audio sessions can come off as coarse and the speaker seemed strained at reproducing the audio. Audio from the 3.5 millimeter headphone port sounds clear enough for the average music listener, but like the speaker, lacks volume.
Hardware is a big selling point for the BLU Quattro 4.5 HD, but as with any computerized electronic device, software and hardware must work together to develop a comprehensive experience. In the Quattro 4.5 HD’s case, the software fell well short of what its hardware should be capable of. Right out of the gate, the 2013 handset runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, a solid but aging operating system that is going on two years old. In general, BLU took the high road with customizing the OS and kept the operating system relatively simple, choosing to have GO Launcher as the main sole launcher. This launcher, while offering a great magnitude of customization options and theme choices, may have not been the ideal choice as the BLU theme used by the Quattro is strangely not updated for its 720p display, making the icons throughout the theme appear blurry as it was originally for WVGA and qHD resolutions. Furthermore, BLU’s amateur level of utilizing the Android OS shows throughout; there are some minor grammatical errors throughout the dialogue and menu messages (See above), and all built-in apps such as Messaging, Calendar, Phone,etc. has stayed relatively untouched with minor color or graphical changes.
Strangely enough, BLU neglects to include a dedicated video player for the Quattro 4.5 HD. Fortunately a suitable app such as MX Player can be installed to overcome this omission, but being a device marketed towards the general retail market, it is a glaring oversight.
The BLU Quattro 4.5 HD comes with the Tegra 3 T30 processor, the very same one that powers the international HTC One X and LG Optimus 4X HD, giving both handsets plenty of muscle to power through any situation its owners throws at them. Unfortunately for the Quattro 4.5 HD, the Tegra 3 could not save the device from its oft-laggy user experience, which compounds to the question as to how the device can perform so poorly on top of a relatively untouched Android 4.0.4 firmware. A possible culprit may have been the obsolete build of GO Launcher , which has been replaced with a EX iteration that offers higher resolution themes and optimizations. Unfortunately even with other proven, well optimized launchers such as Nova and ADW, the handset continues to exhibit lag even when simply transiting between different application drawer pages. Fortunately, the Tegra 3 SoC performs on par with other Tegra 3 devices when it comes to gaming, so in this aspect, it is not a driver issue. Unfortunately, the Quattro 4.5 HD clearly shows BLU has a long way to go as far as software optimization is concerned.
Front Facing Camera
BLU keeps the Quattro 4.5 HD up to par with the industry by including a 8 megapixel camera in the rear, and a 1.3 megapixel unit up front. Unfortunately neither cameras can keep up with the industry leaders such as the Galaxy S III, iPhone 5 or the Lumia 920 when it comes to the actual picture quality. The front facing camera is passable for casual video conferencing or self portraits, but colors appear to be washed out and the lack of auto-focus means the end user will have to do some positioning around to get a somewhat usable image or video.
The rear camera suffers from a log shutter response, taking nearly three to five seconds to actually snap the photo after pressing the on-screen shutter button. In addition, occasionally the camera will perform last-second focusing and ISO adjustment, causing the original view that was focused to become deteriorated and undesirable when the sensor actually takes the picture. Some patience and additional attempts may be required for an acceptable photograph. 1080p videos from this camera suffers from compression processing as well, often appearing to have visible artifacts and motion video seems jittery at times.
A non-removable 1800 MaH battery keeps the Quattro 4.5 HD in action. In this regard, omitting the LTE radio may have paid off when it comes to the handset’s battery endurance, and it dearly needs it, because the Tegra 3 encased within draws considerable amount of power even when not in use. An average work day with an hour of on-screen time, synchronizing two push email accounts and half an hour of phone call got this phone from a full charge to a little over 60% of life remaining within four hours. BLU has built in a power saving feature that allows the user to switch the power profile of the device from Battery Saver, Balanced and Performance, but neither extremities made negligible difference to the device’s endurance. Light use with the Quattro 4.5 HD may get one through an eight hour work day, but moderate or heavy power users will need to carry a Micro USB cable on hand to make it through a day.
The Quattro 4.5 HD offers average call quality on either ends. Callers noticed that while there is no noticeable background noise, the audio does sound muffle at times even though the reception signal is well above average. Audio coming through the Quattro’s ear piece is acceptable, but as with the loud speaker, lacks volume and sounds somewhat tinny.
BLU has certainly made some stride in improving the hardware aspect with the introduction of the Quattro 4.5 HD. It may not draw much attention and has some minor downsides with the finishing touches, but the biggest pitfall of the Quattro is clearly the software. For one, it is practically inexcusable to include an operating system from 2011 in a 2013 year device; even the budget Android handsets priced below the BLU handset now comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. If the LG Nexus 4 did not exist, this may have been a passable device to recommend, but even then, a used last generation Android handset would still be a compelling choice. For its price range however, the BLU Quattro 4.5 HD goes up against the Nexus 4, and in short, there is absolutely no good reason why this would be, or should be, recommended over a Nexus 4.