Amazon's BLU R1 HD smartphone review 2016
$59.99 is an great deal on a surprisingly nice, decent smartphone

My Amazon BLU R1 HD smartphone (center), a typical lockscreen ad (upper left), smaller lockscreen ad with notification (lower left), back of phone (upper right), back cover removed (lower right)

 

BLU R1 HD smartphone
Rating: 5/5 by Steve
Last Updated: April 14, 2017

In addition to the BLU R1 HD smartphone, Amazon also offers discounts on Amazon Prime LockScreen-Offer versions of the Moto G4, the Moto G4 Play, the new Moto G5 Plus, and the new Alcatel A30. The Amazon Moto G4/G5 smartphones cost a bit more than the BLU R1 HD, but they are also better phones. They too are great values, and I would highly recommend any of the Moto G4/G5 versions. I don't know anything about the new Alcatel A30.

 * Amazon BLU R1 HD 8GB smartphone for $49 ($49 with ads or $99 ad-free | 5.0" screen, unlocked, works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
 * Amazon BLU R1 HD 16GB smartphone for $59 ($59 with ads or $109 ad-free | 5.0" screen, unlocked, works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
 * Amazon Moto G4 PLAY smartphone for $99 ($99 with ads or $149 ad-free | 5.0" screen, unlocked, works with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile)
 * Amazon Moto G4 smartphone for $129 ($129 with ads or $179 ad-free | 5.5" screen, unlocked, works with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile)
 new! Amazon Moto G5 PLUS smartphone for $184 ($184 with ads or $229 ad-free | 5.2" screen, unlocked, works with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile)
 new! Amazon Alcatel A30 smartphone for $59 ($59 with ads or $99 ad-free | 5.0" screen, unlocked, chose between AT&T/T-Mobile version or Verizon version)
 

( Click here an Amazon comparison between the BLU R1 HD, Moto G4 Play, Moto G4, and Moto G5 Plus specifications. )

* Try Amazon Prime 30-Day FREE Trial *

About the "lock screen offers" / ads:
If you buy one of these phones and you decide the lockscreen ads bother you, I've posted a way to minimize and/or remove the Amazon lock screen offer ads. Many people apparently don't mind the ads or ignore them (or perhaps instead actually enjoy the ads and find them of value), but if you're like me and decide you don't care for the ads, check out my suggestions on how to minimize or remove them.

Summary:
I couldn't believe the Amazon BLU R1 HD smartphone had the impressive specifications it did and yet the lockscreen-ads version was only $59.99 (special price for Amazon Prime members only). Because the BLU R1 HD was so cheap yet appeared to be a perfectly fine smartphone, I decided to buy one to test it out and see how good this smartphone is. I've been using it for over a month, and have been quite impressed. The main conclusion I've come to so far is that you don't have to spend several hundred dollars to get a decent smartphone. In fact, you only have to spend $60! The BLU R1 HD smartphone is a perfectly decent smartphone. When I compare it to our 2-year old Moto G phones (which were $149 new and still work just fine), it's actually better in just about every way, and yet it's significantly cheaper. Of course, you can spend a lot more and get a high-end phone with even better specifications, but do you really need it? If you're looking for a decent, basic but fully functional and capable smartphone, consider the BLU R1 HD smartphone. At the regular price of $109.99, it's an unbeatable bargain. If you don't mind the Amazon lockscreen offers and ads (which are really fairly benign), the $59.99 version is an incredible deal. Use the BLU R1 HD smartphone with a Google Voice phone number and then use Google Hangouts for calling and texting (via wifi and cellular data), and get a FreedomPop LTE GSM sim to put in it which will give you 700mb of free cellular data every month. For well under $100 you can set up a great smartphone and then have free monthly service for it. This phone is perfect for having an extra phone or backup phone around the house, or for a kid's first smartphone. And if you try it out for a while, I wouldn't be surprised if you decide the Blu R1 HD smartphone is also just fine for your main phone.

There are two versions of Blu R1 HD, the base model has 1gb of RAM and 8gb of ROM, and the better model has 2gb of RAM and 16gb of ROM. The better model is only $10 more. I highly recommended you get the better model with 2GB RAM/16GB ROM, which is what I bought and what I review below. Spend the extra ten dollars!

Specifications:
 * PHONE SIZE/WEIGHT: 5.65" x 2.83" x 0.34", 5oz
 * SCREEN SIZE: 5.0 inch HD Curved Display Screen (1280 x 720 pixels, 420dpi)
 * Gorilla Glass 3
 * 1.3 GHz quad-core MediaTek 6735 ARM Cortex processor
 * 2 GB RAM
 * 16 GB ROM (internal memory) plus up to 64GB MicroSD
 * dual sim slots plus MicroSD slot
 * Google Android Marshmallow 6.0
 * supports wifi (2.4GH), 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE
 * GSM - works with AT&T and TMobile, is not CDMA and does not work with Sprint or Verizon
 * also works with any AT&T or TMobile MVNOs (resellers), for example, with a FreedomPop LTE GSM free cellular data sim
 * 8MP main camera with LED flash
 * 5MP selfie camera with front-facing LED flash 
 * Micro-USB charging/data port, standard headphone jack

2014 4.5" Moto G (1st Gen) vs 2016 5" BLU R1 HD (shown above)

My Experience:
I've had the Blu R1 HD smartphone since August (2016), and have been quite impressed and am very happy with it so far. For reference, I'm comparing it to my 2014 Moto G smartphone. We have three Moto G (1st Gen) smartphones with Republic Wireless, and they all continue to work and meet our needs. As you can see, we're not the kind of family that needs the latest most popular phone. If a smartphone works and does what we need, we're happy. So to best review the Blu R1 HD smartphone I compared it to our current 2014 Moto G smartphones. I did not expect rhe BLU R1 to be that same as the most expensive Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. I just wanted to see if the BLU R1 HD would get the job done for the average smartphone user, and I wanted to play around with my new FreedomPop Global GSM sim which is supposed to provide up to 700mb of free cellular data every month, but one needs an unlocked GSM smartphone (like the BLU R1 HD) to be able to use the FreedomPop sim.

SCREEN/DISPLAY: The display is a bit bigger than my old Moto G and seems brighter and crisper. I like the slightly larger size (5" vs 4.5"). Youtube videos look great. Checking emails is easier. The display is crisp, sharp, and bright. Two thumbs up.

SPEAKERS/SOUND: as per other reviews, the speakers aren't that loud. The max volume seems to match my older Moto G.

TALKING: Using this for it's most basic function (as a phone), it works just fine on wifi. People I called via Google Voice on wifi didn't know if I was calling from a landline or a cellphone. When calling over cellular service (via FreedomPop GSM 3G data using Google Voice/Hangouts/VOIP) calls were generally fine. I had a few garbled attemted calls in the beginning, but since then things have been ok. I think the issue was more FreedomPop or Google Hangouts related, and had nothing to do with the BLU smartphone. So as a phone, it works.

TEXTING: works just fine as expected, and is usually my main form of communicating (text not talk).

CAMERA: I don't take a lot of pictures. Used both the main camera and selfie camera, and both look fine. Both have a flash function. Other reviews state the camera is so-so. It seems fine for what most people take pictures for, and I wouldn't expect the state of the art camera one would get with the latest iPhone.

BATTERY: I want a battery that will last for several days if I don't use the phone very much and it is just sitting around. I don't want to worry about grabbing the phone to go somewhere and finding out it is almost dead (although when you have kids using your phone, this can happen anyway). The 2500ma lithium-ion battery in the BLU R1 does the job. If I charge the phone and don't use it much the first day, it will typically indicate I have 6 to 8 days left (it once told me 12 days... wow). To maximize the battery life, one should keep the phone on a strong wifi signal as much as possible and leave location (gps) turned off.

POWER & VOLUME BUTTONS LOCATION, CHARGING PORT: The power and volume buttons are the opposite of my Moto G, which takes some getting used to. When I switch between phones, I often then hit the volume button instead of the power button, or vise versa. In any event, the up/down volume rocker buttons are one the right side at the top of the BLU R1 HD phone, and the power button is below them on the right side in the middle. Similarly, the charging port on the BLU phone is at the bottom on the left side instead of being at the bottom center like the Moto G. The charging port is a microUSB connector like our Motorola phones, the the phone chargers are interchangeable. One can also connect the BLU phone to your computer using a data (4 wire) microUSB connecting cord. [update - I've now gotten used to the power button location, and easily switch back and forth between the BLU and our Moto Gs and usually do not hit the wrong button.]

FIT AND FINISH: The phone looks good and feels solid.

RELIABILITY: We've had multiple Motorola phones (including old school RAZR flip phones and more modern Moto G smartphones), and I've always found Motorola phones to be reliable long-term. I've never had a BLU phone before. From what I've read, the reviews indicate they are as reliable (or not) as most name-brand phones. So far I haven't had any reliability problems. If I do, I'm only risking $60. At this point, I have good expectations for this phone.

AMAZON LOCKSCREEN ADS: I find I generally don't notice the lockscreen ads (see my update below). Each time you power up the phone, you'll either see a full screen ad, or if you have a notification such as an available update or a new text, you'll see a small Amazon ad under the notification. There are examples of each at the top of this review. Again, I don't really notice the ads, and I like that I saved $50. It's up to you whether to see the ads, or pay $50 more to not have them. If you get the ad-supported version, I believe you can change your mind later and contact Amazon, and for $50 they will remove the ads. But I would recommend saving the money and then ignoring the ads (or who knows, maybe you'll see an ad you like!) 12/14/16 update: I've now decided I find the the ads mildly annoying (though I still love that I save $50, and having the ads is still worth saving $50), and I've written a post on how to minimize and/or remove and disable the Amazon ads.

EVALUATING AND USING THE "DUAL SIM" TWO SIM SLOTS:
A person commented on my FreedomPop GSM sim card review and asked if one could put a FreedomPop GSM sim card in both of the sim slots (2 sims), and if they would both work. I tested his question, and confirmed that yes, indeed, you can put a sim in both of the dual sim slots, and both sim cards will work. After you install the two sim cards, you then select on the phone to determine which sim (#1 or #2) to use for data, as well as which sim to use for voice calls, and which sim to use for texts. For example, you could use sim #1 for data, and sim #2 for voice and text. I did notice that whichever sim you set for data, the other sim slot appears to then be limited to 2G. In my case, I'm using the FreedomPop sim for data, and also using the data to power Google Hangouts for talk and text. So I only need the one data sim card. But having a second sim card in the phone allows me to switch to it if I hit my data limit on the first sim.

Testing the Amazon BLU R1 HD dual sim smartphone with two FreedomPop sim cards

Amazon BLU R1 HD dual sim GSM smartphone with two FreedomPop GSM sims installed (above), screenshot on right shows how you can pick which sim to use for Cellular data, Calls, and SMS messages

DUAL SIM FUNCTIONALITY UPDATE (February 16, 2017)
Masa commented below and reported that he was having problems switching between two FreedomPop sims. I hadn't really used the dual-sim feature on the phone after I initially tested it, so I installed a second Freedom sim in my BLU R1 HD phone to see if I could switch over to it for data. I initially experienced the same problems that Masa reported. However, with more trial and error testing, I did come up with a process for switching back and forth between two data sims (such as two FreedomPop LTE data sims). If you're having problem switching over to your second data sim, you might want to try this method:

HOW TO SWITCH BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN TWO DATA SIMS IN THE BLU R1 HD SMARTPHONE
To go from sim slot #1 to sim slot #2
  First, go to settings > sim cards. Now switch sms to #2, then switch voice to #2, then switch data to #2.
   You will see a message saying, "Switching data sim, this may take up to a minute."
  Wait up to a minute for the signal bars at the top of your phone to come back.
  Second, go to settings > data usage. Select sim slot #2. The cell data is off. You need to turn it ON.
  Wait again for up to a minute, and the data should work.
To go from sim slot #2 to sim slot #1, do the same, but from 2 to 1.

Note: If you are trying to use both sim slots at the same time (ie one for data and the other for voice calls), you can set one sim slot for data, and the other sim slot for voice/text. But the second sim for voice/text will be limited to 2G only. AT&T (and all MVNO carriers using AT&T) stopped supporting 2G at the beginning of 2017, so if you're trying to use an AT&T-based sim card for 2G voice, it will not work. Keep this in mind if you're thinking of having one sim for data and a second sim for calls. If you just want to have two FreedomPop sims in the phone, and switch between them if the first sim runs out of free data, the BLU R1 HD should work fine, but you may need to use my method above to reliably switch back and forth between the data sims.

CONCLUSION: If you want or need a new smartphone and don't want to spend a lot of money, and don't need an amazing camera or the fastest phone out there, buy the Amazon BLU R1 HD smartphone. If you don't mind the Amazon lockscreen offers, buy the $60 version. There is no better deal out there on any other smartphone, and the BLU R1 HD is a perfectly capable more-than-just-a-budget smartphone.

***  buy the BLU R1 HD 16GB smartphone from Amazon  ***
(only $59.99 for Prime members, and $109.99 for nonPrime members!)

* Try Amazon Prime 30-Day FREE Trial *

Bonus: Want up to 700mb (or more) of free cellular data every month to use with your BLU smartphone?
Check out my FreedomPop LTE GSM sim evaluation and review here...

 

Comments / Questions / Feedback:

Comment by bob updike on Sunday, October 16, 2016
Excellent reviews on the BLU and FP GSM sim. I'm in for a BLU and four sims. I can't help myself.

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi Bob, I know how you feel! Thanks for your comment.

Comment by Pandorab on Monday, October 31, 2016
I went to buy the blu r1 hd and they are gone. I'm so upset. I did my research and got prime just for this reason. Do you know why they are gone or if they will come back?

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
I just checked and see what you're saying. The BLU R1 HD on Amazon is listed as "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." I did a little research myself and can't find any reason. Since it's a new phone and it's been so successful and popular, I would assume it will be available and back in stock soon. Maybe they just got overwhelmed with orders and ran out of stock, or they are having problem getting one of the components. Or maybe they are adding Band 12 support or some other software update. After I got my BLU R1 HD phone, and week or so later, I ordered the BLU case for it from Amazon, but the case had sold out (was out of stock). I think I had to wait about six weeks for the case to be back in stock and ship, but I eventually got it. In any event, I would guess that the phone will become available again, I just don't know how long it will take or why it's out of stock right now.
12/13/16 update: The BLU R1 HD is back in stock at Amazon.

Comment by TaylorUnlocked on Sunday, December 11, 2016
Sadly, as of December 11, 2016 the status is still unavailable. Better yet, you can't even find it on the site other than using google to find the direct link or if you already bought it (I purchased the 2GB/16GB edition), by searching through past orders. The only issues I have had that aren't related to it being a budget phone are: poor wifi/cell signal reception (compared to Moto G4 Play and Nexus 5X - both use Qualcomm and sadly not using an integrated modem might be the issue being a low-mid soc). It also wouldn't play nice with swapping in a MetroPCS sim. Works wonders with WalmartFM though, so might be Metro playing coy. Charging is super slow, but can mediated somewhat using a 2.1 amp or (at-your-risk higher amp) charger. The Moto G4 Play actual slips out of my small hands quite often and slides like a cat on ice if laying on your pants. I can confirm an update last month pushed out support for band 12 on T-Mobile (including mvno's). Battery life is great and performance wise is on par or surpasses the Moto G4 Play, except for some reason the keyboard has touch response delays when typing during and after heavy CPU usage.

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi Taylor, Thanks for providing your own little "mini-review" of the Blu R1 HD. Like you, I did get and install the recent update that adds Band 12 support, so Blu and Amazon did come through on their promise to provide the Band 12 update. But unfortunately, as you said, BLU R1 HD is still not back in stock or available, which makes me wonder if Amazon will offer it again. Amazon still has the Amazon-Prime-Lockscreen $50 off offers on the Moto G4 smartphone for $149 and the Moto G4 PLAY smartphone for $99.
12/13/16 update: The BLU R1 HD is back in stock at Amazon.

Comment by David on Monday, December 26, 2016
Steve, Between Blu R1 HD and Moto G4 Play, which one is better? Thanks, David

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi David, It's almost like the BLU R1 HD is a copy of the Moto G4 Play (they are the same 5" screen size and have almost identical specs), but there are a few differences. The BLU is $40 cheaper ($59 vs $99 for Prime Members), so you have less money at risk if you loose it or break it, or if something goes wrong with it, but to my mind, both are pretty darn cheap for a decent smartphone. Motorola is more of a brand-name, and it has the water-repellant electronics nano-coating, which could be a very nice feature if you ever accidentally get your phone wet. I don't have any long term experience with BLU phones, but so far my BLU R1 HD is doing fine. The BLU only works with AT&T and T-Mobile based carriers, but the Moto G4 Play works with all four US carriers - AT&T, TMobile, Sprint, and Verizon, so you have all your options if you change carriers down the road. Both work with the FreedomPop GSM sim which can give you free service (see my FreedomPop GSM sim review). The BLU has dual (two) sim slots, which is kind of cool if you use that feature, but keep in mind the second sim slot is limited to 2G service. The Moto only has one sim slot, like most phones. All in all, they are both good phones. Amazon has this helpful comparison page which compares the specs between the BLU R1 HD, the Moto G4 Play, and the Moto G4. Let me know if you decide to get one! Good luck.

Comment by David on Saturday, December 31, 2016
Is the speaker on the front? Thanks.

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi David, The earpiece speaker that you would hear when you use the phone is on the front by where your ear would be, but the main speaker for the BLU R1 HD (i.e. for listening to music) is on the back of the phone near the bottom.

Comment by Masa on Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Hi, a great review. Thanks! A quick question about dual sim. I also do have the Amazon 16GB BLU R1 HD model. I have found the switching sim 1 and sim 2 for data usage, for instance, is pretty flaky and half the time, it doesn't work smoothly. The first phone I received was pretty bad on sim switching and I returned it to Amazon for a replacement. The replacement does a bit better, but still not as good. In the worst case (and the most reliable method) I have found is to take out one of the sims out and boot up to get the data fully recognized on the other sim. This is going through all the APN setting, etc. While a sim is in the phone, everything works so the configuration must be correct. Only when you switch data from sim 1 to 2 or 2 to 1, it sometimes works and is not as reliable until you take a sim out.
Have you had extensive testing on dual sim configuration and sim switch testing? I have asked around a lot since it came on sale, and not many people have tested the sim switching functionality. I suspect it is an issue or glitch with some OS configs, but I don't have a good root cause. I asked BLU support and their support response wasn't helpful other than stating one can receive data while the other sim stays as 2G as you mentioned.
Any info is appreciated. Thanks!

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi Masa, Thanks for your comment. Other than doing an initial test to confirm I could switch between the two installed sims for data (per my review above) I haven't really ever needed to switch between sims since then so I don't have much experience with how well it works. I'll try it again soon and update this comment when I have more info. I'm currently using FreedomPop Global sims with my BLU R1 HD, and intend to switch over to FreedomPop LTE sims (or one of each) and definitely will be testing switching between sims then. Stay tuned...
2/16/17 update - I have updated my review above to show a way to reliable and easily switch back and forth between two FreedomPop sims for cellular data use. Thanks again to Masa for his comment!

Comment by Ed on Tuesday, March 21, 2017
I now have a BLU R1 HD with a FreedomPop LTE SIM in slot #1 and their Global SIM in slot #2. I can switch between the two SIMs per your directions - THANKS! However, FreedomPop messaging always goes to the phone number for SIM #1, even after a reboot with SIM #1 disabled and SIM #2 enabled. If I can't find a combination that works, this may need to become a single SIM slot phone. Thoughts?

Reply by Steve (Cranial Borborygmus)
Hi Ed, Thanks for your comment. I don't use the FreedomPop app or the second sim slot very much (I mainly just use the data on the first sim, and sometime switch to the second sim for data). But I just tried using the FP app on the second sim slot and I see what you're saying. The FP app shows the info for the first sim. Hmmmm... I'll have to do some research when I have time. But for now, I'm seeing the same issue with the FP app that you are seeing.

Comment by Ed on Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Steve - thanks for your reply, as always. I went to the trouble of uninstalling and reinstalling the app, no joy, same problem. Still, you've given me food for thought. I want the Global SIM for an upcoming trip, so I think that for now the Global SIM will go in slot #1 to be used with the FP app and the LTE SIM can go in #2 to be used with Hangouts. I see more technical solutions online but this is probably as far out into the water as I want to wade... Ed

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