Hands-on Review: Blackview A7, a Dual Camera Phone for just PHP 2,500
What if I told you, there's a smartphone under USD 60 that manages to cram in enough tech to make it feel like you weren't short changed? That's what we have here with the Blackview A7, an entry-level dual camera smartphone from Hong Kong-based smartphone maker Blackview.
Blackview sent me a review sample of the A7, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and put it through the paces. Will this dual camera phone be available for a modest price to deliver? Check out my Blackview A7 review and find out.
Blackview is the second largest independent brand from the Blackview International Group. It was founded in March 2013 by a serial entrepreneur David Xu, and their mission advocates that quality doesn't need to cost a fortune. Their latest smartphone, the Blackview A7, is meant to aggressively challenge what we expect out of a budget phone.
The Blackview A7 beats that price, yet manages to offer many more features, many of which you would expect to find in the upper range of its segment rather at this unbelievable price. Is it the best smartphone in this segment? Let's read on to find out.
The box arrived in the mail, with a simple white design and an image of the phone at the front, with the Blackview branding on both ends sides. It's a standard, clean design and gives a very professional impression.
Inside, the phones were in a cardboard insert on top, wrapped in plastic to ensure a safe journey through the postal service. Unwrapping it, I was surprised to see that Blackview had included a clear jelly case to keep the phone safe, along with a fiber glass screen protector. These free accessories actually come with the phone when you buy it from the Blackview storefront at Ali Express.
The box also had the manual for the A7, a micro USB data charging cable and an auto-volt wall charger rated at 1,000mAh. It has everything you need to get up and going, and the provided case fit snugly. Coupled with the screen protector, I had the confidence to take the phone and live with it for a week to see how it would do as my primary phone.
One thing you need to watch out for is the seal on the battery, you'll need to remove the tape covering the contacts which prevent the battery from discharging while in shipping and on the shelf. Once you've taken that out, the A7 is good to go!
The Blackview A7 is ready and suited up for action.
One thing you'll note about the Blackview A7 is that it doesn't feel cheap. It has the standard rectangular shape we've come to expect from every smartphone since the iPhone, with black bezels three Android buttons at the bottom and the camera, earpiece, and sensors on top. A metal frame goes around the body, fitting just above a plastic back that has a matte criss-cross design that looks smart and classy. It has the added bonus of being fingerprint resistant, so you won't have to bring out the cleaning cloth every thirty minutes to wipe it clean.
At the rear, you'll find the two dual cameras at the upper left corner beside an LED flash, the Blackview branding in the center beneath it, and the speaker grill at the bottom right. The volume rocker and power button are on the right side and a headphone jack is on top, with the micro USB port and microphone at the bottom.
If you look carefully, you'll find a little notch at the bottom right of the phone which looks about the right size to stick your fingernails inside. That's by design, as this allows you to pry the rear cover off the phone, revealing the battery and the micro USB and SIM slots. We've grown accustomed to unibody smartphones with non-user replaceable batteries and no access to the insides, so it's quite refreshing to see a phone you can open up in case you need to change the battery. There are two SIM slots, one for the regular size and one for a micro SIM and with the proper insert, you can also use a nano SIM.
The unit I received comes all in black, but the phone is also available in 3 other colors, blue, gold, and white. As a whole, the phone looks smart and classy, with the black color giving a handsome look, but the other colors definitely give it a different vibe. The blue color, in particular, is brilliant and gives the phone a very fun, chic feel, while gold and white have a feeling of sophistication.
The phone does have some heft to it; it weighs in at 175 grams, which is noticeably heavier than most other phones I've used in the past year. You can feel its weight in your hand, and this can be a good or a bad thing. If you like going light with your phone disappearing into your pocket and your hand, the A7 isn't going to do that, but on the other hand, it does feel reassuring in your hand and gives the impression that it isn't a cheap device.
Looking inside the phone, the Blackview A7 spec is modest but capable. The A7 has a 5-inch HD 720p display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The edges of the display are ever so-slightly curved with 2.5D glass, giving it a smooth, impressive appearance. It's not a display you would expect at such a low price.
Inside is a MediaTek MT6580A quad-core processor clocked at 1.3Ghz, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. The main camera at the rear is a dual lens setup with a 5-megapixel Samsung S5K42E2 lens and a 2-megapixel Samsung GC0310 lens with f/2.4 aperture. These are older smartphone lenses, but it'll be interesting to see how they stack up when we put the phone through the photography tests.
A 2,800mAh Li-polymer user-replaceable battery provides the power, and you'll find that it keeps the phone running very well as the phone's chipset doesn't need as much juice as a higher-end processor. It runs on Android 7.0 Nougat and has full access to Android's app ecosystem.
Powering the device up, the phone was pushing an update right off the bat, so it's good to see that Blackview has some after sales service going to keep the phone updated.
While the processor isn't anything to write home about, in practice it manages to keep up pretty well with typical everyday smartphone tasks. Swiping home screens left and right is smooth, as is opening the app drawer, launching an app and switching between them with the Home and Android menu buttons. While those of you who like keeping everything open along with multiple tabs in the browser might run into problems with the 1GB of RAM, I had no problems with slowdown on the phone in the week I used it.
I usually kept about five apps open at any given time, usually, that means Chrome, Facebook, the Camera app, Gmail and the Spotify. Switching between apps was fast and easy, and I never experienced any sluggish behavior or slowdowns while doing so. Smartphone technology really has gone a long way, and it's good to see that even the low-end affordable smartphones are able to keep up.
A lot of this also has to do with how clean the ROM of the phone is. There's no bloat ware on the A7, it's just standard Android with a Google folder on the lower left and the Play Store on the lower right of the home screen. The only app I was surprised to see is hidden in the app drawer, a Torch app that lets you use the A7 as an improvised flashlight. Other than that, the A7 was clean as a whistle and it shows in the performance.
I installed AnTuTu to put the device through its paces, just to get an objective read on its performance. The results weren't bad, certainly not at this price. The A7 managed to score an overall score of 23,168. The phone as expected didn't fare well running the 3D gaming tests but it will do just fine with standard smartphone tasks. Most high-end devices will score into the 100,000 range and up, but in the entry-level segment, it works quite well. In terms of benchmarks, it's comparable to the OPPO R5, a December 2014 phone which was once lauded as being the world's thinnest LTE phone.
In the benchmark comparison, the OPPO R5 scores a total score of 29,275, and while its Snapdragon 615 CPU did better than the A7's MT6580A, the A7 had much better User Experience scores overall. Not bad for a 50 dollar phone. To put that into perspective, the OPPO R5 was selling for around USD 460 when it hit the market in early 2015 and still, sells for more than USD 200 today. Blackview really did its homework making sure the A7 delivered a clean, snappy user experience.
What most users will pay attention to, though, is the A7's camera performance. Dual lens camera setups are all the rage these days, and with good reason: smartphones are thin, tiny devices and there just isn't enough space to put a good lens in that body. Samsung is infamous for putting huge bumps in the back of their phones just to accommodate a much more capable camera lens than would normally be possible, but people are tired of bumps sticking out of the rear of their phones.
The new paradigm is to use two smaller camera lenses and use software algorithms to interpolate the pictures, creating a much better image than a single camera could produce. It sounds gimmicky, but many real world tests of various phones like the LG G6, the Essential PH1, and the Huawei P9 have proven that dual cameras work. The second camera lens is especially useful for creating that "bokeh" effect, the fancy thing professional photographers do with their DSLRs to focus on one subject in the shot and blur the background around it.
In practice, the effect can be achieved even with single lens smartphone cameras if you know what you're doing and under the right shooting conditions, but dual cameras make it a lot easier, and you can do it even if the camera lens isn't a top-of-the line smartphone lens like you'd find on flagships.
The A7's dual cameras work great in practice. While they aren't packing any cutting-edge lenses, the interpolation works reasonably well and manages to take impressive shots both in good daylight and in low-light conditions, with a few caveats.
Here's a daytime shot in the early afternoon. You'll notice that the shot can get over exposed, as you can see from the sky around the roof of the building. You can adjust the exposure with an easy slider, in case you aren't going for that sea of white effect, but overall the shot is good.
On the other hand, when shot in very low-light conditions, the dual camera array fails to impress. This is the same scene at night time, with very little light, and the lenses just aren't capable of getting enough light to illuminate the scene. The parts that have some fluorescent lights aren't so bad, but you can't even see the roof or the grass in the shot. You can take shots in dim light or low-light indoors where the proximity of the light sources are nearby, but outdoors in the middle of the night? The results aren't very good.
On the other hand, shooting indoors with dim lighting is surprisingly impressive, and produces shots you wouldn't expect from a phone in this segment. Here's a shot taken in a dimly-lit room with poor lighting, yet with proper shot composition you can get great results, even without flash.
A well-lit indoor shot is also pretty good, although the camera still doesn't seem to do well when contrasting against some brightly-lit backgrounds. It actually feels like the best conditions to shoot with this phone are in dimly-lit rooms.
One of the shooting modes is Blur Mode and it lets you take a shot of an object and adjust the blur intensity to control the effect of a blur. From what I can tell, it's not a true bokeh effect from using the two lenses and feels more like a software filter to add some blur to the edges of the shot, but you can achieve some nice effects with it.
It's also possible to use the A7 for close up shots of a subject with very good results, even indoors. Here is a normal shot indoors, without the blur effect.
The same shot with blur applied produces some interesting results and gives a very nice bokeh effect.
Be careful going overboard, though, as it's possible to ruin the shot if you adjust the blur effect too much. But with the proper shot composition, you can focus perfectly on your subject and get a very nice image.
Taking an indoor shot in low-light can also bring out some good details, and close up you don't lose any details or get much noise, even if lighting isn't ideal.
Turning on the flash, you can capture some better detail but your shot composition suffers from the small range of the LED light. Most of the time, I'd recommend not using it as the flash isn't sufficiently powerful to illuminate your shot, but this is par for the course with most smartphones.
However, if you use some clever lighting and some makeshift equipment, you can come up with some very nice shots even without the flash. I took these shots using a sheet of bond paper and a small LED lamp, and you can see a lot of good lighting and detail. I also took used the PRO shooting mode to manually adjust the exposure (second shot), add the blur effect (third shot), and do the shot in monochrome.
Needless to say, I'm very impressed with what the dual lens setup can do, for such an affordably-priced phone.
The selfie camera on the front, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing in comparison to how capable the rear camera is. A simple old single lens setup, it did a decent job in regular lighting conditions but the images were just average. Even with suitable daylight, there was a noticeable amount of noise in the shot, and details weren't as fine as I would have hoped. In low-light conditions, I wouldn't count on it to give an impressive snap.
It does have a Beauty Mode shot, which helps take off some years from my face, and it's a subtle enhancement that doesn't go overboard like you might see on the beauty filters of other smartphones from Samsung or OPPO.
After using the phone for a week, I did not have any problems with it and the battery life was top notch, going into two days with normal use taking pictures, checking my mail and social media, browsing the internet and even running a Monster Manual app for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. The phone marched along admirably without slowing down or making me feel impatient, and the signal reception was great using Smart Mobile LTE in the Alabang area in Metro Manila. I would definitely recommend this phone to anyone on a budget, and even if you have a good high-end phone this makes a great backup. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this is the best smartphone you can get in the under USD 100 segment at the moment.
When it comes down to it, most consumers are price-conscious and want to get the best value for their money. It's very hard to find any smartphone on the market that provides as much value as the Blackview A7. Most smartphones in this price segment are still on 480p screens, but the A7 has an HD 720p screen. On top of that, you get a capable dual camera setup that takes surprisingly good shots as long as it's not the dead of night.
The Blackview A7 in the Philippines is available through several outlets, you can find listings for the phone on Priceprice.com and you can also order it direct from Blackview's storefront here.