Rating:
7/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $199

The BLU G91 Pro on a desk, some figures and books in the background
Cameron Summerson

At the end of August, BLU launched the successor to its G90 Pro gaming phone with the aptly named G91 Pro. It has a few upgrades over its predecessor and a few surprising downgrades. Overall, the G91 Pro offers excellent price to performance, making it a great phone for anyone on a budget.

Here’s What We Like

  • Good price to performance ratio
  • Good battery life
  • Wireless charging and headphone jack
  • Nice aesthetic and build quality

And What We Don’t

  • A lateral movement from last year’s model (with some downgrades)
  • BLU doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to updates
  • The display could be better
  • Poor haptic motor

At $200, however, you can (and should) expect some compromises. For example, you won’t find 5G in this package, the cameras aren’t the best, and you can get a better display if you’re willing to spend a little bit more money. At the same time, this is a lot of phone for just a couple hundred bucks.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes, though, I want to talk about this whole “gaming phone” thing … because I don’t quite get it here. Sure, you can play games on this phone. I know because I did. But past that, I don’t really see what makes this a “gaming phone.” There’s no additional gaming software or extra buttons like you’d find on other phones, like the RedMagic 6R.

I mean, if you want to play on it, play on it. Just don’t expect some sort of competitive advantage like you’d get from other models. In my mind, this is just a regular phone with some “gaming phone” marketing slapped on it for additional sex appeal. It’s really not even necessary. It’s a fine phone on its own, and it doesn’t need the “gaming phone” thing thrown on to make it more appealing—especially at this price point.

Okay, rant over! Let’s take a look at what this joker is working with under the hood.

Specs

  • Display: 6.7-inch 20:9 FHD+ Infinity Display (1080×2400/395PPI) w/ holepunch camera
  • Processor: 2.0 GHz Octa-Core MediaTek Helio G90 Gaming processor
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128 GB, microSD card slot
  • Cameras: 48 MP main camera, 8 MP wide-angle, 2 MP depth sensor; 16 MP selfie cam
  • Ports: USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • Headphone Jack: Yes
  • Battery: 5,000mAh battery w/ 30w Quick Charge and 10w wireless charging
  • Fingerprint Sensor: Rear-mounted
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 2.4/5 GHz (a/b/g/n), 3G 850/900/1700/1900/2100, 4G LTE 1/2/3/4/5/7/12/17/28, dual-SIM
  • U.S. Carrier compatibility: T-Mobile, AT&T, Metro, Cricket, Straight Talk
  • Android version: Android 11 (two years of security updates promised)
  • Price: $249 retail, currently on sale for $199

If you read my review of last year’s BLU G90 Pro, you might notice some not-so-subtle downgrades here, like the MediaTek Helio G90 versus the G90 Pro’s Helio G90T. (Yes, the phone has the same name as the processor. That’s not confusing at all!). Or the 16MP front camera vs. the G90 Pro’s 32MP. The G91 Pro also has a smaller battery (5,000mAh vs. 5,1000mAh), though it does bring faster charging into the mix, so I consider that a wash.

The G91 Pro's hole punch camera
Cameron Summerson

On the upside, it has more RAM than last year’s model (6GB vs. 4GB), a hole punch camera instead of a teardrop, and a larger display. It also ships with Android 11, which the G90 Pro has yet to see. Still, it’s an interesting “upgrade” in most ways that matter, and I’m having a hard time seeing any reason users who already own the G90 Pro should upgrade. So if you’re using last year’s model and everything is going well, stick with that. This is a marginal upgrade at best and more of a lateral movement overall.

However, if you’re using older, slower hardware and want an upgrade that won’t break the bank, this is a good one to consider. If I were buying today and comparing the two, I’d take the G91 Pro over the G90 Pro just for the RAM upgrade and the newer Android version. The G90 Pro is still running Android 10, with no word on when (or if) the Android 11 update will be available. The G91 Pro launched with Android 11.

Hardware and Display: A Lateral Movement

The back of the G91 Pro, phone leaned against some books
Cameron Summerson

I’ve praised BLU’s more recent handsets for the overall build quality and aesthetic, and the G91 Pro is no different. This is a really nice looking phone on the outside—very svelte and modern. My review unit is Graphite (read: matte black), though there’s also supposed to be a blueish version called Moonstone available. That one isn’t available yet, but BLU tells me it should be out around the end of October.

This biggest downside is that, like so many modern phones, it’s slippery. I’m glad BLU includes a case in the box because I would almost certainly drop this thing multiple times a day without it. That’s a real shame, too, because I love how it looks naked. Also, the case that comes with last year’s G90 Pro is way cooler than the G91 Pro’s.

The G91 Pro in the included case
Cameron Summerson

In the middle of that buttery-smooth back, you’ll find one of the features that I will defend until my dying day: a fingerprint reader. The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is forever my favorite, and I’m glad to see BLU stick with it here. This phone also has “Face ID,” but it’s nothing more than Android’s native Face Unlock feature that is in no way a secure way of protecting your data. It can easily be fooled with an image and is more of a novelty than anything else. Stick with your fingerprint.

The rest of the build is mostly a standard affair: big ol’ quad camera array in the upper left, USB-C and headphone jack on the bottom, and volume rocker + power button on the right side (when looking at the display). However, the left side has a quirky little button that’s used to summon the Google Assistant. Given that there’s a swipe gesture on the screen to bring up the Assistant (swipe up from the bottom right corner), I don’t quite understand why this button exists?

The Google Assistant button on the G91 Pro
The Google Assistant button Cameron Summerson

On the upside, you can disable it if you don’t like it. On the downside, you can’t natively reprogram it, so if you don’t use it for Google Assistant, you’re stuck with a pointless button on your phone. I would’ve liked to see BLU give at least a few options for this button to make it more useful.

Back around front, you see the phone’s massive 6.7-inch display. I still laugh to myself about displays like this because it seems like not that long ago we were all looking at 7-inch tablets, not phones—hell, I remember when 4.3-inch displays were “big!” Ah, how far we’ve come.

But I digress. It’s a good looking display—but it’s not great. It’s not going to best Samsung’s budget phones or compare to something like the Pixel 4a (which is $100-150 more). But for $200, I have no real complaints. Despite the “gaming” moniker, this is a 60Hz panel, so don’t expect some insane refresh rates. After using phones with 90-120Hz refresh rates, it’s a little jarring to go back to 60Hz at first, but the adjustment is quick.

The headphone jack and USB-C port on the G91 Pro
A headphone jack. It’s becoming rarer and rarer these days. Cameron Summerson

Overall, the display is fine. It’s not going to blow you away, but at this price point, I wouldn’t expect it to. It’s fine.

Performance and Software: Good, Not Great, But Good (Not Great)

Last year’s G90 Pro performed well, especially considering the price. Despite having a slightly downgraded processor, the G91 Pro is more of the same. That said, I’m perplexed at the decision to drop down a notch in the processor department because the Helio G90 is a notable downgrade from the Helio G90T, at least on paper.

That said, the differences are fairly minimal—the Helio G90 is slightly slower than the Helio G90T (2.0Ghz vs. 2.05Ghz). The accompanying GPU is the same, with the Mali G76 MC4 in the Helio G90T clocking 800Mhz; the same chip is 720Mhz in the Helio G90.

So, all in all, the G91 is slightly slower on paper. Maybe it wasn’t a decision, per se—this could be due to the global silicon shortage. Or maybe not. I can’t tell you for sure. All I can tell you is that this year’s phone is slightly slower than last year’s. But, at the end of the day, you probably won’t feel that difference because the G91 Pro got an upgrade in the RAM department.

One of my bigger complaints with the G90 Pro was that it only had 4GB of RAM. The G91 Pro fixes that by adding a couple more gigs to bring the total up to 6GB of RAM. In my mind, that’s the minimum any phone should have in 2021—especially if it’s calling itself a “gaming phone.”

But how does all that stack up in use? Fine. I thumbed through Insta and checked the news regularly. Looked at Twitter, did some online shopping on Amazon, and read stuff in Chrome. It was all fine—but I also expected it to be fine. Almost any phone in 2021 should be able to handle the basics. Then I fired up Call of Duty Mobile to see the gaming performance.

All in all, it’s not bad! I could really feel the 60Hz display compared to the other phones I regularly use for gaming, which all have at least a 90Hz display, but many have 120Hz or even 144Hz. If you’ve never used a phone with a high refresh rate, then you won’t notice a single difference on the G91 Pro. If you have, then you will. It’s pretty simple. The good news is that you’ll adjust pretty fast, so don’t sweat it. Just know that the gaming experience isn’t quite as good because of it.

But I VIP’d every round I played, topped out at 33 kills (and 3 deaths, ugh) in a short First to 50 battle, and didn’t notice a massive impact compared to something like the Pixel 5. (I really missed the triggers on the RedMagic 6R though, that’s for sure). So yeah, performance is good. It gets the job done, and you can’t ask anything more than that from a $200 phone. Not a hiccup in sight for me.

Part of that may be because of BLU’s lightweight software. It’s a lightly skinned version of Android that, like so many others, changes a lot just for the sake of change. I’ll never understand why manufacturers do this, but at least it doesn’t make for a massively different experience. The menus are organized slightly differently than something like a Pixel, the buttons in the quick setting panel are big and touch-friendly, and honestly, that’s kind of it.

There are some little tweaks here and there, like BLU’s “Intelligent Assistant” settings. These are simple things like a three-finger swipe down gesture to take a screenshot, double-tap power to open the camera, and a few others. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, just some simple quality of life tweaks. I like it.

One thing I have found to be weird is gesture navigation. It’s not enabled by default, but even after being turned on, the back gesture doesn’t work right half the time. You swipe, the gesture activates as indicated by the vibration and little arrow that shows up, and then … nothing happens. I’ve exclusively been using Android’s gesture navigation since it was introduced, and I’ve never experienced this on any other phone. It’s annoying.

Cameras: Serviceable at Best, Inconsistent at Worst

The G91 Pro's quad-camera array
Cameron Summerson

The G90 Pro had pretty decent cameras for a $200 phone. My early impressions of the G91 Pro were quite the opposite—I took it on a quick trip to New York City and decided that would be a good place to test its main shooter, and woof, the results were just bad.

But when I got home, I did a little more testing. You can get some pretty good shots from this camera, though it can be pretty hit or miss. As one would expect, it’s better outdoors in good lighting than indoors, but still not what I’d call “great” by any means. The rear cameras are serviceable at best. Here’s a gallery of various shots using the standard and zoom lenses, indoors and out.

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BLU g91 Pro photo sample: a landscape with a lake, 4x zoom

The zoom is awful. It looks like watercolor

The front camera is more of the same, but like past BLU phones, the portrait mode is not great. It either didn’t work, or it cut my ear off in pretty much every test shot. And when it does work, you get some pretty gnarly haloing around the subject, which is honestly just … bad.

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BLU G91 Pro front camera sample: A selfie with portrait mode on. It blurred my ear with the background

Where. Is. My. Ear. ?!

BLU G91 Pro front camera sample: a group selfie with portrait mode on

Portrait mode enabled. It almost got it right.

Conclusion: A Good Buy, but Not a Good Upgrade

The back of the G91 Pro
Cameron Summerson

All in all, the G91 Pro is another good phone from BLU, though I can’t help but feel like last year’s G90 Pro was just … better? It looked nicer, the included case was better, the performance was a little bit snappier, and the cameras were just a little bit more impressive. The G91 Pro feels like a new phone for the sake of a new phone for the most part. I would’ve personally rather seen BLU put more effort into updating the G90 Pro with Android 11, but I get it. Software updates aren’t profitable, and at this price point, well, margins matter.

So with that in mind, I don’t have any issues recommending the G91 Pro to anyone looking for a phone at this price point. As I stated earlier, I wouldn’t upgrade from the G90 Pro to this, but I would buy the G91 Pro if I were deciding between the two at this very moment. It’s a lateral movement from its predecessor, but the extra RAM, sleeker hole punch camera, and Android 11 out of the box all make this the better buy. Plus, BLU promises two years of security updates with the G91 Pro, which is a good sign.

Let’s hope it gets Android 12 (I wouldn’t count on it).

Here’s What We Like

  • Good price to performance ratio
  • Good battery life
  • Wireless charging and headphone jack
  • Nice aesthetic and build quality

And What We Don’t

  • A lateral movement from last year’s model (with some downgrades)
  • BLU doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to updates
  • The display could be better
  • Poor haptic motor