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First Impression – Blu Advance 4.0

This will be a first impression review of the Blu Advance 4.0. I had this phone for a week, although wasn’t able to make full use of the features until about 24 hours ago. There are a couple of reasons why I purchased this phone. The first is to replace the role of my DECT phone which is a terrible product (as with most VTECH phones) for something that will function better in the modern world. The second reason is to see if I will be able to suffice off of a free phone plan when my obligations are completed.

The Blu Advance 4.0 (Model Number A270a) is a Dual SIM GSM-3G phone. It has a 4″ screen, capacitive touch buttons, and a physical power and volume keys. There is also a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There is a replaceable battery which hides the dual SIM trays, and micro-SD card slot. The Advance can be acquired for less than $100 on Amazon (as of 2015-04-21), and comes in black or white. The phone supports Wifi-N, and Bluetooth. It runs Android 4.2 OS.

The Good

This phone functions well enough as a budget phone. Spending less than $100 on an Android phone is typically a very bad mistake, and while I would never be able to use this a primary phone (due to my requirements), for those on a tight budget – they might find this suitable. The phone comes with 1.27GB of storage space out of the box, but if you need or want a basic phone, expect another 500MB of apps to be loaded. This is good considering that I had real concern that there would have been 250 or 500MB of storage. It’s not the 16-128GB found on newer higher end phones, but the micro-SD card makes up for that somewhat.

The phone is dual SIM. This means I can have 2 SIM cards from the same or different providers. This is unusual in the US, as there are still times when one is required to sign a 2 year contract (which you should run from like the plague). In my instance, I am using one SIM for data, and another for voice. You just have to be careful to install the data SIM into SIM 1. SIM 2 only supports GSM-2G.

And of course, you will find it hard to beat the price. I last seen this phone for $75, and I bought it on sale for $50. Even the Motorola Moto E doesn’t compete on those grounds, although the Moto E has advantages over this phone, it is worth looking at if nothing else.

The Dual SIM management tool was simple enough. I was able to select SIM 2 as default for voice calls, and allowed SIM 1 to handle data by simply selecting the appropriate card. There was a couple of hiccups in navigating when it came to the phone, and services – but this more of an Android problem.

The Bad

There are a number of things that I find at fault with this phone. Yes, I understand that the phone is less than $100, and I am taking that into consideration. There are still some things that needs to be addressed.

First, the OS. Android 4.2 is just not an inconvenience of not having newer features in Android, but a security flaw. Just as people should update the OS on their PC, so should the phone OS be updated. I have concerns that this will never happen and that is a shame. And considering this is a brand new phone – it should have an updated OS. Now some will say that the phone is a lower spec phone. I call bulls**t on that as Android’s newer versions are to be easier on lower end phones.

Next is marketing. The phone claims 3D gaming, and I doubt that with a Dual Core 1.3Ghz CPU on 512MB of memory, nad only 1.3GB of storage. The marketing on the box also screams 4G, and again – Bulls**t. Under the ITU Specs, 4G cellular is LTE and WiMax with Wimax seeing the last days, so let’s just say LTE. HSPA is 3G. Plain and simple, and just because the top of the line HSPA is equivalent to LTE in the infancy doesn’t make it 4G.

And speaking of 3G, it would have been a better value if Blu didn’t skimp on supporting the other two 3G bands. My Nexus 4 from 3 years ago with no LTE at the time supported all of the GSM 3G bands, and I can’t see why a new budget phone can’t do the same. Bands supported are 850/1700/1900 bands. If they are trying to cater to the emerging market, or budget friendly choices, they have made a failing here.

The Ugly

For what ever reason, companies known to be budget likes to put the micro-USB port on the top of the device. Not only is this unusual, but it can be a problem with handling the device while charging. Next, the micro-SD card cage was a pain to open. The arrows suggested on direction which one will likely imply to open where it is to close. The capacitive touch buttons would have been nice to be rid of. A 4.3″ screen with onscreen buttons would have been better.

Initial Impression

This phone is good enough. I wouldn’t expect it to be anything really good, or an impression, but even as a Single SIM service, it could serve well enough. If you are looking for a “first” smart phone, back up, or in need of a low cost dual SIM phone, this is a good enough choice.

My main gripe is the OS. This is something that Blu can solve with all of this model phone, they just choose not too. If you are worried of a reliable update path, you may have to consider spending twice as much for a Motorola Moto series phones which have a reputation of a reliable update path. However, you may find it hard to get a dual SIM phone, and only model I know is the Moto-G.

E911! We Need Something Better

For those that live in the United States, you might have heard of E911. First, for those not in the US, 911 is the national emergency response service number. Typically, this is 112, but in the US, we like to be difficult. Now, at this time, there is E911 which goes one step beyond the older system where the telephone number and service address is collected and submitted to the operator. In the case of Cellular technology, this will typically try to pull GPS or Radiolocation information. So, E911 is good, right? It is better than standard 911, but not as good as it could or should be.

POTS Landline

POTS is Plain Ordinary Telephone Service. When you plug a telephone into the phone jack on the wall of your home, or apartment, you are likely using a POTS connection. For E911, this is good, and they work together. It would seem like the people who pushed to implement this thought of POTS and said, yes it would work. And with that regards it does.

ISP VOIP Services

If you are using a cable Internet Service, or FiOS, and have “home phone” service, then you are using VOIP. This is not as much as an issue as the phone service is built into the modem, or service line. In that regards, this only becomes an issue if you move, and the company didn’t update your service address.

Cellular

Cellular services will try to give an approximation based on the distance of cellular towers with relation to the phone. More accurately will be GPS, but this only works if the device has GPS. Most smartphones do, but some basic cellular phones do not.

SIP Services

Now, this is where problems will arise. If you are using a SIP phone service, and some of you might be for cheaper international calls, then the E911 flaws become apparent. You first inform the SIP provider your service address. This is verified, and recorded for when you have to make a 911 call. If your SIP phone never leaves the home, this is OK. However, if your SIP phone goes somewhere else, then the address is no longer valid. Calling 911 will send services to the address noted unless you tell them otherwise. If you are calling 911, you are not likely going to think about telling them the address they see is not where you are at this moment. This can become a significant problem.

Solution

The solution is very simple, but would require government intervention to force companies to do things they won’t want to do. First, every physical location must have a static IPv6 address. There are enough addresses to where each person in this world can have more than a billion IPv6 addresses before there has to be concern. I am sure that every residence and business address can have a devoted address for themselves. This IPv6 address will never change, even if another provider is selected. Now, a centralized IPv6 address database can be set up. With modifications to the PSAP software, the address can be looked up based on the IPv6 address that is being transmitted. Now if someone takes their SIP or VOIP phone to another location and need to call 911, it can be done and the address is accurate.

What Needs to Be Done?Extreme Solution

I am one of those ones that the infrastructure should belong to the people. Time and Time again, ISPs, Television providers, and cellular providers has failed to make the US the US competitive when it comes to price and features. Cellular services for example is among the most expensive in the world, and out of the industrialized countries, Internet is just as insane. However, when looking at Europe, rates are usually much better for cellular communications, while Asia may provide a Gigabit Internet connection for what an average consumer may pay for the 10s of Megabytes.

If the government performed imminent domaon on the data cables for Internet services, focused on making them competent, and allow ISPs to pay a fee to provide services to consumers, then the Internet system could be hopefully improved and unified without having to worry about pleasing stockholders. In addition, telephone services can be moved to Internet Protocol, therefore making the phone system more reliable and leaner. Maybe one day, we could replace the outdated RJ11, and Coaxial with a national communication standard of RJ45.

Final Thoughts

Rolling out a national IPv6 static address system throughout every address in the United States will mean that the national government can manage this database, and can provide accurate and more reliable address mechanism for everyone if they need to contact Emergency services.

It saddens me to say this will likely never happen. I do not see the federal government do what needs to be done to make it happen. And the ISP will never do this as it would require effort for less profit on their part. And one may not think of this as a big deal until you call 911, and they send that ambulance to save you from a heart attack or stroke to some other place.

Why no DECT?

People often complain about lack of cellular reception in their home. And to solve this problem, companies either rented, sold, or allow a customer to use a special device that provides a micro-cellular system in the home which then uses the customer’s Internet connection. Another option is Wifi Calling. However, these both have problems, and I think there is a better solution.

Micro-Cell

Micro-cell plugs into the home’s Internet connection, and allows a limited number of devices that works on the same network to connect to the micro-cell, and then use the customer’s Internet connection. There are a few problems. First, one either has to pay for it, or threaten to fight the carrier because they can’t receive reception in their home. So, if you get a micro-cell, there are typically restrictions on what phones can use it. Therefore, the micro-cell might help your account, but even if someone else with the same carrier was to need a cellular connection, they are likely not able to access your micro-cell.

Wifi Calling

Republic Wireless does this in the most seamless method. All of their devices support Wifi Calling, and this is typically by modifying the OS. However, there are only a few devices to support this. Then there is T-Mobile which offers Wifi Calling on their modified Android Devices. Not all of them supports it, and while the iPhone 6+ supports Wifi Calling without any special modifications, it is up to the carrier to support it. There was UMA, but with only T-Mobile supporting UMA (and not on current devices), it never gained wide acceptance. UMA will use wifi to make the call, and there was nothing special that had to be done.

My Solution

So, what would I suggest? How about Eco-DECT. Eco DECT is a means in using the DECT system with a electrically sustainable approach. DECT is Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology. It uses the 1.9Ghz bands which are not crowded with things such as microwaves, or wifi signals. A DECT Access Point can plug into a phone jack or a Network connection. And with support from a carrier and obviously with new phones to provide support – this could allow the problem to be solved. And with DECT, many new cordless phone access points will simply interconnect with the phone. It is just simply treated as a cordless phone. This could also mean that the phone could have a “home” phone number, and a “cellular” phone number. This could also allow people with those $400+ smart phones to simply have something that will work.

This is better than Micro-Cell as Micro-Cell is designed to be restrictive. DECT is not. This is better than Wifi Calling as there is no need for carrier support. In addition, the phone can connect to an Access Point at home, and then one at work when they get to work. While I personally think that UMA (if done correctly) is better, this is not going to happen (at least in North America).

How to Make it Happen?

First, there needs to be a better way to interconnect a phone and access point. I only had one DECT Phone, and that access point came with a phone. I never bought another phone, but there should be a software/hardware button kind of like WPS for routers. Obviously there has to be DECT Radios in the phone. Cellular phones do not have DECT Radios, and more likely to support 2 cellular carriers rather than having DECT capabilities. Also, there has to be a server like GUI for the Access Point to set up rules. An example might be when this handset (cell phone) is not connected to the Access Point, send calls to this phone number. I learned from personal experience that having a phone with 2 lines and both lines ringing at the same time is not good for the user nor phone.

However, again – I feel that DECT (along with the Plain Ordinary Telephone System) should be treated as legacy. However, it is the carriers and developers that make this a viable option. While I feel that the Google Android OS is a very good one, and has been my choice of mobile OS since the HTC G2/Magic (second Android phone built), there are things that could be left to be desired. One is UMA support. A software developer has provided a solution that must be integrated into the phone’s ROM, but it would make more sense if this was just a part of the OS. The customer’s SIM card can hold the UMA option, and obviously – UMA has to be supported on the carrier end. At least with DECT, there is no demand to have support from the carrier, although it does mean two telephone numbers.

Why Smart Phones are Smart

Most people in many first world countries own and rely on a smart phone daily. However, there are many people that still find smart phones as too expensive, too complicated, or just not effective. I am going to address many of the concerns that some many have.

Expense

Yes, most smart phones are more expensive than basic phones, or even feature phones. However, let’s look at the expense. First, the price of a phone. A basic phone can cost as little as $30. However, a reliable smart phone can cost more than 5 times that price. I would recommend at minimum a Motorola Moto G. The Moto G is not capable of supporting LTE, but it is also less than $200. Next is the service. Many cellular plans are about $35 or more. A smart phone plan if one shops around can get service for about $50. What would one get for the extra $15. First, at least 1GB of data. Keep in mind that the extra cost provides for data that a basic phone will never need.

Complicated

In reality, the smart phone is simpler than a basic phone. Yes, there will be some areas where a smart phone might be more complex, but keep in mind that there is much more that a smart phone can do. A smart phone not only will have a 12 key dialer, but can also handle the keys in a larger format – making keys easier to dial. However, where a basic phone will have to rely on T9 for text input, a smart phone can bring forth a QWERTY keyboard. This makes using SMS easier. In addition, a smart phone can handle email, and social networks. Don’t like your SMS capabilities, consider a new one.

And another issue to consider. What happens when you buy a new basic phone. You may have to enter all of your contacts again. All smart phones now can simply import your contacts. So, login with your credentials, and in a couple of minutes – all of your contacts are in your new phone. And rather than trying to find a number, important contacts can simply be put on the home screen (on some phones).

Efficiency

So, what about efficiency. Well, let’s take a look. Your smart phone can not only be a phone, but in some instances, it can also replace your transit schedules. The more routes your city may have, the more valuable this could be. It can also be your map, and navigation. It can be your calendar, and social network clients. It can handle your email, and provide for a basic point and shoot camera. The phone can connect with cloud based services to back up and store your content, and even be a flash light if you have a LED light for your camera. Services with some taxi services, and Jitney services such as Lyft and Uber can be installed. You can also play games, watch movies, read books and media. There is also the ability to have a translate service, and a media player. So, if you have a music library, or want to rely on streaming service – the smart phone can do it. The phone uses the cellular networks for your time, so no matter what time zone you are in, your phone has the right time. And with that in mind, you have an alarm clock. And as if that wasn’t enough, depending on the device – you can even have a digital wallet including storing all loyalty cards.

With this in mind – you can replace your cellular phone, calendar, social network clients, email client, camera (basic cameras), flash light, gaming device, ebook reader, alarm clock, timepiece, loyalty card, and in some cases, an NFC credit card. And of course, if that wasn’t enough – there is a web browser involved. A good smart phone can repalce a number of different devices, and even your personal wallet. I know personally, I carry a phone, photo ID, Google Wallet Card, and my Transit Card. If most places supported NFC payments, and if Port Authority of Allegheny County supported Google Wallet – I would only need to carry my ID.

And if this wasn’t enough, one can likely install a SIP client on a smart phone. This will mean that with a broadband internet connection at home, one can also have a lower cost home phone. If most home phone services are $30, and a sufficient calling plan with SIP is half that – this means that this could actually save the cost of the expense of a monthly service that would have to be paid more.

Reality

My first smart phone was the Blackberry 8320. This was about 7 years ago. Obviously, I had basic phones before hand. I would never consider a basic or even a feature phone. And it is not just me, but I recommended a smart phone to more than a dozen people, and those that took that suggestion, never regretted. In a matter of fact, none of those dozen of people will switch to a basic phone. This is because the basic phone will simply no longer meet the expectations they expect from their mobile device. A smart phone has become too valuable.

My Suggestions

So, you are going to bite the bullet, and will jump out to a new smart phone. You have a number of options, and this could be daunting. You might ask a sales representative who might be a fan-person (thinks a particular brand/model is the best ever no matter what), or they may be paid by commission of how much money they can get from you. I understand the value of most OSes, and therefore will give suggestions on that. So with that in mind, here is my opinion.

First, unless you live almost entirely in the Apple eco-system, an iPhone will not be the best choice. Even the cheapest iPhone is $500. To jump in the iPhone will mean exclusive use and demand of iTunes, and iCloud. You will also be limited to the types of apps. For example, no call manager for you.

Windows Phone is really only of any good if you are going to remain within Windows entirely. The lineup of apps for Windows Phones are limited, and as with Apple, apps that can handle various controls of the phone is not available. Blackberry has fallen out of favor, and like the iPhone – expect to pay more than you should. You are also limited by the number of apps, and while there is a way to get to use Android Apps, this is not completely reliable.

This leaves Android. And unfortunately, not all Android phones are equal. In my experience, non Nexus devices may get a minor update, but you already bought the phone, and therefore – no one cares about your happiness. In they end, they just want to be good enough to get you to buy their product again. Also, many phones will have OS UI overlays and “value added software” (aka: S**tware). This could be a good thing for some people, but my opinion, it is more trouble than good. Even non-modified UIs do not guarantee a reliable update path (LG G2x is a good example). Why should you care about this? Well smart phone OSes are much like your PC OS. If not updated, it leaves to security issues. However, where you can update your PC, the smart phone is at the mercy of the OS developer, phone manufacturer, and in some cases – carriers.

To avoid this, one should look to one of the following lines of devices

  • Android One (found in India, and eventually 3rd World Countries)
  • Google Play Edition (like other phones, but stripped of UI changes, and S**tware)
  • Nexus Line (specified by Google for hardware, and handled all OS updates)

You should have at least 8GB, or 16GB if you will see yourself in using a lot of apps. 8GB with a micro-SD card is needed if you would want a low number of apps, and want to use media. The Motorola Moto G (Play Edition) with 16GB for $200 is probably the best budget choice. The Nexus 5-32GB is a much better option in every way (no micro-SD card slot) is $400 which will be twice as much, but much better option which includes regional LTE, and global GSM-2G/3G. There is so much more. If you are on a tight budget, the Moto G, and those that can splurge a little – the Nexus 5. If you are going to buy used – a Nexus 4 or 5 is worthwhile if on a budget.

For service providers, you will likely have to utilize a GSM or LTE provider. Even with LTE, consider the carrier to support your bands. In the United States, this will likely limit to AT&T, T-Mobile, and TIng. Also, MVNOs using one of these carriers will likely be sufficient. T-Mobile with 2GB of service for $45 will likely be the cheapest. Cricket Wireless (now owned by AT&T) is $50 with 2.5GB. If your provider is using Assurant, I can not in good concience recommend using this insurance option. Consider outsourcing new or refurbished devices through Securanty, or Square Trade.

What I Do?

I personally use a Nexus 5 which I have payments through T-Mobile. This increases my phone bill, but allowed me to purchase a phone that would otherwise not be available to me. My phone has Securanty as the insurance provider. If my phone breaks, it will be repaired or the money for a new phone will be provided. I also have a Nexus 7-32GB with LTE – also through payments on T-Mobile, and serviced through them. As soon as a new Nexus tablet becomes available with T-Mobile, I will be upgrading which will eliminate the payments I have with T-Mobile on the Nexus 7 and I will start with new payments. As with the phone, the tablet will get Securanty as the insurance provider. While I am on a family plan, I am going to account if it was just these two devices:

  • Nexus 5: $16.50/month
  • Nexus 7: $16.00/month
  • Service: $50+$10 (Tablet – 1GB)+$10(JUMP on Tablet until replaced)+$15(taxes/fees)

In total, I pay $85 for the service for both phone and tablet. About $25 is for the tablet. $32.50 is spread across 24 months. This will pay off the tablet and phone. However if this was just on the phone – one can expect to pay $76.50 and this will assume they went through T-Mobile to get the phone payments across 24 months. If service is cancelled before payments are fulfilled – consider it as an ETF.