For those unfamiliar, Android Go is Google’s stripped down version of Android designed to run on lower-end hardware. It’s optimized to ideally run on about 1GB of RAM, but it can go lower or higher. It was developed for the next generation of entry-level devices so that those in developing nations can still purchase affordable smartphones that do everything a user may need. The Blackview A20 is an Android Go-based smartphone. We’ll be focusing largely on the software experience, as that’s where all of the changes under the hood reside.
The Blackview A20 is a phone which you can import from a number of sellers including GearBest, BangGood, igogo, and more. With 1GB of RAM and powered by an MT6580M chip clocked at 1.3GHz, it’s not the most powerful of devices. Not only that, but it comes with a 480×960 display at an 18:9 aspect ratio and 8GB of onboard storage. You can’t expect to do a huge amount on this phone, but it definitely can do a whole lot more than the specifications suggest thanks to the extremely optimized software on board. I was at first surprised, not expecting it to be as smooth of an experience as it was. There were some issues, but I had low expectations anyway. The phone costs around $50, so you shouldn’t exactly expect a flagship-level experience. You can check out the full specs below.
|CPU||MediaTek MT6580M @ 1.3GHz Quad-Core|
|Cameras||2.0MP front camera and 5.0MP + 0.3MP dual rear cameras|
|Storage||eMMC 8GB and expandable memory slot up to 32GB|
|Display||5.5 inches 960×480 18:9 Aspect Ratio|
|Colours||Black, Blue, Gold|
|Other features||Dual Hybrid-SIM, 170g, Dual back cameras|
Disclaimer: Blackview sent XDA this device for review purposes. The opinions in this article are our own.
Design and Build Quality of the Blackview A20
First things first, the design of the device. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s fairly clunky, coming in at about 1.5cm thick. The front of the device reminded me of the Nexus 5 as well, a design language that’s nearing 7 years old now. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but it definitely gave me a blast from the past. The back of the device is a gunmetal-grey plastic and is textured for grip. It’s reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, a device even older than the Nexus 5. The included speaker grille is also on the back of the device, a small square on the bottom left.
That’s not to say the Blackview A20 is designed poorly, it’s simply just different. What’s also weird is that both the charging port and headphone jack are at the top, though I got used to that quickly. Both feel pretty sturdy. Another design quirk involves the dual camera setup, which is set out in a fairly generic configuration. The volume rocker and power button are also both on the right side of the device. They’re comfortable to use, and their positioning is pretty much perfect. On the back is also the Blackview name and FCC regulation information.
In terms of build quality, there’s not much you can ask from a $50 phone. The plastic feels hard and cheap although the buttons on the side are highly tactile, feeling nice to use. I definitely wouldn’t say that the device has a premium feel. It’s not terrible though, it’s about what you’d expect. In terms of the vibration motor, it’s extremely mediocre. It gets the job done, but it’s a vibration motor that you’ll hear rather than feel.
Interestingly, Blackview includes both a case and a screen protector with each device. It’s not exactly the highest of quality cases, but it’s better than nothing. The screen protector is also highly appreciated to take the brunt of most scratching. They’re definitely not bad for the overall price, and they’ll do the job for most users. The device certainly feels like it will scratch easily.
As for the display, there’s certainly a lot to say. Usually, we know what to expect when it comes to a display, and reviewers rarely touch on them in-depth. “It’s beautiful”, “it’s sharp”, “it does the job”, all buzzwords that you’ll hear about every display on any modern phone. This is because all displays are basically the same, and it’s hard to find a poor quality one. The Blackview A20 display is bad, and not just because it’s 480p at 195 pixels per inch. There is a very, very noticeable touch latency and multi-touch is abysmal. This is coming from somebody who never noticed the alleged touch latency on the OnePlus 3. It’s that bad. When running “Test my Android”, I found that multi-touch was identifying my fingers in places that they weren’t, and the delay became even more apparent when trying to pinch zoom or do anything else with more than one finger.
The display also makes typing fast difficult, as it can’t register fast taps due to the touch latency. It also requires considerable force to even operate, requiring your fingers or thumb to be pressed down a lot harder than most would be used to on a display to be able to use it.
That’s not even getting into how the screen itself looks. The display on the Blackview A20 is 480p, but the colors are weak and washed out. It’s not just because of the low pixel count, but simply, again, the quality of the display. If you’re wondering where Blackview cut corners on this device to get it so cheap, this is certainly one of them. The touchscreen ruins the experience entirely and would be enough to push me to spend a little extra money to get something better. Also worth noting that developer options has the ability to switch on sRGB mode, yet it does nothing. This display is not like all of the others, and that’s because of how poor it is. There are no buzzwords here that can redeem it in any capacity.
The build quality is about what you’d expect from a budget smartphone, but the screen is something far below that.
Software and UI on the Blackview A20
One of the highlights of this device is the software. The Blackview A20 is powered by completely stock Android Go. Android Go is optimized software by Google with a number of changes employed in order to facilitate devices with lower RAM such as this. There are a limited number of customization options available, and it comes with the Android Go stock launcher pre-installed. I consider myself an Android purist, so to have what is basically AOSP on my phone is a very nice experience to have.
The Blackview A20 runs Android Go based on stock Android.
It’s also important that it runs stock Android. For a device like this you want as little as possible getting in the way of you and performance. The software runs well, and at times you wouldn’t know you were using a weaker device – so long as you’re using the Go editions of apps, of course.
That’s another thing. Android Go isn’t just a series of system-wide optimizations, but it’s also its own ecosystem. Applications must have Go or Lite editions to ensure compatibility, as otherwise, applications attempting to use too much memory may crash. Google has a number of pre-installed applications already. These include the Assistant (in Go form), Gmail Go, Google Go, Google Maps Go, and YouTube Go. What’s interesting is that these applications don’t just focus on performance, they also focus on data usage. Attempting to play a video on YouTube always results in a warning of how much data you will be using, while the Google Play Store has the file size of each application clearly labeled before even clicking into them. It took a bit of getting used to, but I felt that the ability to enable these features on regular Android might not be such a bad idea either.
File sizes are shown everywhere they can be on Android Go, at least in the Google-made applications.
As for Lite apps, I figured I’d go with what many would consider the worst – Facebook. I installed both Facebook Lite and Facebook Messenger Lite, and to my surprise, the device handled them without a hitch. Obviously, they were designed for running on such a phone, but it’s still surprising nonetheless. I expected much worse.
The user interface is also exactly what you’d expect from stock Android. The only thing that bothered me was the switching of the Recents and Back buttons, which I can’t seem to figure out how to fix. I don’t believe there’s a user-facing setting, so you’ll need to get used to it.
Another issue I found is one that likely won’t affect most users but it’s something I had to point out given the possible implications. I was curious if the device passed SafetyNet, and to my surprise, it doesn’t. CTS Profile fails to match, though the payload is sent and received. That means that while Android Go supports SafetyNet, something is awry here. Either it’s not meant to support it, or Blackview has made a mistake somewhere in developing for the device. It’s not a huge deal, no NFC chip means no Google Pay regardless and you won’t be using Snapchat or playing Pokemon Go on this phone either.
What’s even better about stock Android is that there’s absolutely nothing getting in the way of performance, no OEM skins getting in the way and causing performance problems. Even the camera launches fast! The camera itself isn’t much to write home about, but we’ll be talking about that slightly more in-depth later. The device works well for what it’s supposed to be and performs what it needs to do even better, there’s not much else you could ask for in terms of software.
Performance of the Blackview A20
It’s important to recognize that the device we are testing is an Android Go based phone with a low-end MediaTek processor. This is not a flagship device. It is not designed to perform well, rather it is designed to perform the tasks that an everyday user needs to complete. Still, Android Go aims to be as optimized as possible and to squeeze as much performance out of the hardware as possible, so we’ve put the Blackview A20 through the ringer to see just how well it fares when compared the OnePlus 3. An older device, but one many still use as a stable daily driver.
First and foremost, we need to understand how to interpret the data. We took these graphs by using the GPU profiling data dumped to adb, which we then graphed. You can understand how to view these graphs by the following image. The green line in the graphs above represents 60 FPS.
Now that you can understand the graphs, we need to analyze the data. As you can see, the Blackview A20 isn’t perfect but nor is the OnePlus 3. The OnePlus 3 is clearly more consistent and measurably stays above 60 FPS for longer, but both devices drop frame on three separate occasions, and that’s because of touchboost. What is touchboost? When you tap the screen, the CPU in your device ramps up as it expects you to do something which requires processing power. If you scroll immediately when tapping, however, the processor can’t ramp up fast enough and some frames are dropped. This is why there are three separate spikes, as there are three separate inputs. Other than the third input, the Blackview A20 seemed to fare extraordinarily well for a device of its calibre. It’s certainly impressive, but what can we say about other applications? We tried to compare Go applications to their normal variants, but sadly couldn’t as none of the Go variants of applications dumped frame information correctly. We can confirm though that the Go version of applications run so much better than their full counterparts. We’ll be comparing Android Go versions of applications to their fully-fledged counterparts in another article, so stay tuned for that.
In terms of performance, we also wanted to see how application opening times are affected by the changes brought in by Android Go. Obviously, lower end hardware will also cause longer loading times, but we put the device to the test against the OnePlus 3 to see what we could find out.
To be expected, the Blackview A20 doesn’t fare all too well. The long loading times meant that on average, YouTube took about 6 seconds for the application to launch. Put that in contrast with the OnePlus 3, which took 2 seconds. Granted, it is UFS 2.1 vs EMMC so it’s not all too surprising that the OnePlus 3 wins out here. What is interesting is the temperatures, as the OnePlus 3 keeps a much cooler temperature throughout the test. Even though it seems bad, the test results really don’t spell out anything too terrible for the A20. It’s a budget device and it doesn’t take that much longer to launch Gmail or the Google Play Store. It makes sense that it takes longer to launch applications in comparison to an older flagship, so that’s not really a big deal. We’re really only using the OnePlus 3 as a baseline measurement. These are not meant for actual comparison. It’s clear the OnePlus 3 is the better device here in every aspect.
The Blackview A20 is certainly not the fastest phone on the market, but it does a lot with what it has. Thanks to Go optimized applications, you can get a device experience that’s usable while also remaining a fraction of the cost of leading budget devices. It’s not the fastest and you do need to use Lite apps, but you’re very much getting the same experience in most aspects. There are no complaints from me here, it does what it’s supposed to exceptionally well. Android Go is not meant to give you flagship-level performance for a low-cost, rather it’s meant to be affordable for those who may live in developing nations who still have a need for a smartphone. Is it fair to gripe about the performance of a phone advertised, basically, to have poor performance? It has poor performance when judged objectively, but as an Android Go phone at a cost of $50, it’s very much an excellent device. It does a lot with what it has. You’ll face some lag when waking the device up or switching between applications, but it certainly does its job as a phone. It remains consistent once an application is running, and fared very well in our Google Play Store test.
Something that’s also nice to note is that the device never thermal throttles. It’s low powered enough that it rarely generates heat, so it keeps a consistent performance throughout its battery life. It’s obviously not really intentional, but it’s still nice.
Battery Life on the Blackview A20
This is a category where you’d expect the device to shine, and to its merit, it does. With a low powered processor, low-resolution screen, and 3000mAh battery, the Blackview A20 achieves a long battery life that you wouldn’t normally ever see. Obviously, it comes at the cost of performance, but we’ve already established it’s about what you’d expect from such a low price. The battery will last you the day for any of the tasks you’ll put it through. Standby times are phenomenal and expect a few hours of actual usage throughout the day of this device for sure. The battery statistics were kind of broken for me. I couldn’t view the detailed break down initially and it said screen time was “0 minutes” but it was pretty clear that it has a decent battery life.
As for charging times, it’s extremely slow. The charging port is 1A, so you can expect to see charge times from 0% to 100% of about 2 hours and a half. It’s a long time, but it’s got an even longer battery life. You won’t really need to top this phone up throughout the day anyway if nothing else simply because this phone isn’t really designed for use over long periods of time. The Blackview A20 is a basic phone that does basic functions.
Overall, this device is a win in the battery department. I was actually surprised by how large the battery was when I first received the device, thinking that if they wanted to keep it in line with other devices nowadays they could have likely dropped the battery capacity a little bit and been the same as some of the best devices out there. Still, there’s certainly no complaints from me for a manufacturer adding more battery than needed.
Picture Quality on the Blackview A20
You can’t expect much in terms of picture and video quality from such a low specced phone, and you’d be exactly right. Oddly, a dual camera set up is featured on the back though I’m not quite sure what that even does for picture quality in this case. Photos are pixellated and blurry, with very little detail to them at all. This isn’t your next camera phone, to put it that way. You shouldn’t be buying it for the camera either, it’s merely an extra that would be used if you have literally no other options in the near vicinity.
As you can see, there really isn’t much going for the camera here. It doesn’t offer a huge amount by way of quality. Well lit scenery is where the camera “excels”. When in low light, all of the detail immediately disappears. You aren’t buying this phone for the camera, and it’s absolutely fine for basic shots that can capture simple moments with family and friends.
The microphone, to its merit is good, and people on the other end of the call have no trouble hearing me whatsoever. Blackview certainly made sure that as a phone, the device works perfectly. You’ll have no trouble with sending and receiving text messages and phone calls, along with any usage of third-party services such as WhatsApp. Voice quality is clear, and that’s all you can ask for from a microphone.
The Blackview A20 prioritized itself as a mobile phone, with smartphone features secondary. As a result, it works absolutely perfectly as a phone but not so good as a smartphone. I found on my usual commute that I had about the same signal strength as my OnePlus 3, with seemingly no problems with misreporting of signal strength. It doesn’t support 4G, but I had no problems getting a consistent 3G connection. As a mobile phone, there are absolutely no issues and you’ll be able to have a consistent connection everywhere you’d expect. It does not suffer from poor signal strength in any way, which is a major plus.
While there appears to be a hardware issue with the headphone jack on my unit, I can still press the jack in to hear my music at the full volume normally. The jack is a little bit quiet and doesn’t feel as high quality as other devices, but that’s to be expected given the low-cost. This device would suit well as a budget mp3 player, as I found the Spotify application works just fine on it.
As for the speaker, it’s tinny and is clearly there for the sake of having a speaker. It’s fine for watching videos, but you won’t be listening to a lot of music or anything over speakers on this phone.
Conclusion – is the Blackview A20 a good Android Go phone?
The answer to that question relies on what you perceive Android Go to be. Android Go is a way of bringing smart devices to developing nations at a lower cost, which to be fair, the Blackview A20 pulls off well. It’s a phone with capabilities to access your emails, YouTube, and some lighter applications primarily and with other functionality secondary. The touchscreen makes it a genuine pain to use, but at $50 there had to be cutbacks somewhere. It’ll get you everything you need from a basic phone, and you’ll be able to send texts, emails and make phone calls with ease. Maybe I lowered my expectations too much, but the Blackview A20 is definitely not a bad phone. It fulfills the purpose of what I believe Android Go is trying to fulfill, and what this phone is capable of in terms of performance may surprise you.
So, would I recommend it? If you can throw a little bit more money at one of the lower-end Xiaomi offerings like the Xiaomi Redmi 5A, then I’d highly recommend that instead, but otherwise, and if you’re really strapped for cash, then there’s nothing particularly wrong with the Blackview A20. It’s a great first phone for kids, and with accessibility features enabled it is an even better one for older people too.
Rojenx is a leading concept artist who work appears in games and publications
Check out his personal gallery here