Bush Spira E3X Argos phone review

The hunt is on for the best cheap phone you can buy. A smartphone that offers premium experience without forcing you to take out a loan. This phone - made by Bush and sold by Argos - has the look of a winner. But can the Bush Spira E3X live up to the promise? Read our Argos phone review to find out.

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Price, value and availability

The Bush Spira E3X 5.5" phone is interesting because in the UK you can pick it up from Argos for £199.95. That may sound like a lot of cash, but for a high-calbre spec such as this it looks like a total bargain. Argos had the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone in store in both the shop nearest our office and 35 miles away near my house, so it would appear to be widely available. But it is an Argos exclusive, so don't expect to buy it anywhere else.

As far as we can tell the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone is not available outside the UK, either. But at this price UK users should be interested: it is a serious competitor to the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 as the best budget phone around. Let's see if that apparent bargain is actually worth your money. (Also see: best Android phones.)

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Design and build

The Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone smartphone feels sturdy and well built. Is not a dainty phone, but it feels like it will withstand the slings and arrows of smartphone life. Thick, chunky, robust. But stylish enough if you don't have tiny hands. Next to our Galaxy S7 Edge it looks like a beast, but we are not talking Samsung money here, and the effect is certainly not all bad.

The front consists of a 2.5D toughened Dragontrail Glass slab, with a polished metal frame around the edge. There is a bezel, but it's not huge: you get plenty of screen real estate for your gadget. Inside that metal edge you will find the SIM tray on the left: this accepts either two microSIM cards or one microSIM and a microSD card of up to 32GB. Good, high-end, options both. Although do bear in mind that if you are buying this as a dual-SIM phone, you won't be able to expand the storage.

Around the back is a plastic panel with a rough sandstone effect that reminded me of the OnePlus One. This is non-removable, so you get one battery and one battery only. It offers grip and texture, without being particularly stylish or even pleasant to hold. It's practical. The back panel is broken up by the camera lens and fingerprint sensor. We found the fingerprint sensor as easy to use as any: reasonably so, but I personally still prefer an unlock PIN.

The Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone is not small: its dimensions of 148.5x74x8.8mm are on the hefty side, and you will feel every one of those 8.8mm.

For the money then? Well built without being iconic. Ergonomic without being especially comfortable: especially for anyone with smaller than average hands. (Also see: Best phone | Best smartphone | Best mobile phone | 20 best phones 2016 UK.)

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Display

Let's deal with the display, first. The 5.5 inch TFT screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, which gives it a pixel density of 400ppi. It's not the brightest nor the sharpest display we have seen, even when we turned up to 100 percent the screen brightness option. Again, laid next to the Galaxy S7 Edge and its colour-bomb of an OLED, it looks pale and wan, but it competes well with the most recent Moto G.

In general, it is a large, clear and decently sharp display. Perfectly adept at showing documents and images, without blowing you away. Viewing angles are good, the touchscreen responsive, and the screen itself tough. We dragged it around for weeks without putting a dint in it. This is a well-made device, with a screen to match.

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Hardware, specs and performance

Let's turn to the internal components, and the only area in which the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone's spec sheet is at all less than stellar. That is not the 64GB of storage, which is standard but high end: we found 53GB of that storage was readable, and only 3.6GB taken up out of the box. This is all good. Nor is it the 4GB RAM. The very best smartphones may pack in more, but this is a very respectable amount of memory that should power good performance (more in a bit).

No, the only thing that at all concerns us about this £200 phone is the octa-core chip. A central processor with eight cores should be a great performer, but this a MediaTek chipset we don't know (which can be the only way Bush got the price down this low). An ARM MT6755 clocked at 1.95GHz, to be clear. That doesn't mean it is bad, just an unknown quantity. And that is why we test!

Let's get to those performance tests. These are synthetic benchmarks, that measure real-world performance in an entirely theoretical way. So they should be considered a guide only and taken with a pinch of salt.

Bush Argos phone

In the GeekBench 4 performance benchmark measuring CPU performance, the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone returned an average score of 724 single core and 2450 multi core. That puts it roughly in the same space as the Galaxy Note 4, a quad-core product from two years ago. But it's considerably faster than the most recent Moto G, and in the same ballpark as the OnePlus One with which it is compared - both in terms of price and build. In general use we found the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone responsive and fast. Smartphones have mostly been this way for a year or two now. You don't need the absolute best CPU/RAM performance unless you regularly run multiple intensive processes at the same time.

To test graphical performance, we use the GFXBench GPU tests, Manhatten and T-Rex. In Manhatten 3.1 the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone turned in an average score of 5.1fps, with 18fps in T-Rex. These are fairly lowly, but competent scores - nothing like the performance of a flagship such as the Galaxy S7 or a recent iPhone. The Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone is not a graphical powerhouse, but in general we had no problems playing casual games or watching video.

We ran the JetStream benchmark to measure a variety of JavaScript benchmarks, covering a variety of advanced workloads and programming techniques. It reports a single score for Javascript and web-browsing performance. Higher is better, here. Basically it tests the speed of browsing. Here we got an average score of 20, which is pretty lowly. I can't honestly say that the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone offers a noticably poor web browsing experience, but it isn't outstandingly good.

We also ran the Antutu performance benchmark, which tests... well pretty much everything. Graphics, RAM, CPU and user experience. In this test the Bush phone scored an average of 51283, which is actually pretty good. Nowhere near the Galaxy S7 or Huawei P9, but ahead of - say - the Samsung Galaxy Ace, and definitely the best of the mid- to budget phones.

Overall then, we find the Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone to be a decent middle of the road performer, both in terms of benchmarks and subjective real-world performance. It would have been a flagship two or three years ago, so there are no problems here unless you absolutely have to have the fastest phone. (And you really don't.)

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Battery life

The Argos phone is a big handset with a large, rich display and a lot of processing power. Which means that battery life is a concern. This is offset with a a 3,000 mAh battery. How does it perform?

In general, and subjectively, we were impressed. On charge but not in use the Bush lasted for days and days. And in moderate use we could string it out for two days. The critical test is when used as our only phone, and there we comfortably got a day's use out of it.

Let's use a benchmark to test comparitively. GFX's lifetime Mahatten 3.1 test returned an average score of 237 minutes, which is roughly the same as the Galaxy S7 edge, or the Honor 8. Pretty good company to keep. In the T-Rex battery lifetime test the Bush Spira E3X gave us an average score of 229 minutes, similar to the results of the iPad Air 2 or the Moto G.

None of these tests is cast iron, but the comparitive results suggest that although the Bush Spira E3X isn't a great step forward in smartphone battery life, you should have no problem getting a day's use out of it. And that is our subjective experience, too.

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Cameras and photography

Phone cameras have a come a long when a budget smartphone like the Argos phone features a 21.5-megapixel rear camera with Sony IMX sensors and a front-facing one with a resolution of 8-megapixels. Both cameras can take videos in Full HD resolution at 30 frames per second. This is not your father's budget phone camera.

How do they work out in action? Well, some minor gripes first. In our tests we found that even swiping up on the lock screen camera icon seemed to take an age. In reality it was only a second or so for the camera app to open, but when trying to take action shots that seems like an age.

The feature set is good, with HDR, automatic or manual flash, panaroma mode, and multiple scene modes. You can also set specific settings for specific locations. You can capture RAW files, and use features such as face detection. And you can set the level of quality you want to capture with the main camera, as you can with video capture. It's a full featured camera. But does it take good pictures? We'll leave it to you to decide:

 Bush Argos phone camera test

 Bush Argos phone camera test

Bush Argos phone zoom test

Bush Argos phone test video

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Software and apps

The Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and as recent is good in the Android world, this is pretty good. If you haven't used Android before, don't worry: it is as easy to use and full-featured as is the iPhone iOS. The only downside is that this phone is unlikely to ever be updated to Android 7.0 Nougat or beyond, but that is no real hardship.

What is good is that this is a fairly vanilla version of Android, with none of the uneccessary flourishes added by less respectful manufacturers. And it offers full access to the Google Play app- and media store.

Bush Spira E3X 5.5" Argos phone review: Specification

  • Octa core ARM MT6755 CPU clocked at 1.95GHz
  • 4GB RAM
  • Android 6
  • Internal memory 64GB when using microSDHC card slot (53GB accessible, 3.6GB used in our test model)
  • Network provider: Sim free
  • 2G, 3G and 4G network capability
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • Dual SIM card phone
  • SIM card type: micro SIM and micro SIM.
  • 5.5 inch TFT display
  • Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 400 pixels per inch.
  • Touch screen
  • Toughened glass
  • H148.5, W74, D8.8mm
  • 186g
  • Rear camera 21.5MP
  • Front camera 8MP
  • Video capture in
  • 3000mAh battery capacity
  • MP3 and MP4 player
  • Headphone port
  • Fast charge technology
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 2 year guarantee
  • EAN: 690590032378

Read next: Cheapest 4G smartphones of 2016: The 20 best budget 4G phones.

Bush Spira E3X: Specs

  • Octa core ARM MT6755 CPU clocked at 1.95GHz 4GB RAM Android 6 Internal memory 64GB when using microSDHC card slot (53GB accessible, 3.6GB used in our test model) Network provider: Sim free 2G, 3G and 4G network capability Wi-Fi Bluetooth GPS Dual SIM card phone SIM card type: micro SIM and micro SIM. 5.5 inch TFT display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels 400 pixels per inch. Touch screen Toughened glass H148.5, W74, D8.8mm 186g Rear camera 21.5MP Front camera 8MP Video capture in 3000mAh battery capacity MP3 and MP4 player Headphone port Fast charge technology Fingerprint scanner 2 year guarantee EAN: 690590032378
  • Octa core ARM MT6755 CPU clocked at 1.95GHz 4GB RAM Android 6 Internal memory 64GB when using microSDHC card slot (53GB accessible, 3.6GB used in our test model) Network provider: Sim free 2G, 3G and 4G network capability Wi-Fi Bluetooth GPS Dual SIM card phone SIM card type: micro SIM and micro SIM. 5.5 inch TFT display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels 400 pixels per inch. Touch screen Toughened glass H148.5, W74, D8.8mm 186g Rear camera 21.5MP Front camera 8MP Video capture in 3000mAh battery capacity MP3 and MP4 player Headphone port Fast charge technology Fingerprint scanner 2 year guarantee EAN: 690590032378

OUR VERDICT

If you want to buy a smartphone outright for less than £200 the Bush Spira E3X from Argos is an excellent choice. It isn't the most stylish, but it's not ugly. And it is built to last. Performance is the biggest weakness, but it is okay. And the software, battery life and camera options are about as good as you get these days, without shelling out for a £700 phone. A good, cheap smartphone.

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