It’s difficult to get very excited about network branded handsets. History tells us they are often under specified, low cost and badly built devices. Remember the O2 X1 anyone?
But thankfully times have changed, and many of these handsets today are built by credible phone manufacturers such as Huawei, ZTE and Alcatel, who all produce a range of feature-rich Android smartphones.
The Vodafone Smart 2 is no exception. Built by Alcatel, rather than Huawei who made the original Vodafone Smart, it crams in the Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, a 3.2-Megapixel camera, 3G connectivity, 802.11n Wi-Fi and GPS, for just £70 on PAYG.
The design of the phone won’t win any awards. In truth it has an almost toy-like quality to it. Our review sample had a black fascia and white rear cover. And while it helps the phone stand out, it looks a little bit cheap. A grey alternative is available, however.
Despite this it has a solid feel, suggesting it can take a knock or two. The strong build quality is a nice touch at this price and makes the phone tough enough for young children or for carrying around in a cluttered handbag.
Externally the most notable change from the original Vodafone Smart is the size of the screen, which has gone from an eye-squinting 2.8-inches to a more comfortable 3.2-inches.
The device measures 109 x 58 x 12mm and it does feel a little on the chunky side. But since it weighs just 120g, we didn’t find it felt particularly heavy in the hand. In fact the extra bulk gives it a sturdy and tough feel.
As with all smartphones, it’s what’s inside that counts, though, and this is where the Vodafone Smart 2 clearly shows its worth.
The screen resolution has been boosted from 240 x 320 pixels on the original Smart, to 320 x 480 pixels on the Smart 2, helping the screen to render images far sharper than before.
As the phone loaded, we were presented with the Android logo and then Vodafone’s. It’s worth noting that the handy step-by-step guide that is offered the first time you use the phone is excellent and very handy for first-time Android users.
Those familiar with the OS will almost certainly bypass this, but for smartphone newcomers it is invaluable. The easy tutorial teaches you how to get acquainted with the touchscreen and virtual keyboard. It also takes you through the initial set-up, such as setting the time and date, connecting to local Wi-Fi hotspots, synchronising email and inputting contacts.
Once completed, you are presented with the Android homescreen which features a rather bright and colourful wallpaper by default.
Vodafone, like many other manufacturers who have adopted Android, has made its presence known by placing its own layer of features and services on the phone’s Android interface.
The majority of these are crammed into a rather congested homescreen, which is effectively divided into two boxes filled with live data feeds and menu shortcuts. The box on the right includes phonebook, email and text.
The one on the left includes the time and date, as well as a live data feed for the weather and temperature, using a picture to illustrate it.
Since some feature-phones such as the Samsung Tocco Lite 2 are more expensive than the Smart 2 and yet don’t feature an Android OS, it’s great to see it in place on such as affordable handset as this.
While the 3.2-inch touchscreen can be fiddly to use due to its size, it is very responsive for the most part. Using capacitive technology, it is comfortable and easy to swipe and scroll through pages and menus, and we found the interface to be smooth and responsive.
Image quality is also excellent. The 320 x 480 pixel resolution shows photos and web pages off sharply and colours are reproduced effectively. While the small screen size means this isn’t the best phone for multimedia, it is still good for basic media use on the move.
Even the glossy display panel keeps light reflections to a minimum and the panel’s impressive brightness levels helps the screen be comfortably visible even in direct sunlight.
It does pick up smudges and fingerprints easily, however, so it will require regular cleaning to keep it looking good. It protects well against scuffs and scratches, though, again making it well-suited for children.
We were also surprised by just how good the Smart 2 is for accessing the internet. Web pages load with decent speed, whether browsing via 3G or 802.11n Wi-Fi, rendering well without too many instances of having to move the screen left and right to read.
If the site being viewed is not adapted to a mobile format, the Smart 2’s pinch to zoom feature is useful and works really well. Alternatively, double tapping on an area zooms in or out and again works well.
Watching videos on YouTube is again a decent experience and will appease most media fans, although it obviously is not of the quality seen on higher-end smartphones.
And it’s not just media consumption that works well on the Smart 2; it is also a good phone for capturing your own photos and recording videos.
The camera has been updated from the original Smart’s 2-Megapixels, to 3.2-Megapixels on the Smart 2 and the difference is obvious.
Accessing the camera app is easy and you can either use the shortcut in the Android apps menu, or instead use the hardware camera button on the chassis’ right-hand side.
The interface is pretty basic, even for a 3.2-Megapixel camera, but it packs all the key tools you’ll need for capturing photos, such as easy zoom, flash and exposure controls.
The lack of auto-focus requires the user to have a fairly steady hand to avoid blurring when taking photos. The LED flash is a nice addition, though, and certainly helps when taking images in low-light conditions.
Uploading to social network sites is also child’s play. Facebook and Twitter fans will feel at home with this phone and can share their memories online quickly and easily.
Unfortunately for those wishing to capture lots of pictures and videos, as well as listen to music, the Smart 2 only comes with 150MB of internal storage. This can be expanded up to 32GB, though, via the built-in MicroSD card reader which is placed beneath the battery.
While many feature-rich handsets can suffer when it comes to battery life, the Smart 2 is an exception to the rule, offering an impressive amount of mobility from a single charge which can comfortably keep you working all day.
The phone uses a 1200mAh battery and offers a quoted battery life of 300 hours standby time for 2G and 3G, and a talk time of 7 hours for 3G and a huge 16 hours for 2G.
In practice, we found the battery didn’t quite measure up these impressive figures, but we were still generally able to get through a day of moderate use. Although more demanding use forced us to recharge by mid-afternoon.
This strong mobility only adds to the surprisingly capable package that the Vodafone Smart 2 provides. At just £70 on PAYG it is cheaper than the Samsung Tocco Lite 2 feature-phone and yet packs full smartphone features and better usability.
The Vodafone Smart 2 is a perfect choice for first-time smartphone owners and for the price is one of the best we’ve seen. In short, this a great value phone and well worth the money.