Vodafone, like other carriers, has started to manufacture its own line of smartphones – namely the Smart Ultra 6 and Smart Prime 6, two budget 4G smartphones that aren’t quite as budget as the price tag suggests. The Smart Ultra 6 is a 5.5in smartphone with an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chipset that boasts 13mp (rear facing) and 5mp (front facing) cameras and weighs only 159g. But is it better than its smaller brother, the Smart Prime 6? Read on and find out.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Vodafone has marketed the Smart Ultra 6 as a budget 4G phone available for only £125, but this isn’t evident by the design of the handset. Similar in design to the smaller Smart Prime 6, the Smart Ultra 6 is available in both grey and silver and boasts curved edges that provide a comfortable in-hand experience.
We’re not quite sure why Vodafone only offers grey and silver variations of the handset as we think it’d benefit from an injection of colour and make it stand out from a sea of dark-coloured handsets.
What surprises us the most is that the Smart Ultra 6 is only 8.4mm thin, which is thinner than its little brother, the Smart Prime 6 which measures in at 9mm. It also weighs 159g, which is only 4g heavier than the Smart Prime 6 but boasts a bigger display to compensate for this fact. Though it’s bulkier than premium phablets like the iPhone 6 Plus, it doesn’t make it any less comfortable to hold or use – and again, that’s down to the premium design of the device.
HARDWARE AND PERFORMANCE
The VodafoneSmart Ultra 6’s 5.5in IPS multi-touch display is housed within a 154x77mm housing, which gives the device a 70 percent screen-to-body ratio. It boasts a Full HD resolution (1080×1920), which equates to around 401ppi, that provides great viewing angles, vibrant colours and an overall crisp display. That’s not bad for a ‘budget’ phone that costs a fraction of the price of an iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy Note 4. Most budget handsets max out at 720p.
Let’s talk storage; the Smart Ultra 6 boasts 16GB of internal memory, with no other models with larger storage options currently available. This may seem like a relatively small amount of storage, but many other (similarly priced) budget smartphones only offer 8GB of storage, half of what the Smart Ultra 6 provides. However, before you’re filled with disappointment, it’s worth noting that the handset boasts a Micro-SD card slot, which can boost your phones storage by up to 128GB.
The Smart Ultra 6 boasts an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset, which comprises of four 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 cores as well as four 1.0GHz Cortex-A53 cores, a jump up from the Smart Prime 6’s quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset and not what we’d expect to find in a sub-£150 phone.
It also boasts 2GB of RAM, double the amount provided by many other budget smartphones (including the second generation Moto E 4G and Smart Prime 6). However even though the Smart Ultra 6’s processor has had an upgrade, its GPU is slightly better than it’s smaller brother, using an Adreno 405.
Using an Adreno 405 GPU means that the Smart Ultra 6 is fine for casual gaming, but may not give the best experience for the latest processor-hungry 3D games. Nevertheless, we’ve not had any issues with visible lag when using the phone during our testing – this may also have something to do with the upgraded Snapdragon 615 chipset.
When we ran our benchmarks, we were quite surprised by the results we got – especially in Geekbench 3. The Geekbench 3 results showed that the Smart Ultra 6 achieved a score of 2469 in its multi-core mode, and 649 in single core mode. Now, to give that some context, the multi-core score puts the Smart Ultra 6 in line with the LG’s 2014 flagship phone, the LG G3. The single core score of 649 isn’t as impressive as the multi-core score, but still aligns the handset with the likes of the ZTE Blade S6 Plus.
Its score also beat its smaller brother, the Smart Prime 6. The Smart Prime 6 managed to score 1401 in its multi-core mode, almost 1000 points less than the Smart Ultra 6. It also couldn’t match the Smart Ultra 6’s single core score of 949, managing only 464 – which is still a great score for a phone that costs £75, but if performance is high on your list of priorities, we’d opt for the £50 more expensive Smart Ultra 6 rather than the Smart Prime 6.
So how did the Smart Ultra 6 perform in our GFXBench tests? Even though the Smart Ultra 6 the same GPU as the Smart Prime 6, it has a faster processor, which has resulted in an improved score. The Smart Ultra 6 scored 14fps in our T-Rex test and 5.7fps in our Manhattan test, compared to the Smart Prime 6’s scores of 9.4fps and 3.8fps respectively. This makes the Smart Ultra 6 the better option for those of you that are keen on mobile gaming.
In the AnTuTu benchmark test, the Smart Ultra 6 came back with a score of 26,572 and marked both the general performance and game performance of the device as “high performance” that surpasses 60% of devices on the market. It also measured the battery performance as average, with it surpassing 50% of devices on the market. Compared to the score of the Smart Prime 6 (21,842) it’s clear that the Smart Ultra 6 is the winner out of the two budget handsets.
We’ve got some bad news, though. We quickly realised that the back plate (and subsequently the battery) is non-removable, which is something of a pet hate for many Android users. Some users prefer to have a second (fully charged) battery that they can swap with once the first battery has ran out, which is a great idea, especially for those long days. Alas, it seems that the 3,000 mAh lithium-ion battery will have to suffice.
Although with this being said, we’ve noticed no real issues with the Smart Ultra 6’s battery life. We’ve used it pretty heavily in our testing, playing games and testing the camera, and we’ve found that it’d get us through the day without needing a top-up.
One of the Smart Ultra 6’s biggest selling points is, like the Smart Prime 6, 4G connectivity. It enables users to have access to the fast 4G network on a budget without having to compromise on the quality of the handset. Despite the Vodafone throughout the handset and software, the Smart Ultra 6 is unlocked and can be used with any UK network operator, not just Vodafone.
Along with 4G connectivity, the handset boasts Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS and FM radio. It can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling you to access 4G speeds on a Wi-Fi only device.
Let’s talk about the cameras. The Smart Ultra 6 boasts a 13Mp rear facing camera with a maximum resolution of 4128×3096. It boasts standard smartphone camera features including autofocus and an LED flash, and general photography is quite impressive. Don’t get us wrong – it’s never going to compete with the camera of the LG G4, but it produces photographs with decent levels of exposure and detail, and the noise issue present with the Smart Prime 6 doesn’t seem to effect the Smart Ultra 6.
Standard photo on the left, HDR photo on the right.
The stock camera app boasts several different shooting modes for the rear facing camera that includes panorama, multi-exposure, HDR, interval capture, smile detection and, for those of you that are interested in photography, a fully manual mode. Most are self explanatory and do what’s said on the tin, but we noticed that when using the HDR mode, photos would seem washed out compared to an identical photo taken in auto mode (see above photo for comparison).
The rear facing camera can also support full 1920x1080p HD video at 30fps, though due to the lack of any digital or optical image stabilisation, the videos we recorded were quite shaky when played back – even when we were conscious of not shaking the handset.
What about the front facing camera? The front facing camera isn’t as impressive as the 13Mp rear facing camera, but still offers a 5Mp camera with a maximum resolution of 2592×1944. It also offers video recording, but can only handle 720p HD video.
It doesn’t boast as many shooting modes as the rear facing camera, offering only smile detection (which kept taking photos when we weren’t smiling). It provides a much crisper photo than we were initially expecting, based on past experiences with front facing cameras on budget smartphones, with a balanced exposure and vibrant photos – perfect for selfie taking, anyway.
One point we want to make is that the camera is extremely responsive – more so than some premium handsets we’ve used in the past. It really is a point and shoot experience, as the camera app opens almost instantly and as soon as you tap the shutter, the photo is taken and saved. That’s down to the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset and makes the Smart Ultra 6 perfect for capturing those unplanned moments. Great stuff from such a cheap phone.
You’ll be glad to know that even though this is a Vodafone branded handset, the branding doesn’t take over as the company has been conscious of not filling it with bloatware. As a result, there’s only a handful of Vodafone branded apps and one single Vodafone branded discovery widget – apart from that, it’s a rather vanilla implementation of 32-bit Android Lollipop 5.0.2.
This almost Nexus-like user experience is a real plus point for us, keeping things easy and simply. You’ll quickly get to grips with Lollipop even if you’ve never used Android before.
It’s worth pointing out that Vodafone has decided on touch sensitive buttons below the screen instead of the currently more common on-screen. This makes them a little harder to reach but also frees up real estate on the display for other content so it’s swings and roundabouts.
- 5.5in full HD IPS display
- 1920×1080 resolution
- octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset
- Adreno 405 GPU
- 13mp rear facing camera and 5mp front facing camera
- 3,000mAh non-removable battery
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage, MicroSD up to 128GB
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Android Lollipop 5.0.2
The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is worth its £125 price tag without a doubt. It’s one of the best experiences we’ve had with a budget smartphone, and nothing about this phone suggests that it’s budget apart from its price tag. Compared to the Smart Prime 6, this is definitely the better option to go for and we’d definitely pay the extra £50 for it – it’s more powerful, has better cameras and a larger, higher quality display. It won’t run the latest 3D mobile games but for every day use, it’s a great phone and the fact that you can add up to 128GB of external storage means that there’s more storage than you can shake a stick at. Great work Vodafone