Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review

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PROS
  • Good specs for mid-range device
  • Very affordable
  • Great screen
  • Almost untouched version of Android
CONS
  • All-plastic case
  • Vodafone bloatware
  • Poor front-facing camera
KEY FEATURES
  • 5.5-inch 1080p display
  • MediaTek MT6755M CPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB expandable internal storage
  • 2,960mAh battery
  • 13MP rear camera
  • 5MP selfie camera
  • Android 6.0.1
  • Manufacturer: Vodafone

WHAT IS THE VODAFONE SMART ULTRA 7?

The Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 is the successor to the super-impressive, and similarly grammatically confused, Smart Ultra 6 – a high-spec budget phone that we were rather taken by when we reviewed it last year. And things are much the same this time around. Although you won’t find top-end specs in the Smart Ultra 7, there is enough decent hardware to provide snappy performance, and all for £135/$202.

With the Smart Ultra 7, Vodafone has set its sights on undercutting competitors in the budget phone market. For example, the recently launched Moto G4 includes many of the same specifications, but costs £169/$253. Of course, the catch is that you have to be on Vodafone, but unless you have a strong disliking for the network, it’s hardly a drawback, especially if it keeps the price low.

As OnePlus has consistently demonstrated, packing decent hardware into an affordable device is a winning formula (although, that $4 Indian smartphone could still ruin the whole thing for everyone). So, does Vodafone’s latest offering manage to pull off the same trick of keeping the price low without skimping on quality. As it turns out, the answer is mostly.

Smart Ultra 1

DESIGN

It’s important to bear in mind the price when considering the Smart Ultra 7’s build quality and design. For £135/$202, you’re not going to get the kind of refined finish seen on the Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6S. Vodafone’s handset is essentially a rebranded Alcatel phone that comes in an all-plastic case, with Dragontail glass – a cheaper alternative to Gorilla glass – covering the screen.You also have a choice of two, rather confusingly titled, colours: Satin Charcoal or Aluminium Silver.

Smart Ultra 7

The textured plastic backing is removable and feels distinctly Galaxy S5-esque. It’s pretty flimsy and doesn’t look particularly sleek. Removing the backing is also a clunky way of changing SIM cards and inserting a microSD card, especially seeing as the battery isn’t removable.

Elsewhere, things look slightly more high-end. The plastic frame has a brushed metal-style finish on the edges of the phone, which at least creates the illusion of high-end design. That Dragontail glass also curves nicely as it reaches the edges of the screen, and the chrome finish around the home button adds an air of distinction to the whole affair.

Smart Ultra 3

Next to that home button you’ll find two backlit capacitive buttons, which in my opinion look a little outdated. There’s something about the lacklustre backlight that reminds me less of a slick top-end smartphone and more of the buttons you’d find on a cheap microwave.

At 150g and 152 x 78 x 9mm, the Smart Ultra 7 is firmly in Moto G4 territory. Lenovo’s device is slightly longer and thicker at 153 x 77 x 10mm, and it’s also a tad heavier at 155g. But overall, the form factors are similar. You’ll struggle to use the Smart Ultra 7 in one hand, and for me, when it comes to dimensions, I prefer my current handset, the OnePlus X, over Vodafone’s larger offering.

Smart Ultra 4

So, all in all, while you’re not getting the nicest-looking phone available, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 can at least pass for a well designed mid-range device. It’s only on closer inspection that the plastic casing and weird textured backing, volume, and power buttons become apparent. But I have to say, the phone certainly feels sturdy and well built in the hand – which is reassuring for a £135/$202 smartphone.

DISPLAY

The Smart Ultra 7 comes with a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, which equates to a 401ppi density. Those are exactly the same screen specs you’ll find on the Moto G4. With it’s smaller 5-inch screen, the OnePlus X offers a higher 441ppi density, which is to be expected with the reduced display size. All of which means that Vodafone has managed to match the best budget smartphones when it comes to screen specs.

Smart Ultra 11

In practice, these figures result in strikingly sharp pictures from the Smart Ultra 7. Although the screen isn’t going to wow you in the manner of the QHD display on the LG G5 or Galaxy S7, you won’t notice individual pixels on the Smart Ultra 7’s screen.

As with most IPS LCD panels, though, you will notice slight light bleed around the edges, and the blacks aren’t as deep as on the OnePlus X, which uses AMOLED display tech.

What’s more, the screen isn’t fully laminated to the glass, which means viewing angles aren’t quite as good as they could be. However, the screen here certainly isn’t like one of those cheap Twisted Nematic panels, where the picture goes dark unless you’re looking straight at it.

There’s also the bezel, which is thicker than you may have hoped, but no more so than the bezel on the OnePlus X or Moto G4. Even top-end phones continue to arrive with sizeable bezels, so I can’t begrudge Vodafone the hefty screen border too much.

SOFTWARE

Vodafone has loaded the Smart Ultra 7 with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and it’s done so without cramming in too much bloatware. In fact, Marshmallow remains virtually untouched, save for the handful of Vodafone apps that come pre-installed.

Smart Ultra 13

Bloatware is one of my biggest issues with any device, whether it be a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Consumers don’t like to be overwhelmed by random pop-ups and requests from programs that seemingly do the same thing as the stock software.

While Vodafone has been fairly charitable when it comes to showing restraint with bloatware on the Smart Ultra 7, it’s still present – lurking and poised to irritate. Vodafone apps include: the company’s calling and messaging alternatives; Accessories, which is just an excuse to get you to buy more stuff; Start; Updates; and the ever-helpful Tips app.

Smart Ultra 5

Those unfamiliar with touchscreen phones might find the Tips app useful, but for the most part, Android works perfectly well without these apps and it’s best to just ignore them.

To its credit, though, Vodafone has provided an almost untouched version of Google’s mobile OS, and the phone is all the better for it. Marshmallow is a great OS and it’s allowed to shine unimpeded on the Smart Ultra 7.

PERFORMANCE

When it comes to specs, the Smart Ultra 7 isn’t going to blow you away, but it does manage to pack in hardware that promises stable, and even speedy performance. The 1.0GHz/1.8GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6755M CPU is no Snapdragon 820, but it does the job well enough that you won’t notice slowdown of any kind.

Smart Ultra 6

Alongside the CPU, there’s 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It’s worth noting that the 16GB actually works out to about 9.8GB once you factor in the stock apps and system memory. In comparison, the Moto G4 comes with the same amount of RAM and either 16 or 32GB of internal storage, while the OnePlus X comes with 3GB of RAM and 16GB internal storage.

One plus point here is that you can upgrade the internal storage of Vodafone’s handset with a microSD card – something that both the Moto G4 and OnePlus X also offer.

Using the Smart Ultra 7 is, for the most part, a trouble-free experience. You might notice a slight pause when loading certain apps: my review model took a few seconds to load Chrome. But, on the whole, everything works fluidly. Gaming is similarly smooth: the handset ran the graphically intense Asphalt 8 without a hitch – although it does become a little warm during the process.

Smart Ultra 9

In terms of benchmarking, the Smart Ultra’s chip held up well in the Geekbench 3 multi-core stakes, rolling in with a score of 3,094. That’s in comparison to the Moto G4’s 3,190 and the OnePlus X’s 2,542, which makes the Smart Ultra just as good as, if not better than in some instances, the competition when it comes to performance.

Unfortunately, there’s no USB Type-C connection included here, nor a fingerprint scanner. Huawei’s £169/$253 Honour 5X, which offers another great budget smartphone experience, does include a fingerprint scanner; however, it’s unusual on a smartphone costing £135/$202.

On the plus side, Vodafone has provided an NFC chip with the Smart Ultra 7, meaning you’ll be able to get fully acquainted with Android Pay if you invest in its device.

CAMERA

With a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel selfie camera, the Smart Ultra 7 is – on paper at least – in line with the Moto G4 and OnePlus X; in fact, the latter comes with an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. In our opinion, it is the Moto G4 that has had the best camera you can get for the money. So how does the Smart Ultra 7 stack up? Well, it’s good, but not quite as good as the one of the Moto G4.

Smart Ultra 8

First, the camera app is easy to use, responsive, and comes with plenty of extra manual options including brightness adjustment, shutter speed and white balance. The camera will also shoot 1080p video.

Although the photos are decent overall, I found colours were a tad muted and there was a slight blocky effect where the processing seems to have smoothed over some of the textures; this results in a loss of detail. I would put that down to a lack of pixels. but the Smart Ultra 7 has just as much as its contemporaries, and even more than, say, the Galaxy S7. It just goes to show, megapixels aren’t all that counts when it comes to cameras.

Smart Ultra shot 4

Smart Ultra shot 3

Shots are clear but lack detail

Smart Ultra shot 5

The camera seems to perform better with close-ups

Smart Ultra shot 7

The 5-megapixel front-facing camera also comes with an LED flash and does a decent job of capturing selfies. Colours aren’t exactly vibrant, especially when the lighting is limited, but it’s a selfie camera and will happily perform that job. And it will certainly do for Skyping and the like. Here’s a comparison of the front camera and the back camera:

Smart Ultra shot 14

Rear

Smart Ultra shot 13

Front

Smart Ultra shot 11

Rear

Smart Ultra shot 12

Front

As you can see, the front-facing setup seems to add a warmer tone to the images. It’s also not very good at focusing and no matter how steady I tried to hold the phone, always seemed to produce blurring in images, even when half the image was in focus. It wasn’t a case of not holding the phone in place for long enough after pressing the shutter either.

Again, the Smart Ultra 7’s camera is fine for taking selfies, but I’m not particularly impressed with the front-facing camera.

BATTERY

Although the back of the Smart Ultra 7 pops off, the 2,960mAh battery is non-removable, and is smaller than the 3,000mAh cell in the Moto G4. It’s also a slight downgrade from the Smart Ultra 6, which also came with a 3,000mAh battery. But with the same 5.5-inch 1080p screen as the previous model, an upgrade to the processor, and Marshmallow’s power-saving features, I wasn’t expecting to see much difference in battery life.

And that turned out to be the case. In my experience, I found the phone easily lasted a day. I used it to listen to music on my hour’s walk to and from work, check and send messages, and for the odd bit of internet browsing and found I had plenty of charge left at the end of the day. One day of using the phone for such general use, with adaptive brightness turned on, saw the phone lose around 40% battery.

Smart Ultra 14

Streaming obviously impacted the battery more severely. Watching 45-minute episodes of Daredevil on Netflix, with the brightness set to 50%, the phone lost 24% of its battery.

Vodafone claimed the Smart Ultra 6 could last two days on a single charge, which was mostly true with minimal usage. And I can say the same is true of the Smart Ultra 7, although you’d have to really keep usage down to manage two full days.

SHOULD I BUY THE VODAFONE SMART ULTRA 7?

Vodafone’s claim that the Smart Ultra 7 is great because “it’s got all-round performance at an incredible price” is pretty accurate. I’d add that the phone features an almost untouched version of Android, which is perhaps its best feature, as well as a vibrant screen and what feels like solid build quality too.

With all that in mind, it’s impressive that Vodafone is able to offer the Smart Ultra 7 cheaper than the Moto G4. The phone probably isn’t going to win any awards for design, it isn’t the most enviable handset on the market overall, plus you have to be signed up with Vodafone. However, if you’re on a budget and don’t want to skimp on quality, there’s very little reason not to recommend the Smart Ultra 7.

Granted, there isn’t much new here to separate it from its predecessor, but considering the Ultra 6 was such a solid budget offering, it would have been silly to change too much anyway. On the whole, Vodafone has done just as good a job as last year with the Smart Ultra 7.

VERDICT

Solid performance, close to stock Android, and – best of all – cheap; the Smart Ultra 7 is easily one of the best budget smartphones available right now.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/34x7CT)

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