What is the Vodafone Smart 3?The Vodafone Smart 3 is the network provider's latest own branded budget smartphone. It is a 4-inch, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean powered _phone_ which, at just £90 on a SIM-free basis, is a rival to the more big brands alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy Young and the LG Optimus L3.
It seems ideal for first time smartphone owners and teenagers, the latter of which are bound to enjoy the interchangeable inlays on the its rear. Inside the Smart 3 runs a relatively basic 1GHz single-core processor, and it has a 5-megapixel camera on the rear.
Has Vodafone done enough to challenge the big boys of the smartphone scene? Read on to find out...
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Vodafone Smart 3 - DesignThe Vodafone Smart 3's design brings a certain old-school variety to the budget smartphone scene. Its semi-transparent plastic can be decorated with paper inserts – you can even print your own designs to make the _phone_ your own. It’s a neat trick and one reminiscent of the classic Nokia 3310, may it rest in peace.
The Smart 3 is manufactured on Vodafone’s behalf by French budget phone specialist Alcatel. As such there is more than a hint of Alcatel themed design to it, with the phone’s soft curved edges and a flat back giving a nod to the likes of the Alcatel One Touch Idol X. A slight kick to the base of the phone gives it a striking finish, too.
The Vodafone Smart 3 is by no means slight, measuring in at 10.9mm thick and 136g in weight. Compared with its closest rivals, it is the dessert lover of the budget scene. Although 1.6mm slimmer than the comparatively priced Samsung Galaxy Young, it is 24g heavier. Fortunately, this considerable weight is carried evenly across its 4-inch body, creating a comfortable, reassuring balance in the hand.
The matt finish to the Smart 3’s bumper style plastic edge makes it comfortable and easy to grip, and even helps elevate the otherwise cheap, plastic build of the sub-£100 phone.
Overall, the Vodafone Smart 3 feels safe and secure in the hand. Build quality is not the most reassuring with a lot of creaking and moaning accompanying every use, and we would be concerned about how the phone fared against drops to concrete. But it looks more exciting than its £90 price tag suggests.
Vodafone Smart 3 Screen QualityThe Vodafone Smart 3’s screen is hardly a standout feature, but it’s good enough for a £90 phone. Indeed, the 800 x 480 resolution is a step up on the 480 x 320-pixel screen found on the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Fame, but it’s not the brightest. The screen is meek and washed out in bright, direct sunlight and still feels a little diluted indoors. Colours constantly look pale, too, which means photos, videos and even web pages look pallid and dull. Viewing angles are dire, too. Tilt the phone out of anything but a direct line of sight and the backlighting on the capacitive LCD panel causes shadows and bright haloing.
The responsiveness of the Vodafone Smart 3’s screen is acceptable, however, with swipe and selection gestures responding relatively promptly and with little fuss. Things start to fall apart with multi-finger gestures, however. Attempting usually simple tasks, such as pinch-to-zoom, results in a bitty, laggy experience that lacks the fluidity of even cheaper phones.
For all its faults, though, the Vodafone Smart 3’s 233 pixels-per-inch image density stands out from the crowd. Text and graphics are still noticeably hazy at their edges and images are far from pin-sharp, but the improvement over the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Young (176 PPI) is noticeable from the off.
Vodafone Smart 3 SoftwareThe Vodafone Smart 3 is more than a stock Android phone as it has Vodafone's own bespoke UI overlaid on the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean foundations. It’s a largely sleek user interface that builds on Google’s strong foundations with a number of small, mostly cosmetic improvements to create a friendlier, simpler environment. That fact it heavily pushes Vodafone's services is a tad annoying, but it's not a deal breaker.
This said, the likes of Gesty, Vodafone’s custom gesture creator, while one of the network’s better additions, is only the best of a bad bunch. Gesty offers a marginally quicker way to jump to favourite contacts or launch frequently used apps. But it’s tediously temperamental to use, generating far more frustration and time-wasting than the desired results warrant.
The Smart 3’s virtual keyboard is cramped and does not make good use of the phone’s full 4-inch form factor. Surprisingly, though, its predictive texts options are strong and help counteract the inevitable mistakes from using the small keys.
Both stock Android and Google Chrome browsers come pre-installed on the Vodafone Smart 3. Neither is particularly quick thanks to the basic processor, and both offer similar basic functions (bookmarking, favourite pages, multi-tab browsing). It’s bound to be confusing the first-time owners to have two, however.
Vodafone Smart 3 PerformanceWhere the phone’s design and screen exceed the Vodafone Smart 3’s £90 expectations, its true budget nature is betrayed by its performance. The 1GHz single-core processor at the heart of the Vodafone Smart 3 is not exactly speedy. The phone is laggy at times – even bringing it out of sleep mode causes considerable delays.
Transitions between menus and homescreens are sluggish, with notable juddering between movements. What’s more, opening any application or menu is preceded by noticeable pause, leaving you unsure whether your selection has registered.
Gaming on the Vodafone Smart 3 is not ideal, either. The single-core processor and 512MB of RAM are not a strong combination for heavy-duty gaming. Although the likes of Real Racing 3 are playable, it’s extremely jumpy and laced with lag. Even less taxing games, such as Cartoon Mini Golf 3D, are far from fluid, too.
Neither is the Vodafone Smart 3 great for multimedia, though it isn’t a totally flawed performer on the entertainment side of things. The integrated speaker is sounds satisfying although somewhat hallow, and the LCD screen lets you enjoy movie playback in relative comfort. As bitty as the Smart 3’s performance can be in parts, at £90 it’s unreasonable to ask much more of it.
Vodafone Smart 3 CameraThe camera on the Vodafone Smart 3 is what you would expect from a £90 handset: functional, but flawed. A fulltime stand-in for a dedicated compact this is not, particularly as the Smart 3 camera struggles with light management and is slow to focus.
Faced with areas of light and shadow, the Vodafone Smart 3’s camera struggles to find an even balance, frequently leaving one area either under or over exposed. Although an integrated LED flash is present (not true for all budget phones), making indoor shots a possibility, in practise this further accentuates the camera’s trouble with lighting, often over exposing subjects in close quarters.
There’s no front-facing camera, either, which may disappoint teenagers who like to take ‘selfies’ with their friends. You can use the rear camera, of course, but it’s not as easy to line-up shots this way.
Video recording options are limited. The Vodafone Smart 3 shoots basic, VGA video, and results are slightly bitty with poor colour contrast and detail.
Vodafone Smart 3 Call QualityCall quality, arguably the most basic principle of a smartphone, is an area where the Vodafone Smart 3 comes undone. Calls sound extremely distant with low volumes further compounded by an annoying haziness. This will not put you off using the Smart 3 as a phone, but it will make the experience less enjoyable and more of a chore than we would ideally like.
Vodafone Smart 3 Battery LifeBattery life on the Vodafone Smart 3 is acceptable without being inspiring. The 1,500mAh Lithium-Ion battery is smaller than on some entry and mid-market handsets, but the Smart 3’s limited specs are not overly demanding on the power pack. In short the claimed 6.5 hour talk time and 312 hour standby predictions run near enough true. With steady use, a full day’s battery is available on a single charge, although playing games does seem to churn through the juice at a higher rate of knots that on the likes of the LG Optimus L3.
The Smart 3’s 1,500mAh Lithium-Ion battery is another nod back to its Alcatel manufacturing, as we reckon it comes directly from some of the company’s own branded handsets, including the Alcatel One Touch 991.
Other things to considerThe 4GB of internal storage offered is pretty standard for a budget phone. As you might expect though, microSD expansion up to 32GB is available for those with more demanding storage needs.
The Vodafone Smart 3’s connectivity options are pretty basic, there’s no NFC or 4G on offer here. The charge and transfer enabling microUSB connection sits comfortably in the centre of the phone’s bottom edge. This helps reduce the fiddliness of the using the phone with a cable attached.
With the usual Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi connections available, we experienced no issues with the Smart 3 obtaining and maintaining its internet connections. Signal was strong and comparable with any budget phone. Similarly, 3G connections never faltered in areas of expected coverage. We had no issues with dropped calls during our time with the phone.
Should I buy the Vodafone Smart 3?For £90 it is hard to go wrong with the Vodafone Smart 3. Its moderately attractive, functional specs and satisfying screen are hard to argue with, and the Vodafone Smart 3 is a more rounded phone than the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy Young.
For the price the 800 x 480 pixel LCD display, 5-megapixel camera and 1GHz processor are a better overall package than anything offered by larger phone brands. If you're a parent it's a great choice as a child's first phone, provided you can persuade them that's better than the alternatives from known brands.