What is the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini?The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is a small, very low cost phone. If you want a mobile you won’t have to worry too much about breaking, need to buy someone their first real smartphone or just want a backup, it seems like a good option.
At £50, it is just a tenth the price of the top phones. There are obvious cuts made in almost every area of the Smart 4 Mini that mean we can’t fully recommend it, but you do get the full Android experience for very little cash here.
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Vodafone Smart 4 Mini - DesignThe Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is typical of a lower-cost Android phone. It’s plastic and slightly chunky but ultimately a fairly small _phone_ compared to the giant devices you’ll see on sale for several times the price on the high street.
However, it’s far from the worst-looking mobile _phone_ we’ve seen. Front-on it’s nice and simple, while its touch keys have none of that over-designed look they have on some lower-cost phones. They don’t light up, though.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s plastic back has a hint of stylisation and a neat bronze-ish black finish. There's also a white version available. It couldn’t pass for a £250 phone, but a £100 one? Sure.
Its ergonomics aren’t too bad either. At 12.3mm it’s pretty thick, but as the Smart 4 Mini has a 4-inch screen phone it really doesn’t matter. Unless you have tiny hands you’ll have no trouble using the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini, and the phone’s back has a nice smooth curve to it that makes it comfortable to hold.
The back pops off, and under the easily-removable battery you’ll find the microSD card slot and the full-size SIM slot. Where other phones have largely moved on to the microSIM standard, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini still uses the older, larger kind – it tells you everything you need to know about how cutting-edge this phone is.
For £50, though, we’re pretty happy with its build. For those who want to know a bit more, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is actually produced by Alcatel, and then re-branded with the Vodafone name. You’ll find that almost all network-branded phones like this are made by Alcatel, Huawei or ZTE.
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Vodafone Smart 4 Mini - ScreenThe screen is one of the most important elements of any phone. The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s display is a mixed bag, but given the price we’re actually quite impressed with some elements of it.
Sharpness isn’t too bad, given we’re talking about a £50 device. It uses a 480 x 800 pixel display, and across the four inches of screen that provides you 233ppi. That’s actually a fair bit higher than some significantly more expensive phones, including the Nokia Lumia 630.
We’ve seen entry-level displays like this look very soft, but there’s a decent amount of definition to the Smart 4 Mini’s screen.
Contrast indoors is pretty good too, leading to images with the sort of ‘pop’ we don’t expect to see in a phone this cheap. And although reds are slightly anaemic-looking, the rest of the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s colour palette is reasonably good. Our first impression was one of pleasant surprise.
However, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is subject to just about every other image quality limitation you normally get at the price.
First, viewing angles are quite rubbish, because this phone uses a TN-type panel rather than the more popular IPS kind. More annoying, the phone has no effective anti-reflective coating.
In bright sunlight, using the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini does become a bit of a struggle. There is, thankfully, an auto brightness setting that’ll automatically ramp-up the backlight intensity to compensate when you venture outside, though.
Outdoors visibility is not great
Max brightness can just about cope with the outdoors, meaning you won’t need to squint with migraine-inducing intensity. But it’s still far from a joy to use.
Another issue is what the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s screen is made of. Where more expensive phones tend to have a top layer made of glass, this one’s all-plastic.
As well as feeling a little less nice than glass – its brand of friction is a little different – it’s far more scratch-prone. Our review unit had clearly been taken for a test drive before we got our hands on it, possibly literally along the surface of a road by the looks of things. Keep the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini in a pocket full of change and keys, and you’ll earn a few battle scars before long.
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The front scratches fairly easily
Plastic is also far more flexible than glass, and as a result it’s very easy to bend the screen’s top layer with your finger, causing unnerving distortion in the display itself. You don’t need to press too hard at all.
These sorts of compromises are the kind of things you need to accept in a £50 phone as you’ll need to spend at least £70-80 to get a real quality upgrade. Ready to pay the extra? Look to something like the Motorola Moto E, a phone with a glass-topped IPS screen.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Software, Apps and PerformanceOne of the best elements of the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is that it uses a near-standard version of Android. It may be the slightly-aged Android 4.2.2, but having the clean and clear default interface is a big plus point.
Many lower-cost phones end up with slightly wonky custom interfaces that are more difficult to use, and significantly slower.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini may have the simplicity part down, but speed is still a real issue. The phone is very laggy by current standards, requiring a fair bit of patience if you’re used to a higher-end phone.
We found that you often have to wait as the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini plays catch-up, whether you’re typing on the keyboard or just trying to flick around the interface. The phone doesn’t help itself either, as there’s even a bit of (unnecessary, we assume) delay in the vibrating haptic feedback that kicks-in when you press a key.
Fingers crossed this lag will be improved in future updates (don’t hold your breath), but it’s unlikely to disappear. The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini has a pretty low-end CPU/GPU/RAM combo – the team that determines how powerful any computer is, more-or-less.
The phone has a dual-core Mediatek MT6572 chipset, which uses a dual-core 1.3GHz CPU. In theory it shouldn’t be much worse than the pretty snappy Snapdragon 200 CPU of the Motorola Moto E. Benchmarks seem to suggest this too – the phone comes out with 572 points in the Geekbench 3 benchmark, which is close to the result you get from the Moto E.
But combine the entry-level CPU with the lowly 512MB RAM plus whatever poking around Alcatel has done in the Android software and you end up with a phone that can be quite frustrating to use. It even struggled playing our standard 720p MP4 test video, which was a surprise.
It's not much use for flashy games, either, but more because of its limited storage than the processor. There's simply not enough room to install the 3D games we use for performance testing, and you can't just use the microSD slot for these installs in most cases. For casual games, though? The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini will be perfectly fine for those.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini has a very basic camera in just about every respect. It’s low-res with a 3-megapixel sensor, there’s no flash and no front camera. There’s also no autofocus, limiting the sorts of photos you can take.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini - Camera
It keeps its camera app simple as well. There are hardly any buttons on show, and even when you dive further into the menu system, you won’t find a great deal on offer. There are panorama and night modes, and some ISO/exposure controls, but no fun filters and no HDR mode.
Outdoors screen visibility is another issue when shooting photos
As easy to use as it may be in one sense, it’s also limited and pretty slow. Expect very little and you won’t be disappointed.
The actual photos the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini takes are fairly poor, with little detail compared to a more expensive phone. But we still think they’ll do the job for the odd photo to put on Facebook or Twitter. We have certainly seen worse 3-megapixel phone cameras.
Detail at the edge of the frame is rubbish and it's a bit dull-looking, but exposure metering could be a lot worse, given the cloudy scene
This gives you an example of the detail and grain to expect. For a 3-megapixel camera, detail at the centre of the frame is decent.
Surprisingly enough, video actually fares a bit better. You can shoot videos at up to 720p resolution, detailed enough to be worth uploading for your friends to watch. Don’t expect too much, though – while better than the VGA quality you often get at this price, footage is still quite noisy-looking.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini - BatteryWe can live with a poor camera, but will the phone last through a day? In our experience, just.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini has a 1400mAh battery, a fair bit smaller than the units used in most rivals. While the phone seems to use some smart measures to ensure not too much charge is used when the phone’s in standby, battery level free-falls as soon as you start using the phone.
When left playing a video, the battery lasts for just four and a half hours. For some wider context, the £90 Moto G manages eight hours and the £70 Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 around five hours. It's among the worst-performing smartphones in terms of video stamina.
The phone’s speaker is similarly basic. You get a single speaker on the back, whose grille sits right next to the camera lens.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini - Sound Quality
It’s not hugely loud and is bass-free, but it is at least able to go to top volume without becoming a crackly, distorted mess. And it certainly has the power to wake you up reliably using the inbuilt alarm.
In a similar vein, call quality is perfectly fine – nothing to get either excited or upset about. There’s the usual secondary microphone on the back of the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini for active noise cancellation, but this just shows you get it in just about any phone these days.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is a phone we could recommend much more happily if it wasn’t for one thing – those annoying performance issues. They suck some of the fun out of this phone, and mean it needs a bit more patience than we’d like.
Should I buy the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini?
There are other issues too, like how little storage there is and quite how scratched your Vodafone Smart 4 Mini screen will probably get after a few months’ use.
At the price, though, you’re going to end up with a better phone than you’d get from a company like Samsung. We’d rather have a Vodafone Smart 4 Mini than a Samsung Galaxy Young or Galaxy Fame.
However, it is proof that you can’t yet get a great new Android phone for £50. Just make sure you know about the compromises involved before buying.
VerdictThe Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is a very affordable phone that’s among the very best you can buy at the price. However, its quite slow and cuts across the board mean you need more patience than you’d need with a slightly more expensive mobile.
Next, read our Motorola Moto E review or read more sub-£100 Mobile phone Reviews