Vodafone Smart III review

4 out of 5
£90

For

Cheap, uncomplicated, decent design, well-aimed for its market

Against

Screen not that bright, not that powerful, limited internal storage

The Vodafone Smart III - sometimes called the Vodafone Smart III 975 - is a handset that really knows its audience. Its first trick is that it's cheap. At £90 it's one of the cheapest Android handsets you can buy, and for pay-as-you-go users, it's likely to be very popular, especially amongst those who don't want, or can't afford, the latest £600 monster.

So, if you're a Vodafone customer who needs a cheap phone, then is this the one you should choose, or are there better out there? We spent some time with one, and some pay-as-you-go credit to find out.

Design

Things are a little bit different with the design of the Smart III. Rather than the usual detachable rear cover, the Smart has a plastic frame which detaches from the phone leaving a semi-transparent back cover, behind which the innards of the phone live. Pop it off, and beneath is a battery and the larger than normal SIM card. There's also a slot for a microSD card too.

Provided in the pack are a couple of paper templates which can be inserted between the phone and the rear plastic cover. These are patterned and subtly change how the back of the phone looks. You can leave them out, and see hints of the red Vodafone SIM, or you could even print your own and put them here. It's kind of a cool take on Nokia's ExpressOn covers of old, but with a more modern feel.

On the front of the phone, there's a little red status light, although the redness of this light is governed by the plastic in front of a normal white light, so you could change this, or different frames could give a different colour. As it stands, the white frame with the red light looks good, but it's also Vodafone's colours, so we can see why the firm has chosen them.

On the front of the phone there are three capacitive buttons for back, home and menu, which we honestly prefer to the on-screen controls you get with some phones. They're also visible in most lights too, which is a real advantage.

Customisation

The Smart III runs Android Jelly Bean, and for the most part Vodafone has left the design away. There's no extravagant skin or bundles of operator specific features. Instead, there's a few apps that you might find handy, but they mostly tell you about Vodafone services, or help you update your phone to the latest software version.

Performance

From a purely paper-based spec perspective, the Smart is really quite underpowered. There's a 1GHz processor (single core), 512MB of RAM and just 4GB of storage. Those things mean that you'll be restricted in the amount you can install, and what the phone can do at any one time.

Taking a more practical look, and actually using the phone; for common tasks it feels great. There's no real sense it's too slow, and browsing and checking email all feel responsive enough. One thing we did notice though, was that at startup things were very sluggish initially, but picked up once the phone had gathered its thoughts.

 

From a multimedia perspective, of course, audio is no problem here. The issues start when you try and play HD video. At this point, the phone can't really cope and delivers a less than ideal frame rate. Still, it's a bit much to expect a budget handset to happily decode 720p video with Dolby Digital audio. And while the video did play, the phone couldn't deliver any audio with our test clips.

Screen

For most use indoors, the screen is fine. There's actually more than enough resolution here to make things look crisp and clear. The on-screen fonts aren't too small and using the web browser is no big problem.

We noticed that the virtual keyboard felt a bit small on the screen, and so that might cause some problems with accuracy. It has to be said though, we're used to phones with screens much larger, so it's likely to be us that is out of practice, rather than that the phone is unusably small.

We did notice that the screen wasn't massively bright, even when taken off its automatic mode, and put on its maximum setting. Indoors this is fine, but outdoors you'll have some problems. As well as not having a very powerful backlight, we also notice that things on-screen looked a little bit darker in tone too, perhaps due to the backlight, but also as a result of the type of screen. It gives a slightly grim and joyless feel to proceedings.

Camera

We don't have much in the way of expectations when it comes to the cameras on budget smartphones. Interestingly though, there's no major problems here. The camera takes nice enough snaps on its 5-megapixel sensor, and they look okay on the screen, and even on a computer.

Zooming in, to make those photos 100 per cent shows a real lack of fine detail though. This is quite common on cheaper cameras, but it's not as bad here as it is on other budget cameras.

There's no front-mounted camera here, so selfies are harder, and you also won't be able to join Google Hangouts or Skype with friends with video. Hardly a tragedy to those of us rushing toward our 40s, but the 16+ crowd might find that news a little distressing.

You can shoot video, but it's quite modest at 720p. It's certainly good enough for YouTube an the like, and if you're out and something amazing happens, or you need to make a video blog for your YouTube channel, you should be able to do so with reasonable skill.

Battery

At just 1500mAh, the built in battery is a little bit small by modern standards. But wait a moment and you start to realise that this phone is quite modestly specced, and that with the processor and screen here being fairly low power, the battery should last.

And indeed, ours did. With light use, it will easily get you through the day, but even if you're a heavy user, it should still make it through to bedtime. Just remember, constantly checking Facebook to see if someone has tagged you in something will have a negative impact on how long your battery lasts.

Verdict

For £90 there's really not a lot here to dislike. As always with cheaper camera phones, the megapixel count is irrelevant and the photos always look a bit blurred and lack fine detail. The Smart is far from the worst offender here though, and as always these photos will, for the most part, look fine on social media sites and the like.

As a phone, it's a little small for our hands, but it's really aimed at teenagers and people who haven't spent the last decade eating at press lunches and drinking beer at product launches. But even our sausage fingers managed, so we're confident you will too.

There are some other phones that sit in this price range. Most service providers have a budget phone in this range, and there are other budget phones between £100 and £200 and all are worth considering. Aesthetically, the Smart III is actually one of the nicer budget phones, it's a little more cool-looking that the low-end handsets from the likes of Huawei and ZTE.