When looking for affordable devices, it can often be difficult to find a phone without too many compromises, especially on the lower end of the scale. With the Smart Ultra 7, Vodafone is looking to give you as much for your money as possible, all in a phone that costs just £135.
Like the Platinum 7, the Ultra 7 is essentially a rebranded Alcatel phone and comes with some admirable specifications. It could well be the Android device to buy if your budget doesn't stretch beyond £150.
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 preview: Design
As you'd expect, being a phone targeted at the low end of the market means compromises had to be made. The most notable of those is in materials and build. In other words: you won't find any premium anodised metal or high-end Gorilla Glass here. Instead, it's an-all plastic device with a screen covered in a less expensive Dragontail glass.
Just because it's plastic, doesn't mean there's nothing to like about its design though. There is the odd flourish of aesthetic appeal. The plastic frame around the edges has an attractive brushed metal-effect finish to it, and the glass on the front subtly curves towards the edges. A chrome finish around its edges ensures the home button stands out on the front, while the volume rocker switch and power button have the same textured finish we liked on the more expensive Platinum 7.
Similar to Galaxy S phones of old, the rear plastic shell is removable and gives access to the micro SIM card slot (note: not nano SIM) and the microSD card slot. The rear cover itself is pretty flimsy and is finished with a ever-so-slightly grippy, subtle geometrical pattern. Sadly, the battery is not removable, and is sealed inside a metal casing with a warning not to make attempts at taking it out.
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 preview: Display
With this being a low-end device, it's great to see a large 5.5-inch full HD display on the front. On first impressions, it certainly seems sharp and colours are natural.
Again, with it being a low cost phone, there were compromises made here too. The most noticeable being that the screen isn't fully laminated to the front glass surface. That means you will notice a slight gap in between the display panel and the glass. Thankfully, it doesn't cause any major issues, but there is a slight warm tint when looking at the screen from an angle.
The only other minor complaint on first look is that the bezel around the edges is quite thick, which makes the phone relatively wide and hard to use one-handed. Still, when looking at the display head-on, it's hard not to be impressed by the sharpness and clarity. Granted, this phone's screen won't compare to the high-end flagship phone displays, but it's brilliant for a device as affordable as this.
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 preview: Hardware
In the past, budget phones have been forced to run with a distinctly average processors. Not so much in this phone. While it's not the most high-end of powerful mobile chips, the Helio P10 inside the Ultra 7 is quick and features eight cores. As a reminder, this is the same processor found inside the Oppo F1 Plus; a phone which costs more than double what the Smart Ultra 7 from Vodafone costs.
Again, there are are compromises in the hardware, but none that should affect your daily use too much. It has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (around 10GB of which is usable). You're not limited to 16GB however, you can expand using a microSD card and you can even make use of Android Marshmallow's ability to adopt microSD card storage as internal storage to save app data and so on.
As you'd expect from a phone at this end of the market, there's no fingerprint sensor or quick-charge support. Neither is there a USB Type-C port. That means it could take some time to fill up the 2,960mAh battery. With a battery that big, it should easily last a full day on a single charge, if not more.
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 preview: Software
Like its more expensive sibling, the Smart Ultra 7 comes loaded with some custom Vodafone apps and software but it's mostly a clean, stock Android Marshmallow experience. Apps like Call+ and Message+ plus help Vodafone customers take advantage of the carrier's advanced phone and messaging services, while the Tips app helps get first-time smartphone users up to speed with how to use their new phone.
Otherwise, it's virtually identical to a plain Android experience. Everything from the app drawer and settings menu is just you'd find it in a Nexus phone. Because of this, our early experiences using the device have been fast, fluid and responsive. What's more, the Doze mode in Android Marshmallow means that any time that it spends in standby doesn't consume too much of its battery juice.
Smart Ultra 7 preview: Camera
Like the rest of the phone's features, the camera should definitely be good enough for most users. It's a 13-megapixel sensor with phase detection autofocus (PDAF), which is also equipped with HDR and an f/2.0 aperture.
The camera's results seems a far cry from the fuzzy, distorted and over-saturated photos we're used to seeing in the ultra-affordable market. Our first few shots show up ample detail and great colour. Perhaps more surprising is that it even has manual controls within the camera app for adjusting brightness, shutter speed and white balance. It also shoots in full HD resolution and sits alongside a dual-tone LED flash on the back of the phone.
If selfies are a big deal to you, you'll be pleased to know the front-facing 5-megapixel snapper also comes with a dual-LED flash, but results will likely be a little fuzzy from the less pixel-dense sensor.
At this moment in time, it’s hard to think of a phone that competes with the Smart Ultra 7 in its price range. The recently announced 4th generation Moto G features many of the same specifications and benefits, but costs £169; a full £34 more than this Vodafone device.