The race to become budget champion is on, as it has been for a few years now. As each year rushes through in this era of fast-paced change, there's never been a better time to look for an affordable smartphone. Many will point you towards Honor or Moto brands when it comes to bang for your buck, but Vodafone has quietly slipped a genuine contender into the mix.
As the name suggests, this is for Vodafone customers only, but if you're one of those (or are thinking of becoming one) and are on a tight budget, then you can get a great smartphone for just £160. Is it the new budget phone champion?
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Vodafone Smart V8 review: Premium looks
- 155 x 76 x 7.9mm; 166g
- Brushed metal finish
As manufacturing processes get faster, more efficient and more mainstream, companies can get hold of parts for prices that were impossible just a a few years ago. Nowhere is this more true than in smartphone design. The Smart V8 uses materials and processes you'd only have seen on expensive phones in the past. Its brushed metal finish and polished chamfered edges give it the appearance of a phone that should cost a lot more.
We like the look a lot, while the feel in hand is of a phone that's solid and well made. The frame feels firm; not like a thin and hollow metal case, either, despite not being hewn from a solid block of metal.
You'll see where Vodafone has saved some money on the phone's rear. Instead of it being entirely metal, there are two textured plastic panels - one at the top, the other at the bottom - where the colour doesn't match the metal. We've seen plenty of phones where there's been an attempt to perfectly match the colour and finish of the metal to plastic components, which typically looks cheap and obvious. With the Smart V8, this added texture and contrasting colour actually looks good.
It's on the back where you'll also find the protruding camera, which is sat inside a shiny metal ring to the centre. To the right is a dual-tone LED flash (something else you don't find on cheap phones normally). There's also a fingerprint scanner about a centimetre beneath that, recessed slightly, encircled by a chamfered surround.
Attention to detail should be commended too. The Micro-USB port on the bottom edge is flanked by two symmetrical sets of pill-shaped holes acting as grilles for the loudspeaker and microphone.
The left edge is where you'll find the power/sleep button. It's unusual to have it placed on the left, but it's still low enough down the edge that it's easy to reach with either your left hand thumb or your right index finger. The SIM tray lives just above it. The volume is on the right edge and, like the power button, has an attractive design featuring shiny, angled edges.
The V8 is a simple but attractive phone, with branding kept to a minimum. There is a Vodafone logo, but without the penned company name - only a small print "Designed by Vodafone" above the usual regulatory certification logos.
Vodafone Smart V8 review: Sharp screen
- 5.5-inch IPS LCD display
- 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution (401ppi)
Full HD is now the norm in a smartphone, everywhere except the bottom end of the market, where you're more likely to see a 720p screen. So it's a grand surprise to find a Full HD screen on the Smart V8. This brings it right up to Moto G5 Plus territory, except the G5 Plus has a slightly smaller screen and costs more than £100 extra.
Perhaps its nearest competition, price wise, is something like the Honor 6A, which has a smaller, lower resolution screen. Could it be, then, that in the display stakes, the V8 is a new budget champion?
Looking at the IPS LCD display - which works out as an impressive 401 pixels per inch - you could be fooled for thinking you're looking at a high-end phone's display. Almost. Compare it to the same-resolution panel on the iPhone 7 Plus and you'll notice that the V8's colour accuracy isn't quite as good. It'll often show cream/off-white colours as quite a cool, over-brightened white, and this affects the other colours too.
In all, that translates to a view that isn't quite as natural, and can be a tiny bit contrasty and harsh. But such effect is only minimal. When you remember how much the V8 costs, it's still a very impressive screen. The fact that we had to pick up the iPhone 7 Plus to see how it compared shows you just how good it is.
Vodafone Smart V8 review: Efficient software with some extras
- Android 7.1.1 Nougat
- Several Vodafone apps pre-installed
Being a Vodafone device means you get a selection of pre-installed apps on the V8. Some of these are more useful than others. There are the Call+ and Message+ apps which tap into Vodafone's advanced calling and messaging options.
Call+ allows you to let the recipient know the reason for your call before making it, add your current location, include photos and videos as well as switching seamlessly to a video call. You can also send messages or voice notes after having conversations.
Message+ makes use of RCS (Rich Communication Services) to send instant messages to other users with the service up and running. It also sends regular SMS and MMS messages to those who don't have the service. All within that one single app.
There's also the My Vodafone account management app installed for checking your bills and allowances. Which makes a lot of sense.
The less useful apps include Accessories, which just takes you to Vodafone's online accessory store portal. Thankfully, you can uninstall this one, as well as the Tips app, which could be very useful to a first-time Android user. You can't, however, remove the Vodafone Start app, which is essentially just a selection of quick links to various parts of Vodafone's website.
If you're very knowledgeable about Android then you may spot that the Android 7.1.1 Nougat - which is the latest version of Google's operating system - doesn't offer a totally default interface.
One minor downside is that the V8 doesn't come with the Google Pixel-style launcher by default. Instead, the app drawer - where all your apps are located - is launched by tapping the drawer icon, rather than dragging it up from the bottom from the screen.
The app icons aren't all circular, either, rather a mix of circle, square and custom shapes - just like Android of last year. It's not that it's drastically outdated, the V8 just does things in a slightly different way, but it's still largely accessible. However, it does feature the important Nougat changes, such as the ability to change the display resolution and font size, to make icons and text bigger or smaller.
Overall, the V8 offers up-to-date software with a few of its own tweaks that aren't too imposing. Which is the way things should be.
Vodafone Smart V8 review: Rough with the smooth
- Snapdragon 435 processor; 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage, no microSD card slot
If there's one area where the Smart V8 shows it's a budget phone more clearly than others that, it's in performance. Depending what you're doing, it's a real case of Jeckyll and Hyde.
It uses the Snapdragon 435 platform which - for those not in the know - is part of Qualcomm's lower end chipset family. Despite that, for general day-to-day tasks like messaging, browsing the web and checking in on your social network feeds, it performs adequately enough. It's smooth, even if it isn't lightning quick. Things tend to take a little longer to load than they would on a much more expensive phone. But that's to be expected.
We noticed its limitations most during gaming, or when downloading apps and games with big files from the Play Store. They took a long time compared to what we're used to from a higher-end device. Waiting more than 30 seconds for each level to load in Hitman Sniper, where it should only take 5-10 seconds, was a bit frustrating. Waiting a few seconds longer for web pages wasn't as headache-inducing, but still noticeable.
The worst element of the performance, however, is downloading content. It takes ages, because it doesn't offer high-end Wi-Fi connectivity of dual/quad antenna channels. As an example: the Hitman Sniper game took 20 minutes to download. Ok, so it's around 543MB in size, but it still downloads within one minute using the OnePlus 5 on exactly the same Wi-Fi network. Even the initial 109MB download for Angry Birds 2 took a few minutes, when it should really take seconds.
The thing is, unless you're going to be doing lots of gaming, or downloading lots of heavyweight files, you likely won't even notice that it's a slow download performer. What's more, if you've never owned an all-powerful flagship phone, you will be plenty happy with the V8 and none the wiser.
Vodafone Smart V8 review: Staying power
- 3,000mAh battery
The Smart V8 comfortably got to the end of a day with some battery life remaining. We wouldn't want to risk taking it through to a second day, because it just wouldn't make it. On a normal day with what we would class as regular use, the V8's battery life was around the 30 per cent mark by bed time. Heavy users with lots should still comfortably make it through a full day too.
The Smart V8 isn't quite up to the standards of OnePlus' Dash Charge or QC 3.0 with its refuelling speed, but the included charger is capable of refilling the battery back up to 100 per cent, from single digits, within 90 minutes. Which is really rather good.
Vodafone Smart V8 review: Picture perfect
- 16MP camera
- 1080p video at 30fps
- 8MP front-facing camera
The 16-megapixel camera on the back of the Smart V8 is, again, one of those elements that doesn't compare well to the pricy flagship smartphones. But, again, the V8 is not an expensive smartphone, so its results are pretty good based on its affordable price tag.
In good daylight, the V8 can capture shots that aren't at all embarassing to share on social media. For the most part photos are natural looking, even if they are a tiny bit fuzzy. As soon as light dips, the image noise comes. But that's to be expected.
Autofocus is relatively quick when you press the shutter button too. However, it does sometimes have a hard time with close-up objects, particularly if there's contrasting light in the background - the same can be said of the Moto G5, though - while moving subjects tend to mean blurry results, because the V8 doesn't counter such situations with a faster shutter speed.
It's the feature list that makes the V8's camera enjoyable though. It has a selection of shooting modes, including a multi-exposure option which lets you overlay two photos on top of or next to eachother, depending on which style of multi-exposure you want. We tested a couple, but mostly the "brightness" option, which combines two shots, showing only the parts from the second photo that are brighter than the darker subjects in the first photo. It's rather good fun.
Also featured is slow-motion video, timelapse, slow exposure (for those times you want light trails), Super Night mode (for better night time shots) and the full manual mode which lets you adjust white balance, exposure, ISO sensitivity, shutter speed and focus as you please.
In the Smart V8, Vodafone has managed to launch a phone that costs just £160, yet one which looks and feels like a much more expensive device. We'd not bat an eyelid if the price was closer to £250.
There are elements which show that it is indeed a budget phone, however, like the processor choice and camera performance, but for the asking price it's a very accomplished device.
Simply put, if £160 is right at the top of your budget, you'll not find anything better than the Smart V8, or anything that's closer to being an all-round great device. You can only buy one if you're ok to be tied to Vodafone, but with other carriers not offering anything like this, that's not necessarily a bad thing at all.
Alternatives to consider
The Honor 6A is the Huawei subsidiary's latest budget smartphone, costing £10 less than the Smart V8. It's not quite as premium looking, and doesn't have a full HD screen, but it is smaller, which might suit a few consumers more than the 5.5-inch Vodafone device. Sadly, there's no fingerprint scanner here, but the battery should last longer given the lower resolution, smaller display.
Read the full article: Honor 6A preview: The best £150 phone choice?
Motorola Moto G5
It costs £10 more than the Smart V8, but is undoubtedly the phone to go for if you want a smaller 5-inch screen as cheap as possible. It's full HD, 5-inches and runs a very clean version of Android. What's more, it has a fingerprint sensor and supports every UK carrier, you won't be locked down to Vodafone.
Read the full article: Moto G5 review: If price is everything, this is the budget phone to buy