Vodafone has made own-brand phones aimed at providing smart handsets cheaply. Read on for our Vodafone Smart 4 Mini review
Handsets made by networks have some strong advantages. Your network can optimise it and control updates and changes more easily. And it'll usually work out cheaper than buying a big-brand phone. And that doesn't mean it'll be badly built - HTC started out by making quality phones for other companies, like the Orange SPV, for instance.
Vodafone has made own-brand handsets for some time. This one is pretty basic in many ways, and won't suit anyone after a phone for video-calling as there's no front-facing camera. But far from everyone wants that anyway.
This phone costs just £50 on pay-as-you-go from Vodafone, though of course it's locked to the network. Still, it's a heck of a low price. There are rivals at similar prices like the excellent Nokia Lumia 520 and Motorola Moto G, which clocks in at a little over double but provides much more.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Size and build
The Smart 4 Mini lives up to its name. It's an easy fit in any hand, though it still squeezes in a four-inch display. It's not slim like that other four-inch smartphone, the Apple iPhone 5s, but it's really not going for comparison with Apple's flagship.
Anyway, it's a little on the chunky side, at 12.3mm (its full vital statistics are 121.6 x 64.4 x 12.3mm), but the curved back means it feels comfy enough in your grip. And it's a welcome change from those paw-stretching superphones that dominate the latest releases such as the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Build quality isn't bad, though inevitably it's pretty much all plastic and the back pops off to insert your sim card and battery. But there's no creaking when you flex it. Still, the screen feels noticeably cheaper than a glass display would have done.
It's pretty light, though, at 117g, so won't be weighing you down like many a premium blower with a glass screen and metal casing.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Features
You won't be surprised to discover there's no 4G connectivity here - though for many that won't be a problem. But there's GPS built in, which may come as a surprise at this price. Ditto Bluetooth, which is sometimes omitted on budget mobiles.
And Vodafone even lets you use the phone for wirelessly tethering your other connectable gadgets like a laptop, say. Vodafone has included a simple widget that guides you through the basics - and since this may well turn out to be many customers' first smartphone, that's a good thing.
There's an expandable memory slot, a surprise at this price, to supplement the 4GB of internal memory. And it uses Android Jellybean - unlike most budget phones, which try to get away with years-old operating software.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Display
The four-inch screen is not high resolution (no surprise there), managing just 480 x 800 pixels. That's 230 pixels per inch so woefully less than high-end phones offer. It's barely more than half the ppi of the HTC One M8. But for all that, it doesn't look bad and unless you're planning to read a lot of text, in ebooks, say, you may not find this as much of a downer as you thought.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Camera
Of course, this is going to be a low-resolution snapper. But 3.2MP is pretty basic. If you've used any more advanced camera phone you'll find this a disappointment, though at least if you only want snaps for Facebook and Instagram, you might get away with it.
Even a 5MP sensor would have been welcome, though the price would have been higher. There's no flash either. And as mentioned no front-facing camera, so selfies are right out. It shoots video at basic VGA resolution, which is expected and unremarkable.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Performance
The processor on board is a dual-core 1.3GHz chip. Against all the odds, performance isn't too bad, though multiple apps running doesn't help any. Still, video playback was watchable, even if the low resolution became increasingly noticeable. For all that, the touchscreen was responsive and quick - the first requirement of a smartphone.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Battery
Vodafone doesn't quote battery life for the phone but it's not too bad. In our tests, it got through a day, though it would have been flat by morning. Still, one day is all most people need, so maybe that doesn't matter.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini: Verdict
Vodafone has created a smart little handset at a remarkable price. Sure, the screen, camera and feel of the phone lack quality and the processor is decent rather than outstanding but it's not a bad handset.
Battery life is manageable, it's responsive and not too slow. But it suffers in comparison with, say the Nokia Lumia 520 which packs in a lot more phone for not much more money and is completely trumped by real bargains like the Motorola Moto G, which for £120 or less is really something.
Saving a little longer for the Moto G might be a better idea, but this is a pretty good handset for the money.
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini release date: Out now
Vodafone Smart 4 Mini price: £50 on pay-as-you-go