Cheap to buy and cheap-looking, the Vodafone Smart II is a small pebble of a phone with a standardised grey plastic casing
Running Gingerbread 2.3, it’s fairly intuitive to get around (for new and old Android users alike), but the old software and slow processor means too much lag in between swipes of that capacitive touch-screen
There are few bells and whistles on the Smart II. Sure, there are the standard camera capabilities, social networking apps, music player, Wi-FI connectivity and a video player that refuses to play video, but once you’ve cycled these things a few times you’ll soon start to get bored of this handset
The performance of the Vodafone Smart II is mediocre at best, with poor battery life and a fairly slow processor. But the responsiveness of the 3.5-inch capacitive touch-screen is good enough not to cause too much frustration when navigating the phone
The battery life is poor for a sub-1GHz processor that doesn’t run heavy-duty apps; you’ll be recharging by the end of the day if you insist on using Wi-Fi, the internet browser or any of the entertainment features
The budget smartphone war continues with Vodafone's latest own-brand Android, the Smart II. Packing the Gingerbread 2.3.5 version of the OS, essentially de rigeur for any smartphone coming in at this price, the Smart II is yet another compact, cheerful and yes, cheap handset that wants to hit that value-versus-features sweet spot. But is it just a little too cheap?
This is a sequel which looks pretty much identical to the original, except with a lick of grey paint. The Smart II’s matt plastic chassis sports rounded edges and smooth, chunky casing around 12.5mm thick. Despite a small bit of heft in its pebble-like body, it somehow still feels quite cheap. A reassuring sturdiness and curved edges at least makes it comfortable to hold in the palm. However, at only 109x58mm, it’s definitely a handset for those with small hands. Around the edges, the Smart II carries a 3.5mm audio jack, power button, USB port, external camera button and a very stiff volume rocker that had such little movement in one half of it that it was nigh on impossible to pump up the volume with one hand. The back of the handset sports the 3.15-megapixel camera, LED flash and speaker. Getting to the battery and USB involves tugging off the eminently snappable casing as well as a separate back panel.
That said, the Vodafone Smart II runs on Android Gingerbread 2.3, so there’s a lot that’s familiar about it for Android users: five customisable home screens, all populated with shortcuts and a few useful apps waiting for you. The news app pulls in top stories from a decent number of sources, while the preloaded Wi-Fi shortcut is always useful for that immediate internet hit. There’s lag to be expected for a phone with these specs, but Vodafone's light skinning of the always-easy Android interface is simple and the touch-screen reasonably responsive.
There’s a 3.15-megapixel camera with LED flash thrown in and video recording capabilities. The different modes are handily all accessible from the viewfinder screen, but the lens itself doesn’t fare too well even in bright sunlight. Images often had washed out spots where light is overexposed, while video playback is somewhat jerky. Colours are decent and not over-saturated as in some phones with over-compensating software. Perhaps expectedly, the basic lens doesn't take great shots in low light either – despite the built-in LED flash, images shot in dim situations turned out various shades of grey.
As for the internet, the built-in Google browser renders images surprisingly well, if not particularly quickly, and while you won't exactly be getting Retina-display sharpness, there’s surprisingly little pixelation and the colours are bright. Text reflow is supported and when connected to Wi-Fi the load speed improves considerably. There’s even Flash support for embedded video in this little thing – giving it one over the iPhone, eh? The one truly dismal point about the browser though is the QWERTY keyboard that has to be fitted into a 3.2-inch screen. While the nimble or small-fingered can manage in the virtual keyboard for emails and messages, in the browser there’s just not enough room to squish in keys big enough for most. There’s always the Swype option (dragging your finger from letter to letter) which is a decent solution to over-compact keyboards, and at least the auto-correct is intuitive.
Entertainment-wise there isn’t much going on with the Smart II. Vodafone has shoehorned a larger screen into the small frame for this second iteration of its Smart, but it's still no video machine. It stubbornly refused to play any of the popular codecs that we tried, though the files did show up in the video player menu. The music player has a nicely balanced sound, which is just as well given that there’s no equalizer option for sorting this out yourself, and the external speaker is perfectly loud, if you’re into playing your music for the world to hear. Annoyingly though the phone pulled through one artist’s album cover to all songs, and continued to do so even if the songs had their own album art and after we’d manually arranged the files. Hmm. At least your typical game apps will run with only a bit of stuttering.
Considering that the Smart II is really not punching above its weight, its battery life is a real disappointment. If you’re hooked up to Wi-Fi, playing music on your commute and checking your emails throughout the day the battery needs recharging within 12 hours – which is on the short-lived end of the scale for much more capable smartphones.
If you’re looking for an affordable smartphone with all mod-cons (or at least, most mod-cons), then this £70 pay-as-you-go phone isn't it. The budget smartphone market is getting crowded and sporting a sub-£100 price tag isn't uncommon. For a proper smartphone that's still budget-friendly, there are now more options than ever – just look at the Huawei Ascend G300, Alcatel One Touch 995 or Orange San Francisco II. But if all you want is the ability to stay connected via calls, texts and a few status updates, plus a camera for the odd snap, this will just about do the trick.