Vodafone Smart mini
The Smart mini is Vodafone’s most entry-level Android smartphone, at NZ$99 with a prepay SIM pack.
- Solid construction
- Light and fairly thin
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- Excellent value for money
- Low screen resolution
- Limited performance in demanding apps/games
- Limited-quality 2MP camera
- Pathetically quiet speaker
The Vodafone Smart mini is a basic smartphone with numerous limitations, but it does offer impressive value for the NZ$99 price. Highly recommended for kids, or for those unconvinced on the ‘smartphone’ question and unwilling to spend big in search of an answer.
Vodafone’s Smart mini, otherwise known as the Vodafone 875, is the company’s ultrabudget smartphone offering to the New Zealand market. At just NZ$99 with a prepay SIM pack, this little Android handset comes in black or an utterly fabulous purplish-pink. We received the latter to review, which became the PC World NZ editor’s phone for a week.
The Smart mini has a 3.5-inch screen, and measures 115 x 62 x 12mm. Its shape and proportions are markedly similar to the iPhone 3G, though its three Android soft buttons and different camera positioning on the rear keep it from appearing a budget clone.
The face of both coloured versions is black, whilst the edges sides and removable back panel are black or purplish-pink respectively. The phone feels exceptionally solid despite is plastic construction, with no audible creaking or visible deformation even when the body is forcibly gripped and twisted. We didn’t perform a drop test (even an accidental one), but the slightly raised edge around the screen offers some measure of protection from shattering on impact.
There are a couple of disappointments in regard to the screen, though neither are surprising when you consider the price bracket. The resolution is a meagre 320 x 480 pixels, which gives a very blocky 165 pixels-per-inch. For comparison, the iPhone 5’s ‘Retina Display’ is almost double that at 326ppi. The limited resolution is most obvious when looking at small text, such as application titles on the homescreen and apps menu.
Resolution aside, colours seem a little ‘off’ – undersaturated or slightly shifted in hue. It’s not enough to ruin Angry Birds or make those photos of your cat unrecognisable, but it did make watching movies and high-quality YouTube videos a bit of a so-so experience. Then again, I’ve always found it hard to get into the 3.5-inch video experience, even with the best of screens.
More disappointing if you’re hitting the YouTubes is the Smart mini’s dreadfully inadequate sound output. Watching a selection of YouTube videos we commonly test with, I could barely make out sounds throughout most of the volume range. At the upper couple of volume levels there was a noticeable increase and sounds became audible, but at around half the volume we’d expect from any smartphone. If you want to share a high-larious YouTube video at your next social engagement, or force your colleagues to watch your kid’s latest soccer game, that limited volume will have everyone craning their necks toward your phone, or wandering off to make an appointment with their local audiologist.
The Smart mini is an Alcatel rebrand, and is based on the 1GHz MT6575 CPU from MediaTek – an ARMv7 chip also known as the MTK 6575M, and commonly found in low-end smartphones. The phone has 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage – just over half of which is user-accessible. A microSD card slot allows for expansion (the maximum supported card size is not listed in any specifications we were able to locate).
That little single-core 1GHz CPU may be gutless in modern smartphone terms, but it’s a market where things move quickly. A year or two ago, similar chipsets were powering far more high-end devices. You’re not going to play the Android port of Grand Theft Auto on the Smart mini, but popular 2D games such as Angry Birds and Cut The Rope run beautifully. Loading times in both were a bit slower than we’re used to, but gameplay was as smooth as we’d expect of a thousand-dollar phone. Similarly, high-definition YouTube playback ran just fine – as high-definition as the phone’s low-resolution screen allows, anyway.
Connectivity is 2G/3G, no dual-carrier, on 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM. If you were hoping for 4G world-band in this price range, just keep hoping. You want faster internet? It’s got Wi-Fi, buy a 4G phone as well, and you can tether it to that.
A 2.0-megapixel rear-facing camera allows video and still capture, though the resolution and quality make it inadequate as a stand-in camera. You won’t get iPhone quality photos out of the Smart mini – you’ll get the sort of shots you’d get from the webcam built into your laptop. In other words, it’s the sort of smartphone camera Instagram was designed for. Be glad that found its way onto Android, because you’ll need it to turn ‘bad’ photos into ‘charmingly retro-bad’.
Okay, perhaps I’m a little harsh on the camera, but I’ve been well spoilt by smartphones like the HTC One or Nokia’s umpteen-megapixel monsters. As with the rest of this phone, for $99, you’re getting what you paid for – perhaps a little more.
There’s no front-facing camera for video-calling or well-aimed selfies, so keep that in mind.
Impressively, the Smart mini sports the recent Android 4.1 Jelly Bean – we’re used to entry-level smartphones shipping with painfully outdated versions of Android, leaving any upgrade to the mobile carrier or end user.
The recent OS and reasonable performance make the Vodafone Smart mini a great ‘training phone’ for feature-phone users first considering a smartphone, but unwilling to spend big bucks to see if it’s worth it. It’s good enough to show you what you can do with an Android smartphone, and its limitations aren’t painful enough to ruin your first impression of the platform.
This is also a great phone for kids and cash-strapped teenagers – solid enough to survive in a schoolbag, flexible enough to do most of what you could with a much higher-end model, and cheap enough that it’s not the end of the world if it’s lost or destroyed-in-action.
Altogether, the Vodafone Smart mini is the best smartphone I’ve tested in this price range. It’s a 3.5-star phone, at a 4-star price. Given that price is clearly the spec Vodafone are aiming to optimise here, the Smart mini can have its 4 stars, and might as well have your NZ$99. You won’t get a miracle-phone for it, but you’ll get more than you expect.
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