The original Vodafone Smart certainly wasn't the most powerful Android phone on the block, but for what it cost, it was relatively easy to turn a blind eye to its faults. The same can be said of this sequel. Manufacturer Alcatel (taking over from Huawei, the firm behind the original), has at least attempted to enhance what has gone before with beefier specs and a larger display.
The Vodafone Smart 2 is available for £70 on pay as you go and is exclusive to Vodafone.
When you're shopping at the cheaper end of the smart phone spectrum, it goes without saying that you shouldn't expect the cream of the crop when it comes to power and features. Still, for a modest asking price, the Vodafone Smart 2 offers a reasonable amount of tech.
Despite the plastic casing, build quality is solid, which could make it popular with parents of younger users who treat their handsets roughly. The compact 3.2-inch display is also more suited to smaller hands.
Improvements on the original Vodafone Smart include a better camera, a faster CPU and a higher-resolution screen. All very positive, but before reaching for your piggy bank, consider that the low-cost Android market has become incredibly crowded of late. There are a great many phones available with superior specs for around the same price.
While the original Smart didn't turn any heads with its looks, it felt like it could withstand a nuclear assault. No doubt this meant it found its way into the pockets of many an unruly and clumsy youngster.
While the Smart 2 doesn't radiate quite the same dependability, I'd be willing to bet it could withstand a few knocks and bumps. The entirely plastic casing doesn't emit any unpleasant creaks when squeezed, despite the fact it's removable. The Smart 2 has an unusual two-stage battery cover, with the centre detaching from the surrounding plastic when it's completely removed from the main body of the phone.
Why this has been done, I'm not entirely sure, although the original Smart did offer the possibility of buying personalised covers for a custom look.
With its innards exposed, the Smart 2 reveals some rather cack-handed design. The microSD card slot resides beneath the battery, which means you have to power down the phone and take out the power cell before you can remove or insert a card. It's unnecessarily fiddly. I'd hate to have to perform this delicate procedure when switching tiny SD cards on crowded public transport.
The Smart 2 is light on physical inputs, with just a power key, volume rocker and camera button breaking up the rounded contours of the case. You'll also find the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the phone and a micro-USB port at the opposite end. Fairly standard stuff, but I'm pleased that a dedicated camera key has made the cut -- too many phones omit this useful feature.
The screen on the original Smart was pretty dismal -- it measured 2.8 inches and could only muster a pitiful resolution of 240x320 pixels. To make things worse, it lacked support for multi-touch gestures. Mercifully, the Smart 2 rectifies these complaints.
The screen on this successor measures 3.2 inches from corner to corner and there's a rather more impressive resolution of 320x480 pixels to stare at. Granted, we're still not talking HD standard here but it's a definite improvement on the previous model. It's also worth noting that the touch panel is surprisingly responsive, reacting swiftly to pokes and swipes. It boasts two-point multi-touch, which means you can pinch and zoom to your heart's content.
Sadly, the quality of the screen is workmanlike rather than visually striking, with washed-out colours, poor vertical viewing angles and lacklustre performance in direct sunlight. The small size also makes typing a little difficult if you possess sausage-like fingers, although the wise inclusion of Swype text input goes some way to mitigating this.
Don't go expecting quad-core power here -- the 832MHz CPU that beats at the heart of the Smart 2 is single-core. It's unlikely to win any processor face-offs. As you might imagine, this last-gen chip doesn't exactly make the Smart 2 fly. It also rules out some of the more demanding 3D games currently doing the rounds in the Google Play store.
The Smart 2 comes with around 170MB of app storage, of which approximately 130MB is available to the user. Although you can move some application data to the microSD card (a 2GB variant is included), that space is going to fill up faster than a newborn's nappy after an especially large bottle of milk. Don't go expecting the Smart 2 to satisfy your lust for downloads, because with such limited memory, it's woefully ill equipped.
The microSD slot accepts cards up to 32GB capacity. While this doesn't directly solve the issue of the tiny amount of app storage, it does mean you at least have the option to increase the space so your vast collection of photographs, videos and songs can be saved without too much trouble.
The Vodafone Smart 2 isn't rocking the latest version of Android, but instead comes with 2.3 -- also known as Gingerbread. While this is technically two versions behind the times now (Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is due to launch this month), casual users are unlikely to notice a massive difference.
Gingerbread may lack some of the mod cons that Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean bring, but it's still capable of accessing the Google Play market, connecting to your Google accounts and running almost all of the same applications.
Like many other networks, Vodafone is keen to provide a unique user interface on its phones and the Smart 2 is no exception. It features loads of exclusive active widgets that sit on your home screen and provide live data and other interactive elements.
It almost goes without saying that the Smart 2's camera isn't really that impressive. It may have gained an additional megapixel over the original Smart's 2-megapixel snapper, but the resultant shots are a little disappointing.
The usual issues exist here -- the sensor over-exposes light areas when you're shooting in environments that feature a sharp difference in brightness, and side effects include an unwelcome 'bloom' effect and unnaturally white skies.
Video recording has seen a bump upwards since the first Smart device, with a top resolution of 640x480 pixels. While this is an improvement on Vodafone's previous budget challenger, it's still way behind 1080p and 720p capture seen on other Android handsets. Recording is also locked at 15 frames per second, which does the movies no favours whatsoever. This is the kind of phone you'll use to create small clips to share with other mobile users, but not to capture important moments of your life.
It's a universally accepted truth that smart phones are pretty bad when it comes to battery life, but as a rule, budget blowers are usually less hungry than cutting-edge devices, thanks to their modest power demands.
Curiously, that doesn't seem to be the case with the Smart 2. While it may not have a dual-core CPU or a massive Super AMOLED Plus screen, it still possesses a ravenous appetite. After about 8 hours of moderate use on a full charge, my review unit was all but dead. Don't expect to get through a full day without having to top up the phone's 1,200mAh battery.
The Vodafone Smart 2 is a step in the right direction compared to the original Smart. For the asking price, it's hard to moan too much about its myriad failings. I'd have liked greater app storage, a better screen and a more impressive camera, but this is an Android handset for £70 so you can't expect cutting-edge functionality.
Even so, the Android budget sector is becoming more crowded with each passing month. When you consider the likes of last year's Samsung Galaxy Ace and the more recent Huawei Ascend G300 -- both of which retail for around the same price and don't feature Vodafone's aggressive branding -- it certainly pays to keep your options open before committing to a purchase.