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Vodafone Smart 4 Mini review: Cheap smart phone good for the basics

The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is possibly the cheapest way you can put Android in your pocket, but you'll have to make a lot of compromises on performance.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

5 min read

The Motorola Moto G utterly bowled me over -- its strong lineup of specs has never before been on offer for so little. Even £100 might be a bit of a stretch though, if you're taking your first tentative steps into the Android world, or you don't care about a good camera or what version of Android you're using.

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6.5

Vodafone Smart 4 Mini

The Good

The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is so cheap, you might buy one as a backup phone that you could lose at a festival and not care too much. Its screen and processor are capable of keeping you in touch on Facebook and WhatsApp.

The Bad

Its display doesn't impress, it has a poor camera and its battery doesn't put up much of a fight.

The Bottom Line

The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini doesn't have the power to tackle anything more than the absolute basic daily duties of a smartphone, but that's pretty forgivable given its rock-bottom price. For nervous Android newbies, or to use as a temporary phone, the Smart 4 Mini is worth a punt.

The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini can be yours for only £50 on pay as you go, making it great for Android newbies or even as a temporary phone you might not mind losing as much as your £500 HTC One M8 -- particularly with the music festival season right around the corner.

You'll have to make a lot of sacrifices of course -- the screen isn't great, the camera isn't worth bothering with and there's no 4G -- but for £50, it handles the everyday essentials adequately.

Design and build quality

Given its rock-bottom price, the Smart 4 Mini isn't too hideous. The white plastic back is inoffensive and the slit for the speaker that merges with the camera lens adds some interest. Its curve also means it's comfortable to hold in one hand and you won't struggle to stretch your thumb across its 4-inch display. Sure, the black front with its wide bezels looks as miserably dull as every other budget phone, but for £50, you can't complain.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The actual screen lies below a plastic covering that flexes unpleasantly when you press it. There's flex in the back panel too, so there's really no escaping this phone's cheapness. If you're hoping for the slick luxury of the HTC One M8, only for less money, you'll be heartily disappointed. It feels like it can take a few knocks and bumps and at £50, you can just buy three or four if you're particularly clumsy -- or enjoy skimming smooth objects across ponds.

A power button and 3.5mm headphone jack sit on top of the phone, with the volume rocker on the side and micro-USB port on the bottom. Peel off the back cover and you'll be able to swap out the battery, pop in your SIM card (a regular SIM, not micro or nano) and insert a microSD card. You'll really need to use a microSD card as the phone only comes with 2GB of usable storage, which you'll blow through in no time at all.

Display

The 4-inch display has an 800x480-pixel resolution. While falling far short of the Full HD of the flagship phones, it's hardly to be sniffed at. Icons and text are sharp enough to be read comfortably and Netflix shows are easily watchable. Its colours aren't too bad either, but from there things rather go downhill.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

For one thing, it's not very bright. Coupled with the high reflectivity of the plastic cover on the screen, the phone manages to reflect back a lot of overhead lights, meaning you're often left staring at your own face, rather than a thrilling episode of Spongebob. Even at max brightness it didn't do much to counter the reflections. Lastly, its viewing angles are very poor. If you're not looking at the screen from directly in front of it you can expect to see a mess of distorted colours.

Software and processor

The phone runs the now rather old Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but I'm happy to forgive that of such a cheap phone -- if the Galaxy S5 arrived with Jelly Bean on board it would be a major problem. Vodafone has done very little to the interface so if you're familiar at all with Android, you'll feel right at home.

It's powered by a 1.3GHz dual-core processor which, unsurprisingly, didn't provide much in the way of speed. It scored 715 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, putting it among the bottom rank of phones. By comparison, the superb value Moto G achieved 1,315. If you're curious, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 hit a whopping 4,139.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Making your way around Android is pretty sluggish, but it's still capable of dealing with the absolute basics -- calls, texts, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook -- without much trouble. Photo editing is possible, although you'll notice a slowdown.

3D games such as Riptide GP 2 won't play at an enjoyable frame rate, however, so don't even bother. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was quite capable of playing movies on Netflix.

Camera

On the back of the phone is a 3-megapixel camera. Only three? Yes, but you didn't expect the Galaxy S5's 16-megapixel sensor did you? I took it for a spin in the office and the results are about what you'd expect.

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It's really not a very good camera, but you pay your money and you take your choice. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The image isn't particularly bright, it has very poor colours and an overall lack of detail and clarity. There are a lot of fuzzy edges and a noticeable level of image noise in the shadowy areas. You can probably get a shot good enough for Facebook when in the park on a bright summer's day. But if photography is important to you, I'd suggest expanding your budget for a better phone -- or always carry a compact digital camera instead.

There's no front-facing camera on the phone either, so you won't be able to take any inappropriate selfies and you won't be able to make video calls over Skype or Google Hangouts.

Battery life

The Smart 4 Mini's battery didn't put up much of a fight in my tests. After just over 2 hours of video looping at half screen brightness, the battery had dropped from full to just 42 percent remaining. It's certainly not an all-day phone, unless you're very careful with how you use it.

If you need it to last as long as possible -- a full day out at a festival, perhaps -- make sure to keep the screen brightness down and turn off all non-essential services. GPS will be a big drain, as will Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so shut them all off. Mobile data will drain it too, so unless you really need WhatsApp you might want to consider turning that off until you're within dashing distance of a plug.

As a general rule with nearly all smartphones, you'll want to charge it every night. The battery is replaceable though so you can always hunt down a couple of spares to take away with you if you're planning a weekend trip.

Conclusion

The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini doesn't have the best screen, the most powerful processor or the best camera, but it does have an extremely cheap price tag. This makes its low specs much more palatable. It's capable of handling the essentials without too much hassle, making it a decent option for Android beginners, or even as an emergency phone you don't mind losing at a festival.

vodafone-smart-4-mini.jpg
6.5

Vodafone Smart 4 Mini

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 2
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