Vodafone has settled in to a routine of slapping its label on cheap gadgets for its customers, last year revealing the so-so. It had an attractive price, but wasn't quite slick enough to earn more than three stars in our review.
The red-hued operator's latest effort is the Smart Tab 4, a 3G tablet that can be yours for only £125 on pay as you go, or for £20 per month with a £29 up-front cost on a pay monthly plan. Its major competition is the £199 and EE's 4G-capable . So how does it fare?
The Smart Tab 4's style isn't anything new -- a dark grey rectangle with curved edges, but it does sport impressively narrow bezels, so your eye isn't distracted by chunky black bars around the screen, and at 8mm thick it's slim enough to carry around in a handbag or rucksack.
The Smart Tab 4 tips the scales at 328g, which isn't too heavy, but because it's quite long you might find it tipping out of your grip while typing in portrait mode. The back of the tablet is sparsely populated, apart from a 2-megapixel camera, the Vodafone logo, and microSD and SIM-card slots.
The Smart Tab 4 packs 1,280x800 pixels into its 8-inch frame. That's not an appallingly low resolution, but neither is it spectacular. And in a side-by-side test, the Smart Tab 4 suffers.
Eagle-eyed users will detect an aggravating absence of detail around text and icons, and when playing high-definition video on Netflix this lack of clarity becomes more obvious. The display is quite bright, and a decent viewing angle means the screen is still clear when you tilt the tablet away from you, however.
The screen doesn't compare well with Google's Nexus 7, which has a 1,920x1,200-pixel display, and boasts more natural colours too.
If you're looking for a tablet to just handle email, Web browsing and video chat, the Smart Tab 4's screen resolution is unlikely to bother you too much. If you're into movies and photos, however, that relative pixel paucity will quickly get on your nerves.
Power and software
Deep inside its electric guts, the Smart Tab 4 hides a quad-core processor, clocked at 1.2GHz, and 1GB of RAM. That's a reasonable dollop of computing grunt for the price, and I noticed a little sluggishness while swooping through Android menus.
That said, I did spot that Netflix playback wasn't quite as silky smooth as it was on the Nexus 7, which is powered by a quad-core chip and 2GB of RAM. The graphically demanding Asphalt 8: Airborne racing game was playable on the Tab 4, but didn't feel terribly smooth.
As with the display, if your needs are modest, this is more than enough power in a tablet. But those who enjoy making the most of their gadget's hardware will find the Smart Tab 4 wanting.
Android operating system
The Smart Tab 4 is powered by Google's Android operating system -- the same software that's powering its two closest rivals, the EE Eagle and the Nexus 7.
Android has many advantages. It's flexible, letting you change the layout of your device's homescreen, decorating it with dynamic widgets or gently undulating live wallpapers. You also get access to Google's Play app store, which has loads of apps and games to keep you occupied.
The only downside to Android is that it's not quite as simple to use as Apple's iOS operating system, which is what powers the iPad. Apple is very good at making the process of setting up and using a tablet feel intuitive and easy, while Android takes a bit of getting used to, with more options, tools and menus to contend with.