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Vodafone Smart Tab 4 review: A slim tablet for just £125, but its mediocre screen lacks punch

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If you're happy to learn Android's ways, you'll find it's a powerful and rewarding platform, but if you value simplicity above all else, it's a learning curve for first time Android users. Unfortunately, Apple's cheapest tablet currently costs £249, so if you've got less than £200 to spend, Android is currently your only option.

One minor disappointment is that the Smart Tab 4 is powered by Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, instead of 4.4 KitKat, which is the latest version. Vodafone does, however, say that an update to KitKat is "planned" -- here's hoping it doesn't take too long to arrive.

Weak camera

The Smart Tab 4's camera is disappointing. With a 2-megapixel resolution we weren't expecting to win any photography prizes, but we were still underwhelmed by the blurry, unclear photos that this snapper produces.

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The Smart Tab 4 hasn't handled this outdoor scene well, with exposure on the sky leaving much to be desired, and a strong lack of detail overall. Luke Westaway/CNET

Bizarrely, we also found that the stuttery, sluggish camera app made photos look even worse before they were taken, i.e., the images we framed up using the camera software looked as if they would be extremely blurry, but when we looked at them again in the gallery app, they had acquired some extra detail, and more faithful colour reproduction (though as you can see from our test shots, it's still nothing to write home about).

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Small-scale shots are equally lacking in clarity. Luke Westaway/CNET

That's good on the one hand, because it means photos taken with this tablet will generally be slightly better than they seem when you hit the shutter, but for a tablet with a reasonable processor that should be able to power a camera app with more aplomb, it's an unwelcome quirk.

Battery life

In our tests, the Smart Tab 4's battery capabilities proved to be mediocre. With the battery fully charged, we streamed a video (with the tablet's screen set to full brightness), and in three hours and 40 minutes, the Tab 4's battery was down to 33 percent. After five hours and 22 minutes, the Tab 4's reserves were entirely depleted.

With more conservative use you'll likely get the Tab 4 to last you until night-time without much concern, but expect to have to charge it every few days.

Do you need 3G?

The Nexus 7 may be more slick, but the version with a SIM-card slot for mobile data is very expensive (on Google's Play store it's only available as the 32GB model, and costs £299 in total). The Tab 4 meanwhile has space for a Vodafone SIM, so you can browse the Web and download apps while out and about.

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Space for a SIM card, and a microSD card. Luke Westaway/CNET

That certainly makes the Tab 4 sound like it has a real advantage, but there are some caveats. Firstly, the Tab 4 doesn't support faster 4G mobile data, so you'll be limited to 3G speeds while browsing and downloading. 3G is fast enough to send an email or load a Web page without too much delay, but downloading apps or streaming video won't feel as rapid.

Another option you could consider -- if 4G speed is important to you -- is EE's recently announced Eagle tablet, though this costs £200 and isn't really any more impressive than the Tab 4 in the specs department. Paying for 4G on an ongoing basis can also be a pricey business.

Wi-Fi only tablets aren't necessarily stranded when they're away from a Wi-Fi connection, however. An option to look into is tethering your tablet to your smartphone, to funnel your phone's data connection to your larger-screened device. If you have a smartphone and a plan that allows tethering (and a decent amount of data on your plan), you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot, and can get your tablet online this way, as and when you need a connection.

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Luke Westaway/CNET

Conclusion

The Vodafone Smart Tab 4 has an attractively low up-front price tag, but offers little to get excited about. With its 3G powers, this would be a workmanlike device if you're purchasing a tablet solely for simple tasks like Web browsing and checking email on the move. If, however, you don't occupy this narrow niche and want a tablet for enjoying photos, videos or gaming, it's worth saving the extra £75 and opting for Google's Wi-Fi only Nexus 7, which is a more powerful and better-looking Android tablet.

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