Touchscreen control, GPS, multi-megapixel cameras and other high-end gadgetry may be grabbing the glory at the moment, but in these cash-squeezed times there's still plenty of demand for far more low-key mobile phones such as the Vodafone 527 Catwalk Collection.
Away from the handset headlines, Vodafone continues to roll out own-brand phones that do the job, but come with at a no-frills price tag. As well as a bunch of new models announced recently, Vodafone has given its ultra low-cost models a Catwalk Collection refresh.
The new-look Vodafone 527 is one of these, a budget candybar phone that has been made over for value-conscious phone buyers who still desire a bit of show.
The recession-beating 527 Catwalk Collection phone is now available in a range of eye-grabbingly colourful bodywork choices - violet, ice (white), rose (pink), lemon and sky (blue).
As you might expect when it's selling at a mere £20 in a Vodafone Pay as you Talk package, the 527 is not exactly stuffed to the gills with high-tech gadgetry. It's a workmanlike dual-band GSM handset rather than a 3G model. But it does have a few features to entertain away the downturn, including a music player with MicroSD memory card expansion, FM radio, and camera - albeit a rudimentary VGA snapper.
Like a number of its own-branded handsets, Vodafone has sourced the 527 from French handset manufacturer Sagem. Its candybar design looks and feels smooth and quite thin, measuring 107(h) x 47(w) x 11.8(d)mm, and at 80g is reasonably weighted.
It's curved around the edges, and the strikingly-coloured casings have a subtle dimpling design touch on the back that also makes for firm handling. A smattering of chrome trim is around the edges and on the fascia adds another nice touch.
The glossy black front panel and numberpad arrangement is a bit plasticky and squeaky, but is adequate for this sort of price. The control pad arrangement is conventional mobile stuff, with a central navigation D-pad flanked by normal softkeys and call and end buttons.
The numberpad is OK for a basic phone, though the action does feel a bit heavy when texting, so speedier texters may not warm to it. Shortcut options on the D-pad offer quick access to functions in the usual way, and there's a softkey designated for one-button Vodafone live! access. Above this, the display is a basic 1.8-inch, 65K-colour 128 x 160 pixels array.
Menu navigation is straightforward, with a default grid of icons, plus sub-menu lists, some of which offer tabs to scroll between. It's easy to find your way around, and few complications to confuse, even if it's a fraction languid at responding.
With 10MBs of onboard storage, the 527 requires an additional memory card to make its music player in any way useful. MicroSD cards up to 1GB capacity can slot in under the back panel, and can be swapped without taking out the battery pack.
The MP3 player user interface is rudimentary and clunky to use, but it offers a few useful options, including creating playlists of tracks. The supplied earphones are better than average, and sound quality is reasonable at this price point.
However, the music player may appeal more to younger buyers who want a few tracks to carry around with them rather than as a surrogate music player, as its limited user interface and file support are pretty low grade by modern phone standards.
One out of the box useful entertainment tool is the onboard FM radio. Again, it's not sophisticated as the modern phone norm, but it does the job adequately through the in-box-headset.
Video shooting and playback isn't supported on this handset, however, which may put off some buyers. Its camera is purely used for stills, snapping at a VGA (640x480) resolution – extremely basic for any cameraphone, even at entry-level prices. Image quality on this limited shooter is poor, though it'll serve those looking for quick snap'n'send photo messages when quality isn't an issue.
Although back to basics in spec, the Vodafone 527 still serves up a selection of essential phone organiser functions and tools. A calendar with voice memo, and to do lists with voice record, calculator, alarm and timer functions are included. A selection of demo games come pre-loaded, which you can upgrade to full versions via Vodafone live!
As the phone is customised for Vodafone live! you also have hotkey access to its downloads and information portal, plus services like Vodafone Mail and Messenger Email and Instant Messaging are available to use from the phone. An Openwave Wap browser, running on GPRS, also does the basics of mobile internet browsing.
With a limited amount of functionality to suck battery life, the Vodafone 527 Catwalk Collection model puts is a satisfactory power performance. From a full charge we managed around three days of normal usage; Vodafone quotes optimum figures of up to 220 hours of standby time or up to 3 hours of talktime.
We might have expected more from a dual-band handset, but its real-life performance is adequate.
Also, the while the 527 may take a minimalist line in features, it still manages to get the basics of voice calling right. It puts in a commendably clear sound performance with dependable call strength.
The Vodafone 527 may have been spiced up a bit with its zingy Catwalk Collection paintjobs, and it's a relatively attractive slimline budget phone, but this is still a modestly equipped handset, even by budget phone standards.
It does have a few functions to keep users entertained, and it does the essentials efficiently. Austerity chic or not, its bargain basement price tag is still the main attraction of this particular handset.