As recently as one year ago, there wasn't a great deal to say about the budget smartphone market. Aside from hero devices such as the original Moto G, consumers who bought into lower-end handsets would find often find themselves frustrated by mediocre screens and battery life. Manufacturers operated under a maxim of frugality, and even the most bone-scraping of cuts would be made.
Fast-forward to the present, and things have changed considerably. China has awoken, and with it a highly competitive domestic smartphone market. Devices manufactured by the likes of Xiaomi, Huawei and OnePlus are now positioned to flood Western markets, and the established players are beginning to catch on.
Enter the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, designed by Vodafone and manufactured by telecoms giant ZTE. With a 5.5-inch Full HD screen, 3000mAh battery, Snapdragon 615 processor and 13MP rear-facing camera, the device has formidable specifications. For £125 on Pay As You Go (locked to Vodafone), it presents itself as something of a game-changer, certainly to a British public only just getting used to the idea of a 720p screen at less than £150.
So can the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 really live up to the hype?
The first thing that's apparent when picking up the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is its impeccable balance. When creating a device that is intended to be both thin and long, while still remaining usable with one hand, balance becomes a considerable priority.
Its weight helps here too. Coming in at a mere 159g, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is light without being insubstantial. It feels as though it could take a knock with some confidence, without being so brick-like as to feel clunky.
As for design however, that is another story altogether. Upon first viewing, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 doesn't make a great impression. As the rear of the device attests, it was manufactured by Chinese giant ZTE and designed by Vodafone. And yet, it leaves the distinct impression that design was not a priority, beyond weight and balance.
It's a nondescript grey slab with the look of having been designed by committee. However, it is pleasingly svelte, measuring in at 8.35mm – making it thinner than the portly Nokia Lumia 930.
It isn't as though the phone is exactly ugly, rather that it's eminently forgettable. Made from a grey matte plastic, the device has no features to distinguish it, save for a small chrome-effect Vodafone logo positioned carefully on the rear.
One odd feature that further suggests design-by-committee is the simulated rear back-plate. That is to say, around the device runs a raised line that very much resembles a seam, and yet it's impossible to remove the back. Many phones at this price point have a removable backplate, so the decision to fake it here is surprising. On the top of the device is a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The left side of the Vodafone Smart Ultra Six is free from any buttons, instead offering a removable tray for a MicroSD card to supplement the generous 16GB of internal flash memory.
Moving to the right side, you'll find the power button at the bottom, and the volume controls above this. The buttons are sensibly placed given the size of the device, which is something that could easily have gone wrong. The bottom of the phone holds only a micro-USB slot, for charging and connecting to a PC.
On the back is the 13MP rear-facing camera, along with a single bulb LED flash and a small microphone port. Moving down, there is the Vodafone logo picked out in chrome-effect plastic. At the bottom sits the single rear-firing speaker, an inconspicuous 4G logo, and device information to the bottom left.
Lastly, on the front of the device there is the call speaker, a 5MP selfie camera and, the main attraction, the 5.5 inch Full HD screen, covered with "toughened glass" (no Gorilla Glass here).
Around the rim there is a small strip of yet more chrome-effect plastic, which looks as though it will be the first part of the phone to suffer wear and tear. At the bottom are three capacitive keys, laid out in the same manner as on Android Lollipop.
Although it isn't exactly inspiring, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 must be commended for keeping things simple. It doesn't wow, but nor is it an ugly brick like so many budget devices.