Budget phones have come a long way in the past few years. Starting with the original Moto G in 2013, previously high-end specifications have been made available at ever lower prices.
Phones with metal unibodies, 1080p screens, powerful chipsets and fingerprint scanners can now be found for well under £200.
However, the toughest nut, the sub-£100 market, hasn’t yet benefited quite as much from this trickle-down. Plagued by a glut of handsets featuring sub-par displays, tired designs and a collective dearth of RAM, it is still mainly the preserve of those who have no other option.
So its easy to be dismissive of the £85 Vodafone Smart N8, but a quick look at the specs list suggests this phone is punching above its weight, so has Vodafone delivered a truly compelling handset at an ultra-low price?
Against the likes of the Honor 5C and other slightly pricier phones the competition is certainly fierce.
Little touches galore
- Reliable fingerprint scanner
- NFC and reasonable specs
The key to making a great budget handset isn’t to provide gee-whizz features that fail to impress in daily use. Instead, it’s about taking care of the little things, a point that Vodafone has clearly taken on board.
This may not be the first time that a fingerprint scanner has featured on a device sold for less than £100 in the UK, but that isn’t important. What is important is that it works like a dream.
Placed near the rear camera, we found that the scanner always worked without issue, even with damp fingers. In a nice touch, like on devices such as the Honor 5C and Honor 5X, it can also be used to pull down the notification bar without touching the screen.
For people coming from a similarly priced device, this may be their first time using a fingerprint scanner, and they won’t be disappointed.
It does feel very James Bond-ish to pick up the phone, get through to the home screen and pull down the notification shade without so much as touching the display, a big crowd-pleaser in certain circles.
Other little touches abound, such as the inclusion of NFC. Never usually found below the hundred-quid mark, this handy feature allows for contactless payments with your phone, with the likes of Android Pay.
Of course there are less exciting uses too, such as easier pairing to Bluetooth accessories which support it, and pairing to other Android smartphones with the same functionality.
A 720p screen has also been included (which is effectively mandatory nowadays), flanked by a forward-facing speaker – both of which will be covered more thoroughly in a later section.
There is also a quad-core chipset, 16GB of storage and 1.5GB of RAM. As a whole, the Vodafone Smart N8 is seemingly designed as a rebuke to every sub-£100 phone that has come before it.
Design and display
- Plain but well-built
- Satisfactory 720p screen
While the spec sheet might look outstanding for the price point, the Smart N8 certainly doesn’t.
At this budget tier however, expectations have to be curbed a little. A metal design, such as that on the Wileyfox Swift 2, is out of the question, along with any distinctive colors or interesting quirks.
Instead, while feeling very solid and certainly not showing a great deal of flex, the Smart N8 is hewn from a single block of office-grade boring grey plastic. Weighing in at 151g, and at 8.65mm thick, it is certainly manageable in one hand too.
In said hand it feels comfortable, if unremarkable. The rear is made from a slightly ridged material that resists fingerprints well, while the sides are smooth. Bezels are kept to a minimum on the sides, being fairly large on the top and bottom.
This isn’t going to wow at parties or on the street, but it certainly won’t turn heads in the wrong way either.
As for the display, all that needs to be said is that it is perfectly adequate.
Though it doesn’t get as bright as the likes of a Samsung Galaxy S8, it is just about legible in very bright sunlight. Colours on the other hand are a little too cool, tending towards the blue side. There is a little fade off at the sides, but mostly viewing angles are acceptable.
While 720p doesn’t sound like a lot in the modern age of 4K HDR monsters (like the screen found on the Sony Xperia XZ Premium), in day to day use it is more than adequate. Those who glue phone displays to their eye sockets in search of visible pixels will probably take issue, but most people won’t mind.
Watching YouTube videos, reading and gaming were all satisfactory. Again, the qualifier is the price point, that the screen isn’t unusable is the real win, so for it to have a number of good points is a real surprise.
The next big step will be to add an AMOLED screen at this level, but the LCD screen here is never distractingly bad, and that is something Vodafone can be proud of.