There’s now four own-branded smartphones in the Vodafone armoury. We looked at the entry-level Vodafone Smart first 7 the other day and we’ve reviewed the mid-range Vodafone Smart prime 7. Now it’s the turn of the Vodafone Smart ultra 7. However, if you want an even higher-spec smartphone, don’t forget the new Vodafone platinum 7 that we reviewed just yesterday.
Before I begin. Think about what Vodafone are trying to do here. This has top-end specs and you can get it on contract from £19 a month with no up-front fee. On Pay As You Go it’s just £135. Basically, this is Vodafone saying, “Hey, this is a really, really good smartphone, but it won’t cost you a fortune”.
The specs are really rather good. There’s a 13 megapixel camera at the back with auto-focus and an LED flash. Up front, a 5 megapixel selfie cam. It’s powered by an octa-core Mediatek MT6755M CPU – that’s four 1.8 GHz cores and four 1 GHz ones. There’s a Malu T860MP2 GPU and it runs Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow). The screen is the same size as my LG G4 but not quite as high-res. The display on this one is a 1080 x 1920 pixel (401 ppi) 5.5″ model but there’s a tiny bit more chassis to deal with. It’s a smidge taller (at 152.2mm) than my G4 (at 149mm) but actually thiner – the ultra 7 is 8.7 mm thick compared to the 9.8mm thickness of the G4. The ultra 7 is also a very tiny bit wider, but not enough to notice.
Build quality? Yeah, not bad actually. No fancy slots in the side for your SIM and microSD – it’s old school “back off” time. The battery is glued in there and the 2960 mAh unit isn’t coming out in a hurry. Your SIM and microSD slide in here. The back has a grippy finish and it’s a flexible, bendy cover which clicks into place easily. A hole is left for that 13 megapixel camera.
The front is a polished and curvy affair, with the rather lovely front panel sloping off at the edges in a very natual and uninterupted way.
The top houses that 5 megapixel camera, which also has a flash (I’ve just blinded myself testing it, so I can attest to its brightness) and, at the bottom, a rather please “clicking” home button (which also wakes the device if you press it). This has a small back-lit symbol and there’s back-lit “back” and “menu” buttons either side too. I quite like off-screen buttons.
The specs-list for this includes NFC, WiFi, GPS, an FM radio and 16GB of on-board storage which you can add to with that microSD card slot around the back.
The bottom and the edges of this phone are rounded metallic material and, although I can’t tell you just how much (if any) of this phone is metal, it certainly adds a fair amount of classiness to it. Down here you can see the microUSB charging point, a grill for the external speaker and the main microphone. There’s another microphone up top for noise cancellation.
Up here at the top you’ll also find the 3.5mm audio port.
The right side has the volume and power button. You don’t need to press this and you can use the front “home” button to wake the device, but it’s nice to see a different finish on the keys to differentate them – you can locate them purely by feel.
Inside things do indeed rattle along with quite some speed. It’s a rather plesant and familiar experience, but with some surprising additions. Take the screen brightness as an example. I wanted to adjust it (it’ll get brighter or darker depending on the surrounding conditions) but then I drilled down and found a whole host of screen options. Wanna adjust the contrast? The saturation level? The sharpness? Bloody hell. Is this an advanced TV? Wait a minute, there’s a colour temperature option too, and – blow me down – it’s even the correct UK English spelling (colour, not color). That gives me a little smile in a special place that does.
What’s this? Dynamic contrast? I’ve no real idea what that does but I’m gonna play. (It basically blows out white detail and destroys black detail from what I’ve seen).
You can also swipe right on the home screen to open your favourite app (and they put “favourite”, not “favorite” – I’m smiling again. That happy place. It’s getting happier). You can also do a similar thing and set a favourite app to open with the aid of lock screen shortcuts.
You can tweak how long the touch keys stay on for, whether you want a pulse notification LED, which notification content to show. You can also setup Android Tap & Pay here or head into the memory and internal storage status screens. That 16GB of storage, by the way, instantly turns into 9.85GB once you.. err.. turn it on. You can also, if you wish, find out just who makes this. It’s a company called TCL Communications. They’re in Tower 3, 33 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. You probably don’t need to know this but the sheer fact they’ve put that in shows an extreme attention to detail.
Inside you’ll also find an app called “Outlook” which heralds from a company called “Microsoft” who once made their own phones and their own Operating System (please don’t send hate mail, I’m trying to inject a bit of humour here). This can handle POP mail and my Gmail account too. I found myself liking it quite a bit, and I also noticed just how nippy that on-screen keyboard was. You can also tie in storage accounts (like Dropbox) and it’ll handle multiple email accounts – Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, IMAP, Office365 and Outlook.
In addition, there’s all the Google bits. Play Music, Chrome, Play Movies, Books, Photos, Drive and Maps. You can of course to to Google Play and grab games a-plenty. It’ll also sync your contacts, appointments and email via the “cloud”.
Out of the box you can choose to turn on the Vodafone hints that’ll guide you around the phone. You also get some other special additions from Vodafone – Message+ and Call+ – These systems let you do a lot from a web browser, so you can use the Call+ and Message+ system to send and receive chat and text messages. You can also share photos, locations, stickers and emoticons. It’s like WhatsApp a bit. Call+ will let you “prepare” calls by sending location information and other important bits ahead of time. Good this. I can see why they’re doing it (WhatsApp is robbing the networks of lots of call / text / MMS revenue) and it works quite well.
The camera is pretty fully featured and has a manual setting so that you can fiddle around with white balance, ISO settings and more besides. Like other phone cameras, the full resolution (13 megapixels here) will be in 4:3 format and you’ll need to go down to 9 megapixels to get a “wide” 16:9 photo. There’s the ability to touch-focus, stablise images, turn on HDR, add a timer, engage a “night” mode and – when you click on an area to focus – you can adjust the brightness by pressing, holding and dragging up or down on the focus point.
Here’s some shots I’ve taken in a range of conditions..
Shocking. Pretty shocking this. Yes, OK, there’s not the “brand power” you get with the likes of Samsung or iPhone. The metal and the glass isn’t quite there and you won’t have the massive range of covers and accessories for this but…
£135 on Pay As You Go?
Seriously? That is shocking. Apart from the ever-so-slightly-lower-resolution screen (and I’m picking at flies here, because the 1080 x 1920 pixel unit on here is still vivid, bright and sharp), this is right up there with phones that cost £400 or more. NFC? Got it. Latest version of Android? It’s there. Decent, quick camera? Yeah, it’s decent enough.
OK, if I’m to pick on anything I’d have to point out that the CPU struggled a little under heavy multi-tasking (such as updating 15 Android Apps at once) and the camera isn’t fantastic in low light but, other than that, I’m honestly stuggling to find things wrong with this. I really am. I find myself recommending it quite highly, and sticking this into a file marked “Disrupting the smartphone market”. Why? Well, phones like this – phones that are made by some relatively unknown manufacturer in China and then branded by a network – they used to be hit and miss. Now they’re increasingly becoming hit and hit.