Vodafone Smart 4 mini

You can pick up a Vodafone Smart 4 mini for $99. As you’d expect given the price, the own-brand phone doesn’t compete head-to-head with the likes of Apple’s iPhone 5S or Samsung’s Galaxy S5,

Let’s put that price in context. Most people buying the Vodafone Smart 4 mini would get two years’ 4G voice and data calling, plus the phone hardware for less than others spend just buying a premium Apple or Samsung smartphone.

Clearly, price is this phone’s headline feature. It won’t break the budget. You get basic smartphone functionality and, so long as the person at the other end is also suitably equipped it handles wonderful HD voice calling.

That’s about it.

Not light, not thin

While I wouldn’t describe the Vodafone Smart 4 mini as shoddy, it’s not that great either. It’s not thin, nor is it light. The screen isn’t going to excite anyone and the camera is, by 2014 standards, distinctly ordinary. On the plus side, unlike most modern Android smartphones, it fits comfortably in one hand.

In many ways it reminds me of the early Android phones that appeared in 2010. To underline the retro feel, it runs an old, 4.2 version of Android.

Although Android 4.2 is now considered out-of-date in smartphone circles, thankfully it is way better than the dodgy software in those 2010 phones. Even so, I found there were frequent software glitches while using the Vodafone Smart 4 mini.

Priced as a throwaway phone

Marketing people hate it when journalists describe a product as ‘cheap’. But, frankly, that’s the right word in this case. And that hints at where the phone sits in the greater scheme of things. It’s a great phone to send to school with a youngster and it would be a brilliant buy if, say, you were caught without a working phone in a strange town. It would be worth buying one and keeping it at home for emergencies.

What I like: Decent battery life, the Vodafone Smart 4 mini can easily go two days between charges, if you sometimes find yourself away from being able to charge a phone this makes it a good choice. I found I like the light-weight version of Android, Vodafone has avoided the heavy-duty customisation found with some Android models. It is easy to use and understand. Having a microSD slot is also a good thing.

What I found annoying: Years of testing and using premium smartphones means I’m spoilt when it comes to screens. The low-resolution, small screen was a challenge at times. I put off reviewing the phone for weeks while I had eye treatment because I struggled to read text on the display. That’s bad enough, trying to type using the on-screen keyboard was hard work. I also found the camera annoying, there’s no flash and while I’m not a great photographer, I found it almost impossible to take worthwhile shots.

Overall: There are better phones out there although probably not at this price.  If you’re stretched for cash, the Vodafone Smart 4 mini is a decent choice, there are compromises but all the essential basic smartphone functionality is there.

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