The Vodafone Smart, also known as the Vodafone 858, is an ultra low-cost Android phone that’s ultra tiny. It runs on Android 2.2, has a 2.8-inch screen and is available for the super-low price of £70 on Vodafone pay-as-you-go. As well as offering a smartphone experience on a shoestring, you also have the ability to personalise your Vodafone Smart either by choosing from a range of replaceable battery covers or uploading your own artwork.


What we like

The Vodafone Smart is lightweight and compact and like last year's 845, is eminently pocketable. As the Smart runs on Android 2.2 Froyo, you have the option of doing things like turning the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot or USB dongle via the tethering option; pretty neat for a £70 phone.

This also means that you can benefit from things like Facebook Chat IM on the Facebook for Android app. Facebook on the Vodafone Smart works pretty well. It’s obviously not as integrated or well done as it is on something like the INQ Cloud Touch but it’s better than we were expecting for a low-cost phone.

Being a pay-as-you-go phone, we liked that Vodafone has loaded the Prepay Manager app on here (pictured below). This allows you to keep an eye on your credit at a glance so you’ve got an idea when to top up. Most of these are just shortcuts to the number you’d need to call to top up in the usual manner but we thought it was a nice touch.

As well as offering a smartphone experience on a shoestring, you also have the ability to personalise your Vodafone Smart either by choosing from a range of replaceable battery covers or uploading your own picture/artwork to Vodafone’s site and having a cover with your own design printed out. It’s a service that’s powered by Subcostume, the same company that made covers for the HTC Tattoo. We’d like to see more of this kind of thing on other phones.

While the 2-megpixel camera lacks the oomph of cameras found on more powerful phones (and doesn’t have a flash) it’s pretty fast. We liked that it only took a couple of seconds to process a shot, meaning you can rattle off snaps relatively quickly.

The Smart’s memory can also be expanded by up to 32GB with a microSD card, which means it can double as a very affordable replacement MP3 player in a pinch.


What we don’t like

Small and pocketable the Vodafone Smart may be, it’s small stature also means you get small touchscreen real estate. This makes for a cramped texting and browsing experience.

The standard keyboard/text input method (called TouchPal) is a pain to use. It offers ye olde T9-style predictions that often aren’t accurate or helpful. The fact that the Smart is sometimes slow to respond to commands (like when you’re deleting an annoying auto-correction) makes this frustrating.

Fortunately, you can change TouchPal for the default Android keyboard which makes things much easier. If you like, you can buy SwiftKey from the Android Market if you want to, which makes things even easier than that.

Google Maps didn’t work that well on the Smart. While the GPS will quickly pick up your location, zooming in and panning to get a better look at your surroundings is sluggish and patience-draining.

The Vodafone Smart’s not really cut out for gaming either. Household names like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are both slow to play and the colours look blocky and washed out on the low resolution screen.

Pictures taken on the 2-megapixel camera look pretty poor on the Smart’s screen as well. When you upload your pics on to your computer you realise that the camera’s not that bad for a 2-megapixel jobbie but until you do that, there’s no way to tell a nicely focused picture from a blurry one.

Conclusion

The Vodafone Smart is nicely priced and we like the personalisation element that the covers give. The battery covers plus the size suggest that it’s aimed at a young audience, which is where we think that the Smart could be a hit.

However its screen size and slow speeds can make it awkward to use. Google Maps doesn't work very well and browsing the web is also limited by the slow speed and screen size. But for calling and texting it works fine and Facebook works OK. Just make sure you change that TouchPal keyboard for the standard Android one, or splash out on the odd £1.20 for SwiftKey.