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Vodafone Smart N8 Review: A great, affordable family phone

The Good

  • Parental controls
  • Colourful screen
  • Expandable storage
  • Fingerprint sensor

The Bad

  • Very basic camera
  • Carrier locked
4.5

Our Vodafone Smart N8 review takes a close look at Vodafone’s own-brand value-packed smartphone, which costs under £100 SIM-free.

Vodafone has long impressed us with its ‘Smart’ range of mobile phones. These handsets tend to cost less than most rival blowers, yet still pack plenty of smarts – including HD displays, strong budget performance and excellent battery life.

Last year’s Smart Prime 7 is still one of the best smartphones you’ll get for under a hundred quid in the UK, thanks to its impressive specs and satisfying user experience. You’ll struggle to find a mobile at this price that offers so much value. Even the excellent Moto G5 and Honor 6X cost twice as much, so the Vodafone handsets are a solid choice for anyone on a really tight budget.

Vodafone has just released its first Smart device of 2017, the Smart N8, which can be picked up from the UK network for just £85 on Pay-As-You-Go. For that low price you once again get pretty impressive specs and features such as a fingerprint sensor – something rarely found on smartphones under £150. In fact, the Smart N8’s closest rival right now is the upcoming Moto E4, another budget handset that boasts such a sensor – without being locked down to a specific carrier.

We’ve been testing the Vodafone Smart N8 for a few days and here’s our full review. Also, check out our guide to the best budget phones in 2017 for more ideas.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Design

When I first pulled the Smart N8 from its box, this budget blower immediately reminded me of Motorola’s Moto G3 handset. Launched back in 2015, the Moto G3 offered a similar compact frame, rounded corners and textured plastic backing, which combine for a comfortable and effortless grip. Not to mention easy one-handed operation. Sure, Vodafone’s handset is kind of a plain jane, but what do you expect at this price point?

You can actually prise off that plastic backing to reveal the phone’s innards. The battery is well and truly encased, so you can’t pull it out and replace with another, sadly. Rather, this feature is how you access the SIM card and microSD memory card slots. Push the rear plate back into place and it sticks firmly, with no gaps or other troublesome issues.

One advantage of that hard plastic shell is the ruggedness factor. The Vodafone Smart N8 is one tough cookie, fending off sharp objects and unexpected knocks without any sign of wear and tear. We’re yet to see any scratches or scuffs appear. Of course, the Smart N8 is not water resistant (unlike the Moto G3), so don’t go dunking it in the bath.

It’s great to see a fingerprint sensor on this handset, housed neatly on the rear end so your finger naturally falls over it when you pick up the Smart N8. It’s not the nippiest at unlocking your phone, although we rarely had to tap more than once for our print to be recognised.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Screen and media

After a few days of use, I’m very impressed by the Smart N8’s cut-price display. This 5-inch HD screen has its flaws of course, although nothing that I wouldn’t expect considering the budget roots.

To start with, it’s sharp enough that you won’t notice individual pixels or grainy images when watching high-def content. The Smart N8 puts out surprisingly punchy colours too. There’s even a ‘vivid mode’ in the display settings, to give the visuals a boost. You get the usual blue filter mode too, for a more comfortable night time viewing experience.

Of course, viewing angles could be better and the brightness levels aren’t too strong, so you might be squinting a little on bright days. Those issues aside, this is a solid screen for the cash.

Although it appears that the Smart N8 sports dual front-facing speakers, the top blaster is an earpiece only. Audio from movies, music and so on is only churned out by the bottom speaker. Sound quality is tinny of course, although just about powerful enough to cut through loud environmental noise.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Features and OS

Android OS is present in its most recent incarnation, nicknamed Nougat. Again, this is great considering the Smart N8 is a sub-£100 handset.

If you’re new to smartphones, don’t stress. The Smart N8 will guide you through the user interface and show you how to use the handset, from setting up your desktops to checking notifications. No worries if you’re more than used to these devices however, as you can disable these tips with a quick tap.

Vodafone has added in some of its own apps as well. These allow you to quickly check your remaining balance or allowance, depending on whether you’ve gone PAYG or contract. A couple of times we did get a ‘this service is too busy’ message, which is pretty ridiculous and something we haven’t seen from other providers’ services. When it works it’s a handy addition though, to ensure you don’t go over your limits or run out of credit.

We’re pleased to see Vodafone adding parental controls to this phone too, for extra peace of mind. This means you can give the Smart N8 to a younger member of your family and set limits on what they can actually do. That includes setting time limits on apps and internet use, or even disabling them entirely.

All you need to do is link the Smart to your own mobile (an easy process which involves setting up an independent PIN that only you know). You can then set access privileges as well as prevent the installation (or removal) of apps. Vodafone has also included the ability to remotely check the location of the phone, and display your personal contact info on the Smart N8’s lock screen (in case the handset is lost).

The Smart N8 comes packing 16GB of built-in storage, a typical amount for £150 and under smartphones. Roughly 10GB of this is available for your apps and files, although you can slip in a microSD memory card to expand by a further 32GB. Definitely do so if you’re planning on carrying around lots of media, or taking loads of photos and video using the Smart N8’s camera.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Performance and battery life

With its basic MediaTek chipset, backed by just 1.5GB of RAM, the Vodafone Smart N8 is most at home with simple, straightforward tasks. Web browsing, media streaming and messaging all work well, with only the odd stutter to slow things down.

However, I did notice that the Smart N8 tended to heat up rather quickly. For instance, streaming YouTube videos for more than fifteen minutes usually made the rear of the phone get rather toasty, especially the surface of the fingerprint sensor. Nothing too alarming, but certainly worth pointing out.

Fancy doing some gaming? You can play the likes of Angry Birds Evolved, although don’t expect a smooth frame rate. You’re better off with simple titles that don’t involve tight reaction times, in case a sudden, unexpected stammer throws you off.

A single charge of the phone’s battery kept us going all day, even with pretty heavy use. You can stream video non-stop for roughly six hours on a single charge also, which is a respectable effort for a compact phone.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Cameras

Another area where the Smart N8 impresses is its camera tech. That 13-megapixel rear snapper is fully capable of capturing your everyday life, offering photos with respectable detail levels and realistic colour reproduction.

At this price point you have to expect flaws, and the Smart N8’s achilles heel is rather predictably tricky lighting conditions. Strong light often results in a soft image, while high contrast scenes prove a serious problem. You can expect a mixture of murky dark areas and oversaturated bright spots when shooting anything against a bright sky, for instance.

The lens also struggles to focus in low light, even with a bit of manual help. Still, the LED flash helps out in those instances, proving just about powerful enough when your subject is stood close.

Video quality isn’t fantastic, so you’re best off just using the Smart N8 for silly, shareable stuff online rather than treasured home movies. The focus is constantly ‘popping’ when the camera is in motion, while images appear washed out or grainy in anything but perfect lighting. And although we appreciate an anti-shake feature, our footage when walking and shooting was still very juddery.

Check out our photo samples below.

Vodafone Smart N8 review: Verdict

If you’re on or switching to the Vodafone network and need a seriously affordable handset that can be used to get online and stay connected, the Smart N8 is a very solid selection. Performance is good enough for everyday basic tasks, while the parental controls make it a good choice as a family handset.

At this price it’s difficult to fault the camera tech and that surprisingly colourful screen either. With the addition of that fingerprint sensor, you’ll struggle to find better value for money, as long as you don’t mind being tied to Voda.

Specification

Screen size5-inches
Screen resolution1280x800
Weight151g
OSAndroid 7.0
Rear Camera13-megapixels
Front camera5-megapixels
ProcessorQuad core 1.25GHz
Memory1.5GB
Storage16GB + microSD
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresFingerprint sensor, parental controls

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