There are a growing amount of incredibly affordable 4G smartphones around, but, if you’re in the market for a tablet with that same super-speedy mobile connectivity, pickings are much slimmer.
That’s where Vodafone’s new Smart Tab 4G comes in. Yes it’s a carrier exclusive, but there’s little else for the same low price tag that offers quite so much.
Design: Subtle and simple
To look at, there’s not a whole lot going on. It features an inoffensive design that leans heavily on some fairly featureless plastic curves. It’s impressively svelte at 7.9mm and light too at reasonable 327 grams. What’s more to paraphrase Henry Ford, “You can have it any colour as long as it’s black.”
Thanks to the soft-touch coating it’s comfortable to hold in one or two-hands and based on the placement of the rear camera and the speaker grille, it also feels much more at home in a portrait orientation. The overall build quality actually feels surprisingly high, remeiscent of Samsung’s more recent tablet efforts.
The power and volume rocker hardware controls reside on the right-hand side, with the microSIM and microSD card slots under a covered port on the left. The most surprising hardware inclusion is the IR blaster, found next to the headphone jack on the top.
Screen: Just enough pixels
The body isn’t the only part of the tablet that’s slim; the bezels around the Tab 4G’s 8-inch HD display are also wonderfully narrow, particularly for a budget slate, lending to its modern, minimalist look.
The panel itself packs an acceptable amount of pixels for its size with a WXGA (1280×800) resolution, not to mention the IPS technology gives it surprisingly good viewing angles, colour and overall brightness without too much distortion. We say ‘too much’ as brightness and colour balance do warp somewhat as you change the perspective of the tablet in your hand.
The panel Vodafone has picked should suit any family looking to check out a quick YouTube video or supplement a long car ride with a movie, worry-free
OS: Lightly flavoured Android with a hint of Voda
In an effort to keep things simple, Vodafone has for the most part left the user experience alone. You get an up-to-date Android 4.4 KitKat UX dressed with a few Vodafone exclusive wallpapers, services and widgets, plus it’s preloaded with Facebook, Twitter and even 3D games like GT Racing 2.
The Vodafone widgets range from a handy clock/weather offering, a tips app to help get the most out of the Smart Tab 4G and a Gameloft widget pointing you at some of the publishers best titles. There’s also an incredibly robust set of tutorial overlays which pop up throughout the interface the first time you set it up. They follow a ‘leave no stone unturned’ approach, showing you everything you may need to know about the Android experience, but there’s nothing dramatically new here and so the constant pop-ups can prove a little annoying if you’re already even remotely au fait with Google’s mobile operating system.
Back to the positives, the inclusion of SwiftKey’s elegant and intelligent keyboard out-the-box was a smart move on Voda’s part as well, but the sweetener really comes at the purchasing stage. You can nab yourself a NOW TV Sky Movies Pass for three months, and potentially half a year’s worth of free Netflix as well if you fork out enough cash for the priciest month plan.
Performance: Faster than your average budget tablet
If you’re familiar with Vodafone’s 3G-only Smart Tab, you’ll be pleased to here that on the inside the processor’s been bolstered to a snappier 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor and 1GB of RAM.
Naturally you can’t expect lighting fast performance across the board, but 3D games do run and navigation feels pretty fluid most of the time, once it’s woken up from the initial boot process. Start-up can take a while to hit the power button and go and make a cup of tea if you have a minute or so. Then it’s a matter of patience the first time you open up each app. Once you’re though that wall however, the Smart Tab 4G is perfectly responsive to your commands.
Connectivity is pretty impressive too with 4G (naturally) and the aforementioned IR blaster, which pairs with the Peel remote app to control everything from your TV to your air conditioning system.
Battery life from the 4060mAh cell is decent, giving three to four days of typical tablet use on WiFi, but as you might expect, connecting to mobile data with prove significantly more taxing and usage will heavily warp estimated longevity.
The other notable limitation is storage. It does better than most budget phones with 8GB of onboard user memory out the box (budget Android smartphones typically pack 4GB), but that won’t be enough in the long run, espcially if you intent to pick up a Smart Tab 4G as an entertainment device.
To remedy that ill, we recommend using the microSD slot provided, which supports cards up to 64GB in size.
Camera: The bare minimum
On the camera front there are a surprisingly high resolution pair of snappers for a tablet at this price: a 2-megapixel front facer and a 5-megapixel rear camera.
Quality is usable for scanning a QR-code or a spur of the moment occurance, but like most tablets, we’d only really recommend using them for Skype, video messaging and any instance where it’s the content, not the quality that you’re after. It should be noted that there are a number of modes to tweak and change the imaging experience, and video quality could be worse.
Stick to your smartphone or an actual camera when take serious photos.
Verdict: The most affordable 4G slate on the block
At the end of the day, if you’re after an affordable tablet with some high-speed mobile connectivity, we really can’t think of anything else that gives you this much value for money.
The Vodafone Smart Tab 4G isn’t quite as powerful as Tesco’s Hudl 2 or EE’s 4G-toting Eagle slate, but for £125 on Pay As You Go or free from £17 a month on Vodafone with the promise of Sky Movies and Netflix ( for a little extra), it seems like one of the smarter choices around this Christmas.