Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 review: Voda’s new flagship phone is a 5.5-inch media monster, packing Full HD and a surprisingly awesome camera for just £125.
It probably won’t come as a massive shock to hear that Vodafone’s latest own-brand phone is your typical curved slab of plastic. After all, for £125 you can’t expect the moon on a stick, or a sexy metallic handset either.
Still, the shiny trim adds a touch of low-cost class to the Smart Ultra 6 and the light-up physical buttons beneath the screen glow a seductive blue, which looks particularly neat in the dark. Kind of like you’re clutching a miniature UFO.
Although the 5.5-inch screen makes the Smart Ultra 6 a bit of a handful, the phone doesn’t feel unnecessarily bulky like the Google Nexus 6 (a whopping 6-incher). However, it’s still a struggle to use one-handed, unless you have fingers like Freddy Kreuger. The handset also stuck out of my jeans pocket constantly and occasionally jabbed my pancreas when I sat down, although it was more of a ‘hmm, that’s not too comfortable’ sensation rather than a full-on ‘arrrrrgrgghhhhhh, my squishy bits’.
You can’t pull the back of the phone off, so the SIM and memory cards are housed in stabby-pin drawers on the Smart Ultra 6’s edges. The power and volume buttons are thankfully quite low down on the right edge, so they’re easy for your fingers to find despite the phone’s size.
Screen and media
If you’re after a phone to enjoy movies and games on the go, but you can’t afford pricier handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4 (or even the now-very-good-value G3), then the Smart Ultra 6 is a solid choice.
That 5.5-inch screen is more spacious than many flagship phones, giving a comfortable viewing experience. It’s also bright enough to counter harsh glare – although you might have to give it a wipe down as it’s a total grime magnet, with fingerprints clearly showing when the sun shines.
So, what about the quality of the display? Well, this is a Full HD 1080p panel, not your bog-standard 720p effort that we’re used to at this price point (see the Moto G, LG Spirit et al). That means your high-def movies will look bloody lovely, thanks to the pin-sharp visuals. Colours pop right off the screen and viewing angles are more than strong enough for a couple of kids to cram their heads together and watch a flick.
You get 16GB of storage space, although only 11GB of it is available for apps and the rest, with some of that already taken up with Google shenanigans and the rest. Luckily the microSD memory card slot means you can quickly and easily expand, giving you enough room to cart around a decent-sized media collection.
Also, 4G support means that you can happily stream Netflix, YouTube or whatever time waster you’re into ‘til your eyes crust over, with no irritating buffering to kill the fun.
Features and user experience
As with Vodafone’s other own-brand handsets, the Smart Ultra 6 rocks a vanilla version of Android OS. That means next to no tinkering on Voda’s part, besides adding its own apps for customers to check their balance online and access other services. You also have integrated Flipboard support if you swipe right from your home screen, if that’s your bag.
Android Lollipop is a joy to use and packed with tons of handy features, from security tools to plenty of personalisation options – check out our Android Lollipop review for more deets.
Battery life and performance
The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 holds battery power well, with practically no drainage when the phone’s idling, even when connected to a mobile network and WiFi. With standard use (regular messaging, email checks, web browsing and apps), you’ll safey get through the day. And if you ramp it up to non-stop video streaming, expect close to seven hours of life. That’s over an hour more than the average blower.
An octa-core Qualcomm processor is stuffed inside the phone and it comfortably handles vanilla Android, plus everything else you throw at it. While Voda’s Smart Prime 6 stuttered occasionally, the Smart Ultra 6 almost never makes you wait. We happily ploughed through the latest processor-testing games with smooth frame rates, and aren’t expecting to see any slowdown for the foreseeable future.
Vodafone’s camera app is neatly laid out and simple enough to use. The standard shooting mode is full auto, with quick shortcuts to toggle the flash and timer and swap between the rear and front-facing cameras. You can also switch to full manual or a variety of other modes (HDR, multi-shot, panorama etc), if auto just won’t cut it.
With such a strong offering in every other department, I really expected the Smart Ultra 6 to falter when it came to imagery. Well, stick a massive sign around my neck that reads ‘surprised’ because the 13-megapixel camera is fantastic.
My everyday shots were packed with detail and usually well-exposed on auto mode, even in tricky harsh lighting. Focusing is fast and effective, very rarely leaving your subject hazy. And if you snap on the HDR mode, you’ll find that high-contrast situations are no trouble at all.
The only situations which have the Smart Ultra 6’s camera struggling are low light, but the powerful flash helps to counter that. Meanwhile the front-facing camera is a respectable 5-megapixel snapper that does the job, although again low light is its weak point – and of course, you don’t get a flash to compensate.
You can also shoot up to 1080p video with the rear camera and 720p with the front, with focus lock or manual and auto focus. Picture quality is perfectly fine, although can be a little juddery with no OIS and when the focus changes if the lock isn’t activated.
At just £125, or £17 per month with a Vodafone bundle, the Smart Ultra 6 offers seriously impressive value for money. Look beyond the tried-and-tested design and you’ve got a serious entertainment machine, packing Full HD visuals, solid performance, all-day battery life and a surprisingly strong camera. At this price, the Smart Ultra 6 is a bargain and a half.