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Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Slimmer and lighter than predecessor
  • Clean Android experience
  • Affordable

The Bad

  • Underpowered
  • Lacklustre camera quality
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Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: We were wowed by Vodafone’s 2015 flagship last year, but can the follow-up rekindle that same success?

Design

Versus the Ultra 6, the 7 is lighter and tighter across all of its dimensions. There are more considered elements like curved surface glass on the front, a textured, patterned back with centrally justified camera placement and more tactile hardware controls along the side, but despite all this, it doesn’t feel like it’s punching above its price point.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 - front Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 - back

Beyond the cover glass, the Ultra 7 features an all-plastic build with a removable back plate that (if you manage to prise it off) lets you get at the SIM tray and microSD card slot, but keeps the battery locked away. There’s a single speaker grille at the base, which doesn’t readily get obscured and a mix of capacitive keys and a physical home button on the front that give the Ultra 7 the look of a OnePlus 3 or a Samsung Galaxy Note, boasting more sophisticated white backlighting in place of the Ultra 6’s blue offerings.

Screen

Like last year’s phone, you’ll find a 5.5-inch IPS LCD that’s actually very pretty. There’s plenty of punch on offer with accurate looking colours, but whilst it doesn’t dim at more extreme angles, it does suffer from a little colour distortion, particularly with regards to whites, not to mention overall brightness could be better.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 - screen

With Full HD resolution at your fingertips and 401 pixels per inch, the display is thankfully well-suited for enjoying media and the cover glass is relatively smudge repellent which helps too.

OS

As with the rest of Vodafone’s 2016 lineup, the Ultra 7 runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow out the box with the network’s typical fare of own-brand apps added in. Thankfully the bloatware isn’t that heavy, most of it you can uninstall or avoid installing to begin with and some of the tweaks Voda’s made are actually quite useful. Beyond that, the 7 actually feels near enough like stock Android, so it should look familiar if you’re coming from the majority of other Android devices out there.

For all the tweaks for things like shortcuts and task management, one oversight has to be the lack of a one-handed mode, which on a phone with a 5.5-inch display, isn’t ideal, but with Android Pay compatibility and the lightweight alternations Vodafone’s made, the Prime 7 looks and feels clean and tidy to use.

Performance

General performance seems usable too, although in the tough affordable market that the Ultra 7 inhabits, perhaps not quite as snappy as we’d have liked. The octa-core MediaTek chipset and 2GB of RAM do struggle when pressed with extensive multitasking or gaming, usually resulting in a few dropped frames and longer app load times, but there’s enough power for the phone’s everyday functionality.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 - logo

Whilst the phone is listed as boasting 16GB of internal storage, only 9.77GB of that is actually user accessible and with microSD support only going up to 32GB on top, versus the competition, there really isn’t a huge amount of room to throw media around on the Ultra 7.

The phone’s also another low-cost 4G capable offering, with decent Cat 4 LTE speeds at your disposal, as well as the aforementioned NFC for mobile payments. It’s all powered by a 3000mAh battery too, which does a respectable job of doling out a day and a half’s worth of use before giving up the ghost.

Cameras

It’s the cameras that often suffer first when there’s a low price tag attached to a phone and whilst they aren’t abysmal, there’s certainly room for improvement with the snappers on the Ultra 7. We’re fans of the software, which offers a clearly laid out interface with some smart touches like a gesture-controlled shutter.

Selfie lovers will appreciate the front-facing LED flash attached to the forward-facing 5-megapixel camera, however out the box, ours was pretty much useless, misfiring out of time with the shutter so dark shots remained dark (Vodafone is now working on a fix though).

The main camera meanwhile packs a few more pixels, with a 13-megapixel sensor, and does a decent job of capturing something in all conditions, even low light. HDR in high-contrast scenarios is also effective, but the common issue across both the front and rear cameras is fine detail.

Shots taken from the phone appear a little muddy and there looks to be heavy-handed image processing at play that tries to hide the lack of fine detail with excessive smoothing. On social media, the cameras on the Ultra 7 get the job done, but only just.

In the plus column you do get Full HD video recording with optional image stabilisation, but just don’t expect miracles, especially with regards to audio quality.

Verdict

Clean software and an attractive, (albeit plastic) design don’t save the Ultra 7 from feeling a little underpowered out the gate. It doesn’t feel like all that much of an upgrade, particularly down to the slow hardware elements, but at £135 it’s hard to bash this attractive 4G phone too much.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 - handheld

We’d, however, more readily put our money in the fractionally pricier (£149) Honor 5C, which boasts notably better performance and better cameras by comparison.

Specification

Screen size5.5-inches
Screen resolutionFull HD (1920x1080)
Weight150 grams
OSAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Rear Camera13-megapixels
Front camera5-megapixels w/ flash
Processor1.0GHz/1.8GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6755M
Memory2GB RAM
Storage16GB. Expandable via microSD up to 32GB
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresVodafone Call+ & Message+ apps

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