Vodafone Smart N8 full review

The Vodafone web listing for the Smart N8 says “Access your messages, apps and contacts via the Smart N8's fingerprint sensor.” This doesn’t actually make sense, but hints at the limitations of an incredibly cheap smartphone.

At £79, this is one of the cheapest smartphones you can buy in the UK. As it’s a Vodafone branded handset, it’s not available in the US.

If all you need is a phone to call, text, dabble with email, Facebook and online banking then the Smart N8 will suffice. But you’ll find a whole host of frustrations if you want it for anything more than that.

Price and release date

The Vodafone Smart N8 is available in the UK for £79 on Vodafone’s Pay as you go 1 tariff. You could also get it on a monthly contract from £17 per month at the time of writing.

In the world of operator branded phones, the EE Hawk is £149, though slightly more powerful then the Smart N8.

The Nokia 3 has similar low-end performance to the N8 and is £99

Design and build

The plastic Smart N8 is surprisingly sturdy considering its £79 price tag. There is hardly any flex or bend in the frame despite the removable back panel that gives access to the nano SIM card and SD Card slot. It’s an odd design choice given that the battery is not removable but it keeps the phone slick and slim with the only exterior ports being headphone jack and micro-USB.

You have a choice of graphite or gold, and the back panel is subtly textured to help with grip. Our gold and white review unit looks a lot like a first generation Google Pixel from the front, and has a fingerprint sensor on the back just under the camera.

It’s a very basic design, but it’s quietly understated and not an encumbrance to any pocket thanks to its slight size. It won’t turn any heads but for a budget phone it’s perfectly functional and has above average build quality.

Specs and features

The Vodafone Smart N8 is, unsurprisingly, locked to the Vodafone network.

More important when buying a budget phone is asking if the specs are good enough for your particular needs. The Smart N8 is powered by a very low-end Mediatek MT6737 chip with 1.5GB RAM. These specs really are the bare minimum on a modern smartphone and won’t power you anywhere near high end gaming, for example.

But it’s enough to text, call, take a few photos, use Facebook over the 4G connection and play basic games. We did all of this on the Smart N8 and all we had to deal with was fairly frequent lag and dropped frames. This is not a phone up for much beyond casual use. We tried to install Asphalt 8: Airborne to see how bad the lag was. and the phone couldn’t even handle downloading the full game file.

You won’t want to use it as a main phone for business unless you’re very patient, as switching between email and text apps is quite slow and using Gmail itself as part of the pre-installed Google apps can often drag thanks to the lack of memory. These are basic apps, and they work here, just very slowly.

In comparison to similar phones, its performance is not quite as good. The EE Hawk runs better, but is nearly double the price. The widely available Nokia 3 has the same Mediatek chip as the Smart N8 and runs with just as much lag as the N8 does. You can use Instagram, but it chugs along in its own sweet time.

The display is a 1280x720p IPS LCD with a low 294ppi. That doesn’t matter too much on this small 5in screen (and remember the price!) so it’s fine for all basic use. Even Netflix doesn’t look too bad but this is a big video viewing downgrade if you usually watch on an iPad, for example.

There’s only 16GB storage on board but the microSD slot lets you expand up to another 32GB. Such a card is available very cheap on Amazon

The camera is passable, and in good daylight photos are acceptable for use on social media, though obviously very far off the quality of high end phones. The 13Mp sensor struggles in low light despite the LED flash but for a point and shoot it’s not bad. Zooming in reveals a lack of detail captured.

It can also record video at 720p at 30fps – a low bar, but still nice to have for the occasional shoot.

While not unacceptable, the camera even in daylight cannot capture much detail

The front facing camera is just fine for selfies, and its 5Mp are enough for Skype calls, even if a little grainy. You’re also not going to watch to listen to music or watch video for long using the single speaker but it’s fine for these video calls. The headphone jack lets you plug in when you want to use Spotify or have a YouTube session.

Bluetooth 4.0 allows for connection to speakers and headphones, and this worked fine in testing. Call quality is also loud and crisp over the Vodafone network. The 2400mAh battery is adequate for the specs, and charges pleasingly quickly via the included charger. It’ll easily last you a full day of use but you’ll need to charge every night with above average use.

There's also NFC for mobile payments, but no sign of any waterproofing.

Benchmarks

Benchmarking a phone this cheap is somewhat redundant, but hey we've done it anyway! The EE Hawk is noticeably faster in all tests, so if you aren't fussy about which network you'll be on it might be a better bet if you want less lag when using a few apps.

Geekbench measures the processing power, GFX Bench looks at graphics and Jetstream is for browsing capabilities.

It's very similar to the Nokia 3 as the specs are basically the same. What these numbers tell you is that yes, the Smart N8 is not an overly capable phone, despite functioning perfectly well in basic tasks.

Software

The Smart N8 ships with Android Nougat 7.0. As it’s a low-end phone, you are unlikely to ever receive a software updare to Android Oreo or, indeed, any updates at all. Our review until in January 2018 is still on the March 2017 security patch. This isn’t the end of the world, but manufacturers will only work with Google to update the most popular handsets, so this is a downside to buying a budget phone.

You aren’t necessarily at a data security risk in this case, but it’s good housekeeping to keep your phone software up to date, and buying the Smart N8 will stop you for doing this.

Vodafone is using very close to stock Android but with some telling changes. Swiping right on the home screen opens a whole screen called ‘Beginner tips’, showing that Vodafone considers this a phone for children or perhaps the less technologically advanced. The tips are useful though if you are not used to how smartphones work.

You can also look at ‘Expert tips’ to get even more out of the Smart N8. You also have to use Vodafone’s own Calls+ app for calls, but you can install Google’s Android Messages app if you don’t like the pre-installed Messages+ app. Other than that, the phone is low on operator bloatware, which is nice.

Vodafone Smart N8: Specs

  • Android Nougat 7.0
  • 5in 1280x720p IPS LCD display, 294ppi
  • 1.3GHz Mediatek MT6737
  • Mali-T720 MP2 graphics
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • 13Mp main camera with LED flash, video at 720p at 30fps
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 2400mAh non-removable battery
  • 144.5 x 71.9 x 8.6 mm
  • 151g
  • Android Nougat 7.0
  • 5in 1280x720p IPS LCD display, 294ppi
  • 1.3GHz Mediatek MT6737
  • Mali-T720 MP2 graphics
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • 13Mp main camera with LED flash, video at 720p at 30fps
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 2400mAh non-removable battery
  • 144.5 x 71.9 x 8.6 mm
  • 151g

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