Hands on review: Vodafone Smart 3

This is not a premium smartphone but it is certainly a good-looking, capable and highly affordable alternative, says David Phelan

Nobody doubts that the best, fastest and most deluxe smartphone experience comes from high-priced models like the iPhone 5, Nokia 920 and Samsung Galaxy S4.

But not everyone wants to splash out £400 or more for a mobile, whether you pay that price up front or slowly over a two-year contract. So Vodafone has created its Smart series, now up to number three. It’s priced £95 on pay-as-you-go and is free on contracts as cheap as £13 a month.

Budget smartphones traditionally disappoint – the screen is sketchy, the processor slow or the capabilities reduced as corners are cut. Sometimes GPS or even wi-fi are omitted to keep the price down.

But the Smart III has a good screen with decent resolution, even if it’s no match for the iPhone’s Retina display. And this is a good sized screen too at four inches.

The processor isn’t dual- or quad-core like top-end mobiles but it clocks in at 1GHz and in practice it’s pretty nippy. What’s more, where some cheapies include an old version of Android operating software – the Gingerbread edition which is more than two years old now is often the version of choice – the Smart III manages Jelly Bean 4.1, which is very nearly the latest.

So where have the corners been cut? Well, the camera is 5MP – cutting edge a couple of years ago but overtaken more recently by 8MP and 13MP sensors. But it comes with a flash, at least, and in practice the pictures are certainly acceptable. And that’s about it. Wi-fi and GPS are both on board, along with Bluetooth and even a microSD card slot so you can add to the internal memory which, admittedly, is limited to just 4GB.

What about the looks, you ask, surely they scream budget? Actually, not really.

The display has a black surround with a white or black frame around it that unclips so you can customise the handset. There’s a cute LED slot at the base which flashes to let you know there are messages waiting. The back panel is translucent so you can slip a sheet of paper with your own design on it in. Providing the patterns or images are strong, you can see them through the back panel. It’s a neat touch of personalisation.

Battery life, signal strength and call quality were all fine, and Vodafone’s little apps to show you how much memory you’ve used will prove useful to those new to Android.

This is not a premium smartphone, but it is certainly a good-looking, capable and highly affordable alternative.