Vodafone Smart N8 - Battery life, camera and verdict

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Vodafone Smart N8 – Software

There are some pretty major manufacturers out there that could learn a thing or two from Vodafone’s approach to software. The Vodafone Smart N8 follows the network’s tradition of going with a near-as stock version of Android, with only light embellishment.

The good news this time is that you get Android 7.0, which is the latest iteration of Google’s mobile OS – give or take a few sub-versions. Where Vodafone has tinkered with the nuts and bolts of the Android OS, it’s been quite smartly thought out. For example, the network’s software team has supplied four customisable shortcuts from the lockscreen.

To start you get access to the flashlight, calculator, and camera, with a spare slot left over and the potential to add a fifth. Optional extras include such things as composing a new email, navigating home in Google Maps, and initiating a voice search.

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Of course, this being a mobile network effort, you also have to contend with a bunch of bloatware. I appreciate that Vodafone wants to make this phone as easy to use as possible for the beginner, but was there really the need to devote the entire left-most homescreen to ‘Beginners tips’? Surely Google Now would have been far more useful here, at least after the first week of ownership.

There’s also an ugly and largely useless My Vodafone widget to the right of the main homescreen, although this can be readily removed with a hold and a swipe.

Vodafone also includes its own phone and text apps, both of which are functional but pretty ugly. You can download decent replacement apps from the Google Play Store, of course, which I’d recommend. In particular, you might want to opt for a different messaging app, since Vodafone’s default can be a little restrictive in its treatment of picture messages. This is evidently to help you avoid burning through your PAYG allowance, but it felt a little crude.

Vodafone Smart N8 – Camera

You never expect great things from a budget phone’s camera, and the Vodafone Smart N8 doesn’t really upset those expectations. On paper it offers a respectable 13-megapixel sensor – a step up from last year’s model – with a flash and autofocus.

It’s capable of capturing some reasonably sharp shots with pleasantly balanced colours in ideal lighting conditions, but the camera falls down whenever that isn’t the case. In other words, most of the time.

Things get particularly fuzzy and lacking in detail whenever the lighting drops lower, while brightness spikes will make the phone’s limited image sensor flip out and overexpose.

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The way that mobile makers usually compensate for the latter effect is through an HDR mode, which takes separate images focusing on the dark and light areas of the picture and then combines them into one. There is a manual HDR mode available here, which isn’t always a given in budget phones, but it’s pretty poor. In my experience, images taken with HDR were way too bright and false-looking. The balance was completely off, and I invariably preferred the murkier original non-HDR efforts.

Of course, for most people using the Vodafone Smart N8, pin-sharp photos won’t be a priority. It’s just fine for off-the-cuff social media posts, and there’s a similarly okay 5-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies.

Perhaps the most important thing to discuss here, then, is how easy the Vodafone Smart N8’s camera is to use. The answer is ‘very’. Vodafone’s camera software is super-intuitive, wisely taking a few pages out of Apple’s iOS book in terms of look and feel. You can flick between photo and video mode with a swipe, there are multiple filter options accessible from the main viewfinder, and you can even access a manual mode if you want to tweak the ISO, shutter speed, and white balance levels.

You’ll do well to improve the final results, mind.

Vodafone Smart N8 – Battery Life

Surprisingly, given that it’s a thicker phone, the Vodafone Smart N8 has a smaller battery than last year’s Vodafone Smart Prime 7. It’s a 2400mAh unit compared to the Prime’s 2540mAh.

Regardless of the downshift, though, the Smart N8 doesn’t suffer for stamina. Its relatively low-res display and modest CPU ensure that you can go through a whole day of moderate use without worrying about running out of juice.

Try anything more intensive over a sustained period, however, and you’ll witness a much steeper drop. I watched a 51-minute HD TV episode that I’d downloaded through the Google Play Store, with the screen brightness cranked right up to max, and the phone lost the last of its 24% charge just as the closing credits were rolling. Meanwhile, 15-20 minutes of Guns of Boom gameplay consumed 8% of the phone’s remaining battery life.

This isn’t the phone to provide you with a sustained media fix throughout an extended trip, then. But given the Smart N8’s lack of power and relatively humble display, I’d have thought that was evident well before we turned to the matter of battery life.

The Vodafone Smart N8 is built for calling, texting, social media monitoring, and the odd bout of light web browsing. If you stick to that, you’ll clear a day’s usage with room to spare.

Camera Samples

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The camera can perform solidly in good lighting: check out the sharpness and deep red of the mushroom

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HDR-off: There are issues, but the detail and colour isn’t too awful here with HDR off

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HDR-on: Apply HDR to the same shot and you get an unnatural brightening without sorting the bleached skies

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The AF can be quite effective with close-ups

 skies
Check out those blown-out skies – and no, HDR was no help

Should you buy the Vodafone Smart N8?

It’s impossible to argue that the Vodafone Smart N8 is anything less than a bargain. You’re getting a competent smartphone with near-stock Android 7.0, a bright 5-inch 720p display, and a reliable fingerprint sensor all for £85.

There have clearly been some hefty compromises made in order to get that price down though, and it results in sluggish performance and an underwhelming camera. The phone won’t win any prizes for its looks, either.

For a more rounded experience you should seriously consider saving up another £70 or so for a Moto G5 or a Wileyfox Swift 2. If that’s not an option, however, you can’t get much more smartphone for under £100 than the Vodafone Smart N8.

Verdict

At less than £100, the Vodafone Smart N8 is a decent and fully featured smartphone. However, there are some notable compromises that can only be solved by throwing a little extra money at the problem.

Score in detail

  • Performance 6
  • Camera 6
  • Design 6
  • Battery Life 8
  • Value 8
  • Software 8
  • Calls & Sound 6
  • Screen Quality 7
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