The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is a small, very low cost phone. If you want a mobile you won’t have to worry too much about breaking, need to buy someone their first real smartphone or just want a backup, it seems like a good option.
At £50, it is just a tenth the price of the top phones. There are obvious cuts made in almost every area of the Smart 4 Mini that mean we can’t fully recommend it, but you do get the full Android experience for very little cash here.
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The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is typical of a lower-cost Android phone. It’s plastic and slightly chunky but ultimately a fairly small phone compared to the giant devices you’ll see on sale for several times the price on the high street.
However, it’s far from the worst-looking mobile phone we’ve seen. Front-on it’s nice and simple, while its touch keys have none of that over-designed look they have on some lower-cost phones. They don’t light up, though.
The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s plastic back has a hint of stylisation and a neat bronze-ish black finish. There's also a white version available. It couldn’t pass for a £250 phone, but a £100 one? Sure.
Its ergonomics aren’t too bad either. At 12.3mm it’s pretty thick, but as the Smart 4 Mini has a 4-inch screen phone it really doesn’t matter. Unless you have tiny hands you’ll have no trouble using the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini, and the phone’s back has a nice smooth curve to it that makes it comfortable to hold.
The back pops off, and under the easily-removable battery you’ll find the microSD card slot and the full-size SIM slot. Where other phones have largely moved on to the microSIM standard, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini still uses the older, larger kind – it tells you everything you need to know about how cutting-edge this phone is.
For £50, though, we’re pretty happy with its build. For those who want to know a bit more, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is actually produced by Alcatel, and then re-branded with the Vodafone name. You’ll find that almost all network-branded phones like this are made by Alcatel, Huawei or ZTE.
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The screen is one of the most important elements of any phone. The Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s display is a mixed bag, but given the price we’re actually quite impressed with some elements of it.
Sharpness isn’t too bad, given we’re talking about a £50 device. It uses a 480 x 800 pixel display, and across the four inches of screen that provides you 233ppi. That’s actually a fair bit higher than some significantly more expensive phones, including the Nokia Lumia 630.
We’ve seen entry-level displays like this look very soft, but there’s a decent amount of definition to the Smart 4 Mini’s screen.
Contrast indoors is pretty good too, leading to images with the sort of ‘pop’ we don’t expect to see in a phone this cheap. And although reds are slightly anaemic-looking, the rest of the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s colour palette is reasonably good. Our first impression was one of pleasant surprise.
However, the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini is subject to just about every other image quality limitation you normally get at the price.
First, viewing angles are quite rubbish, because this phone uses a TN-type panel rather than the more popular IPS kind. More annoying, the phone has no effective anti-reflective coating.
In bright sunlight, using the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini does become a bit of a struggle. There is, thankfully, an auto brightness setting that’ll automatically ramp-up the backlight intensity to compensate when you venture outside, though.
Outdoors visibility is not great
Max brightness can just about cope with the outdoors, meaning you won’t need to squint with migraine-inducing intensity. But it’s still far from a joy to use.
Another issue is what the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini’s screen is made of. Where more expensive phones tend to have a top layer made of glass, this one’s all-plastic.
As well as feeling a little less nice than glass – its brand of friction is a little different – it’s far more scratch-prone. Our review unit had clearly been taken for a test drive before we got our hands on it, possibly literally along the surface of a road by the looks of things. Keep the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini in a pocket full of change and keys, and you’ll earn a few battle scars before long.
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The front scratches fairly easily
Plastic is also far more flexible than glass, and as a result it’s very easy to bend the screen’s top layer with your finger, causing unnerving distortion in the display itself. You don’t need to press too hard at all.
These sorts of compromises are the kind of things you need to accept in a £50 phone as you’ll need to spend at least £70-80 to get a real quality upgrade. Ready to pay the extra? Look to something like the Motorola Moto E, a phone with a glass-topped IPS screen.