The original Vodafone Smart cost just £60 but had a few quirky features that helped it stand out from the pack. For example, you could buy additional back plates that had been customised with your own images and text. That said, we weren't hugely impressed by it when we reviewed it in June 2011. Now Vodafone is back for a second try with the Smart II and, as you'd expect, the spec has been beefed up a bit. However, Vodafone has ditched the idea of the customised back plates and also upped the price by a tenner. There's plenty of competition at the budget end of the Android smartphone market at the moment, so just how well does the Smart II stack up against rivals like the Huawei G300 and Orange San Francisco II?
First impressions aren’t all that inspiring. Whereas some other recent budget Android phones have managed to look more expensive than their price would suggest, the Smart II feels, well, cheap. Apart from a small lip on the back of the phone that helps to anchor it in your hand when you're holding it, the rest of the phone's design is quite boring and the finish looks pretty plasticky. That said, it does actually feel fairly solid and its small size makes it look rather cute. Weirdly the rear of the phone is actually split into two parts. There's a sort of removable shoulder area that hugs all four sides of the phone and inside this sits a secondary clip in battery cover. It's not clear why the designers have gone down this route, but perhaps it harks back to the customisable covers of the original handset.
We like the fact that the Smart II has a dedicated hardware camera button, and this is joined by a volume rocker switch on the left hand side and a power/lock button at the top. The latter is actually a bit fiddly as it doesn’t have enough travel. As a result you often have to press it a couple of times to wake the phone from standby. Beneath the screen there's the usual four Android touch buttons for home, menu, back and search functions, while the microUSB port is positioned on the bottom and the headphone jack at the top of the phone, which is just where they should be in our humble opinion. The Smart II does have a removable battery, but annoyingly the microSD card slot has been placed beneath this so you have to power down the phone to swap SD cards.
Screens on smartphones seem to be getting ever bigger – a trend that we're also seeing on budget Android models such as the 4.0inch touting Huawei G300. However, Vodafone has stuck to a much smaller 3.2inch display on this model. It's resolution of 320x480 pixels puts it ahead of rivals like the similarly priced LG Optimus L3, but it's still a long way behind the excellent display of the Huawei G300. The screen is a little bit better to use than the Optimus L3 when it comes to browsing, simply because the pixel density is higher so you don’t have to do quite as much zooming to get text to a readable size. However, it's still far from ideal and text and icons still tend to look a tad blocky. Its small size makes the onscreen keyboard tricky to use and colours tend to look a bit washed out. The screen's lack of brightness can make it difficult to read outdoors in direct sunlight, too. On the plus side it does feel very responsive to touch -- something that's not always the case on budget phones.