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Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 Review - Screen and Software Review


Vodafone Smart Ultra 6: Screen

If you’re not interested in the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 just because it offers 4G at a reasonable price, it’s a fair bet that the screen has lured you here. This is the best screen we’ve seen in a £125 phone to date.

Where other phones at the price use 720p panels, this one is 1080p, meaning there’s no sense of sharpness compromise despite the display’s large 5.5-inch size. It’s big, it’s sharp and its colours are pretty good too.

The best likely have better colour calibration, but there’s no obvious bias or cast, a fairly neutral white balance and natural-looking saturation. No over-saturation, and if there’s any undersaturation it’s not obvious.

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Turning on the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 we were expecting to see an obvious reason why Vodafone/ZTE managed to get this 1080p panel in at £125. But we can’t find one: this is a pretty lovely screen.

It doesn’t have a super-effective anti-reflective coating, but taking it out on a sunny day it’s not difficult to see what’s going on. The crucial part here is that the display doesn’t appear appear recessed, which is often the contrast-reducing, reflection-boosting killer when it comes to higher-spec screens in budget phones.

It almost goes without saying at this point, but the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 uses an IPS LCD screen. The ubiquity of this tech more-or-less explains why a phone this cheap can have a screen this capable. And it is the best screen you currently get at the price.

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Vodafone Smart Ultra 6: Software

Seems ambitious? Spend a bit more time with the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 and you realise it’s not ambition that has led to this phone, but pure pragmatism.

The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 runs a virtually untouched version of Android Lollipop, currently 5.0.2. Even the preinstalled wallpapers are the same default ones we saw in the Nexus 6. Of course, this creates less work for Vodafone, meaning it doesn’t have a custom UI to constantly maintain and provide fixes for.

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You don’t get away bloat-free, though. The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 comes with a bunch of Vodafone crapware apps installed, and they’re pinned to the very top of the apps menu. It’s a red stain no amount of scrubbing will get rid of.

If that’s going to drive you up the wall, maybe it’s time to move on. But there’s nothing you can’t simply ignore by living mostly on your homescreens rather than the apps menu.

There are seven of these apps. Here’s a quick roll call:

Direct Access: A link to Vodafone’s accessories store. 100 per cent pointless.
Discover: Provides info about Vodafone services. 90 per cent pointless.
Message: A free messenger for Vodafone users. A WhatsApp rip-off.
My Web: A web shortcut to a Vodafone page. 100 per cent pointless.
Smart Flow: A home screen style that cycles through selected images. But it crashed too much for us to use it.
Smart Tips: Loads of little tutorials on how to use your phone. Handy for beginners, but underpopulated at the time of writing (there were no ‘Expert’ tips, but there should be by the time you get hold of one).
Updates: Lets you install more Vodafone apps.

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Install more Vodafone apps and, thankfully, they don’t stick to the very top of your apps menu. Some are kinda handy, like Net Perform, which monitors downtime and data usage, and lets you do a speed test.

We tested the phone with a Vodafone 4G SIM and got very strong speeds of 30-odd Mb download, and once even recorded 131Mbit download and 25Mbit upload. That’s no doubt attached to a ‘VIP’ plan we mere mortals don’t usually get to experience. But it’s nice to see how the other half live, eh?

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The crucial thing here is that while these extra Vodafone apps are annoying, they don’t really affect the inner workings of the system. The one bolt-on that does is that the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 loads Flipboard when you flick to the left of your left-most home screen. Flipboard is a popular news stream app.

This replaces the news feed homescreens used by HTC and Samsung. But this one isn’t actually a homescreen, it simply loads the Flipboard app proper. Vodafone clearly knows trying anything too ambitious on the software side could easily backfire.