Reviewers tend to groan when presented with handsets like the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 for a few reasons, not least because it seems unlikely that a £75 phone will have much to offer those of us who play with handsets such as the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S7 day-in day-out.
But when I took the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 out of its box I was forced to rethink my usual preconceptions.
Straight away, this isn’t the mush of low-end components and uninspiring design you might expect to see in a phone that costs as little as this one does.
That starts with the look and feel. The Smart Prime 7 is plastic, and to get the SIM and optional microSD cards in you have to pop off the back cover. It’s thin and a bit flimsy – it gives way when you push it with modest force – but that’s not a negative point.
It’s not badly designed at all, and it feels like it will comfortably survive the rigours of day-to-day use.
On the right side are the power button and volume rocker – standard stuff. On the back is a small and nicely subtle Vodafone logo, along with the 8MP camera and LED flash. The headphone jack is on the top, while at the bottom is the micro USB port for charging.
Vodafone has gone for hardware buttons for the Prime 7 – they’re capacitive, and only visible when lit by a backlight. You get the standard Android back and home buttons, and what I call the pointless square.
The pointless square does have a point – it’s for task-switching – but the decision to make this icon a square is one that will confuse me until the day I die. It makes no logical sense – mind you, the home circle is only fractionally better.
The Smart Prime 7’s screen is of a fairly modest resolution. No QHD here, just trusty old 720 x 1280. As a phone snob you might think I’d bemoan that, but actually it’s really good.
It’s nearly impossible to see the pixels on the 5-inch screen, and the pixels per inch number of 293 is only a little lower than the iPhone SE’s 326. In short, the screen is nice, and the spec doesn’t really tell the whole story.
I think it’s fair to say that price is the key point of this phone. People buying the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 will likely want a handset that offers them basic functionality for a sensible price. Good news guys: this phone goes way beyond that ‘basic’ requirement.
For one thing it offers 4G, so you’ll be well placed to take advantage of fast browsing, downloads and the like; 4G isn’t unheard of for budget handsets like this, but it’s always great to see, as it makes for a much better phone experience.
Tied into that are Vodafone’s optional services, such as Spotify and Sky Sports which, depending on your tariff, you may get some free access to. With 4G these are going to fly along at a fair old clip that even good 3G can’t match – it’s a real bonus to have.
Another nice selling point is that the Smart Prime 7 offers a simple, stock Android experience – and it’s Android 6.0 Marshmallow to boot. Now, I’m not someone who believes custom Android UIs are a bad thing, but I’m also aware that some people quite like the way standard Android looks – and those people will love this phone, as very little has been tweaked.
On the downside there’s a fair amount of Vodafone branding. This isn’t really a massive surprise – it’s a Vodafone-branded device after all, and it’s clearly being subsidised by your subscription to its network. And the interference is minimal enough; Vodafone’s apps are mostly there to help you monitor your account and sell you accessories.
Also included is Vodafone’s Message+, this is like iMessage on an iPhone, and enables you to text people via SMS, but other Vodafone users can be reached using more modern means that don’t incur the charge for sending a regular text message. I get what Vodafone is trying to do here, and there are options for video calling too which make sense.
The problem is WhatsApp. In a world where there’s a service that everyone is using, and one that does most of the things Message+ does, Vodafone’s offering seems sort of pointless. Still, it’s there, and it seems decent enough in concept; how much benefit you’ll get from it will depend on how many people you know who are on Vodafone.
Because this is a Vodafone exclusive it makes sense to talk about your buying options. At the time of writing the phone is £75 on pay-as-you-go, or you can get it for free on tariffs starting at £16 per month. That entry-level deal only gets you 250MB of data though, so be careful. If I was buying this phone I’d grab it on PAYG and get Vodafone’s 1GB bundle for £15 per month – but with no contract, obviously.
You also get an FM radio. I sort of like this – it’s a feature that’s going extinct on phones, but when you’re bored and in an area with poor data coverage it can make for a nice distraction.