The Vodafone Smart N8, the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 successor we’ve all been waiting for, is finally here. Last year’s budget superhero cost £75, and delivered a top-quality screen in a slim, attractive chassis; it was one of the best sub-£100 smartphones we’ve ever seen at Expert Reviews.
It’s still a pretty good buy but it now has a successor: the Vodafone Smart N8, which comes with a host of new specs. There’s a different processor, Android 7 Nougat out of the box, a fingerprint reader, and an improved camera. But do these new features result in a better 5in phone?
Vodafone Smart N8 review
In a few ways, the Smart N8 is indeed better than the Prime 7, but it falls short in two key areas: performance and battery life. The phone has four hours shorter battery life and feels sluggish; it simply cannot keep up with heavy multitasking.
Once you factor in the £85 price tag and compare it to the Prime 7’s now £59 price tag, it’s the Smart N8’s improved camera and fingerprint reader that make up for lost ground. The Smart N8’s fingerprint reader makes it more convenient to use and its camera produces better-quality image than rival phones in its price bracket.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Price and competition
The Vodafone Smart N8 costs £85, not including the compulsory £10 Pay As You Go voucher that you’ll also need to purchase from the Vodafone store. Its rivals are the year-old Vodafone Prime 7, now available for £59, the newer Alcatel Pop 4 for £75 and the Alcatel Pixi 4 (5) at £50.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Design and build quality
Despite being cheap, the Smart N8 is a nicely made smartphone, from its textured rear cover to its beautifully crafted edges, this is a budget phone that both looks and feels far more expensive than its price tag might lead you to believe. However, with a thickness of 8.6mm and weight of 151g, it’s both thicker and heavier than the Prime 7 (8mm and 128g).
At the front of the phone, there’s a front-facing 5-megapixel camera, an unusual front-facing flash, and a single forward-firing speaker, which sounds surprisingly good. You’ll find a textured power button and volume rocker on the right, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer at the bottom of the phone.
Turn the phone over and you’ll find its headline feature: the circular fingerprint reader. This is a fantastic inclusion for a sub-£100 smartphone (I don’t know of any other phone this cheap that has one), and it adds a quick, more secure way of unlocking your phone.
Pop off the removable rear plastic cover and you’ll see a single SIM card slot and a microSD card expansion slot that will accept cards up to 32GB in capacity – great for expanding its 16GB internal storage. The phone also houses a 2,400mAh battery, a step down from the 2,540mAh battery found in the Smart Prime 7, which is disappointingly non-removable.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Display
The Smart N8’s 5in HD (720 x 1,280) IPS display is relatively bright at 374cd/m2, but it isn’t in the top echelon of phone screens, and you might have trouble viewing it in really bright, sunlit conditions.
I found the phone’s display rather dull, too, with colours lacking vibrance, saturation and accuracy. And, despite its 1,560:1 contrast ratio, the screen suffers from a blue tinge, which is particularly noticeable when you’re browsing websites with a white background.
Perhaps more seriously, however, due to a lack of oleophobic coating, the screen does suffer pick up fingerprints more easily than most, and the screen feels unpleasantly grippy, too, making swipe gestures a little more difficult to carry out than normal.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Software
As mentioned above, the Smart N8 runs Android 7 Nougat – Google’s latest operating system – out of the box, so you’ll get to experience Android as Google intended, with no overlay skin or annoying launchers. Something of a rarity for an operator’s phone.
You will also find quite a few preinstalled apps installed on the Smart N8, but thankfully most of these can be uninstalled, including Vodafone’s own-branded apps. Facebook and Instagram are also preinstalled and can be removed.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Performance
The Smart N8 is powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6737 processor with 1.5GB of RAM. Compared with its rivals from Alcatel phones, the Smart N8 looks better on paper. However, in real-world use it feels about the same: it’s sluggish, randomly hangs and cannot deal with heavy multitasking. This is to be expected from a budget smartphone, but I’d have hoped for a slightly better experience than the cheaper Alcatels.
^Vodafone Smart N8: Geekbench 4
I also experienced boot loops and random reboots after only a day of usage, which is worrying given the phone is brand new. Of course, this could just be a defective unit, so I’ll give Vodafone the benefit of the doubt here. I’ve have asked Vodafone to comment and will be sure to update this review once I get to the bottom of it.
The N8’s Mali-T720MP2 graphics chip isn’t anything to get excited about, either. Running the strenuous GFXBench Manhattan 3 benchmark, the Smart N8 was unable to produce anything like a smooth frame rate. So although you’ll be able to play casual games such as Candy Crush and Pokemon Go, don’t expect to have much fun playing Asphalt 8.
^Vodafone Smart N8: GFXBench Manhattan 3.0
Finally, battery life is poor. In our video playback test, the N8 lasted a mere 8hrs 44mins, and that means the phone will struggle to last a full day on a single charge. By comparison, the Alcatel Pop 4 achieved 9hrs 32mins in the same test, while the Smart N8’s predecessor – the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 – achieved a much more impressive 12hrs 55mins.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Camera
One of the big improvements for the Smart N8 is the rear camera with a boost in resolution from 8 megapixels to 13 megapixels. Performance, especially in HDR mode, is impressive for a sub-£100 smartphone. I found colour reproduction to be largely accurate and the photographs I captured with the phone were bursting with detail.
The selection of camera modes on offer is even more impressive. Alongside the regular camera and video modes, there are 360 panorama, time-lapse and “micro-video” modes. Micro-video mode allows you to create a short video, which can be easily and quickly shared on social media. There’s also a manual camera mode that provides aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance and focus controls. A real treat in a budget phone.
^Vodafone Smart N8: Road shot in Standard mode (dark tones by the trees, invisible skyline, lost detail by the buildings).
^Vodafone Smart N8: Road shot in HDR mode (sky is differentiated, building details can be seen, and better colour accuracy throughout the image).
A huge area of improvement over the Prime 7 is its low-light performance. With HDR mode enabled, the Smart N8 performs better, by providing less image noise, more detail and a better colour reproduction. However, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve got a rock-steady hand when shooting in HDR, as the slightest movement can cause blurring.
Even with the flash enabled, the N8’s camera produces usable photos, with decent colours and only a slight blueish tone to images.
^Vodafone Smart N8: Low-light shot in standard mode with a crop (background text has a little smearing, teddy bear lacks detail, and dark tones behind the silver mug).
^Vodafone Smart N8: Low-light shot with flash with a crop (colours are accurate, small smearing around pens, not overzealous flash tone).
Vodafone hasn’t altered its front-facing camera but has added flash, which is another fantastic inclusion. With only a 5-megapixel sensor, though, don’t expect a great deal of detail.
Vodafone Smart N8 review: Verdict
The Vodafone Smart N8 is an improvement over last year’s Prime 7, mainly in its camera performance and the inclusion of a fingerprint reader. Is that enough to justify the price tag? Answer: it depends on what you’re looking for.
If it’s flagship-style features and a decent camera you want, at £85 this smartphone is a steal; there are no other phones I’ve come across that offer all the features the Smart N8 brings to the table for this sort of money. However, its poor battery life and sluggish performance do let it down.
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