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Vodafone Smart E8 review: It’s cheap but is it any good?

The budget smartphone market is incredibly competitive and consumers are constantly demanding more from their handsets. Vodafone has done well in the past with the Prime 7 and the 2017 Smart N8, two phones that cost less than £85 at launch. The Vodafone Smart E8 is even cheaper at £49, but is it worth the £35 saving?

Vodafone Smart E8 review: What you need to know

The Vodafone Smart E8 is a 5in smartphone that comes with Android 7.1 Nougat out the box. Its display won’t dazzle you and its performance might make you pull your hair out at times but it’ll do a job and the price is incredibly low.

Its main competitor is the Alcatel Pixi 4 (5), which offers identical specs but runs on Android 6 Marshmallow, an older version of Google’s mobile operating system, and has a much shorter battery life.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Price and competition

The Smart E8’s £49 SIM-free price is its biggest selling point and, at £49, it’s one of the cheapest Android smartphones on the market. It faces competition from the near-identical Alcatel Pixi 4 (5) at £50 and, for a little more, the Alcatel Pop 4 at £75 and the Vodafone Smart N8 at £85. Last year’s Vodafone Prime 7 at £59 would also have been a contender for your money, but it’s currently out of stock.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Design and build quality

The price tag might suggest poor build quality and design but I was pleasantly surprised by the E8 – it’s actually not that bad.

The rear panel is made from plastic and only comes in a textured blue anodised colour. It’s slightly chunky, measuring 9.2mm front to back and weighing 169g, but it’s not difficult to hold and is reasonably pocketable thanks to its 5in display.

As for the layout, there’s nothing unusual to speak of. There’s a power button and a volume rocker on the right, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, and a micro-USB charging port at the bottom. At the front, there’s a 2-megapixel camera and an LED notification light and at the rear is a 5-megapixel camera, LED flash and a speaker grille.

Pop off the rear panel, meanwhile, and you get access to a removable 2,200mAh battery, the phone’s nano-SIM slot and a microSD slot, which allows you to expand the phone’s internal 8GB storage by up to 128GB.

It’s not all good news, though. The most disappointing aspect of the phone’s design is the lack of oleophobic coating on the display. This means it picks up fingerprints like nobody’s business, feels grippy in humid conditions and is difficult to keep clean.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Display

The Smart E8 has a 5in, FWVGA (480 x 854) IPS display, which translates to a pixel density of 196 pixels per inch. This is identical to the similarly priced Alcatel Pixi 4 (5).

It isn’t the greatest screen. It’s dim – I measured a maximum brightness of 309cd/m2 – and, combined with the fingerprints that inevitably accumulate after a few minutes of use, it’s tough to read outside even under grey skies, let alone in bright, sunlit conditions. Its low contrast ratio of 640:1 means everything looks washed out and flat, and colour reproduction is poor, with a low 67.9% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut and a high average Delta E of 7. The Pixi 4 manages a similar score of 70.6% sRGB coverage with an average Delta E of 7.95.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Software

One of the best things about the Vodafone Smart E8 is that it runs Android 7.1 Nougat out the box and it’s a pretty clean installation at that, with no custom Android skin or launcher getting in the way. There is a small handful of preinstalled apps – including some from Vodafone, Facebook and Instagram – but in general, it’s unencumbered with undesirable extras.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Performance

For £50 you’re never going to get a fast phone, and the Smart E8 is indeed pretty slow. Inside is a quad-core 1.1GHz Snapdragon 210 processor with 1GB of RAM and this contributes to sluggish and unresponsive performance in everyday use. The Alcatel Pixi 4 (5) isn’t great, but its quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor delivers a slightly slicker experience.

That’s a shame because in the benchmarks the CPU performs reasonably well, holding its own against rivals at the same price.

^ Vodafone Smart E8: Geekbench 4

In the GFXBench graphics benchmark, it’s slightly quicker than its main rival, the Pixi 4 – just bear in mind that the difference isn’t significant enough to convey any real practical benefit. It’s still slow in the overall scheme of things, and with these sorts of results, you’ll only be able to play lightweight, casual games such as Solitaire. Even Candy Crush failed to run smoothly on the Smart E8.

^ Vodafone Smart E8: GFXBench Manhattan 3

The only positive aspect of the Vodafone Smart E8’s performance is its battery life, which at 10hrs 22mins in the Expert Reviews video-rundown test, is pretty good. By comparison, the Pixi 4 managed only 8hrs 17mins and the Smart N8 8hrs 44mins in the same test.

^ Vodafone Smart E8: Battery life

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Camera

The E8’s camera performance is on par for a £49 smartphone, which is to say it’s not great. I found images looked better with HDR enabled, with more vibrant colours and more balanced exposures, but it’s a 5-megapixel camera and, as a result, it doesn’t capture an awful lot of detail.

Generally, colours are a little oversaturated and there’s noticeable image noise that occurs around objects. In the test shot below, there’s a lot of smearing around the foliage at the top of the shot and around the edges of the white-bricked building in the foreground.

^ Without HDR enabled, colours are dull and the scene lacks vibrance^ With HDR enabled, the leaves are popping with colour, the building is much brighter and clearer, and colours are generally more accurate

Detail goes amiss in low-light conditions, too, with colours becoming duller, and its single-LED flash adds an unpleasant blue tinge to images.

The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is even worse. It’s sufficient for Skype calls in good light or the odd image on Snapchat, but don’t expect your Instagram selfies to look very appealing.

I was, however, impressed by the inclusion of a manual shooting mode in the E8’s camera app, which allows you to take control of the camera’s exposure, ISO and white balance settings.

Vodafone Smart E8 review: Verdict

At a mere £49, the Vodafone Smart E8 was never going to be brilliant and, indeed, it isn’t. It does the job, though, and for me it’s a better option than the Alcatel Pixi 4 (5). It’s identical in performance and build quality, but comes with a more up-to-date version of Android and longer battery life. If you’re on a strict £50 budget, get the Smart E8.

I would, however, encourage you to stretch the budget a little further if you can and opt for the Vodafone Smart N8 at £85 instead, as it’s a lot snappier, and has a fingerprint reader and a much better screen. That phone delivers superior value for money for a marginal price difference.

Hardware
Processor Quad-core 1.1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 210
RAM 1GB
Screen size 5in
Screen resolution 480 x 854
Screen type IPS
Front camera 2 megapixels
Rear camera 5 megapixels
Flash LED
GPS Yes
Compass Yes
Storage (free) 8GB
Memory card slot (supplied) MicroSD (128GB)
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
NFC N/A
Wireless data 4G
Dimensions 145.6 x 72.1 x 9.2 mm
Weight 169g
Features
Operating system Android 7.1
Battery size 2,200 mAh

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