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Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 : Hands-On Review

A new benchmark for budget smartphones.

The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is a seriously disruptive phone. It offers specs that might cost you £300 in a Samsung handset, but only costs £125. That’s without a contract, with no obligation beyond the phone being locked to Vodafone.

There’s the rub. If you don’t mind being on Vodafone, this is the highest-spec budget phone you can get without importing something from China. Something bearing a name no-one’s heard of from a retailer some people wouldn’t be too comfortable sharing their card details with.

Vodafone can’t be making much money off the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 directly, and reassurances you’re getting good return on your money don’t get much better than that. It makes the Motorola Moto G look overpriced. In return, you just have to live with a phone about as anonymous as they come. A status symbol it is not.

Performance

The phone’s performance, for instance, is truly astonishing for such a cheap handset. Powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 610 chipset and 2GB of RAM, the Smart Ultra 6 is leagues ahead of anything else in this price range, putting our current budget favourites, the £145 2nd Gen Moto G and £110 2nd Gen Moto E, to shame.

As a result, navigating through Android 5.0.2 feels much faster on the Smart Ultra 6 than it does on the Moto G, and web browsing is similarly nippy.

Web pages load quickly and it takes image-heavy sites in its stride. When browsing through news sites such as The Guardian, for instance, we only had to wait around two seconds before we could scroll up and down and pan round the home page smoothly without any hitches in performance whatsoever. Likewise, with a Peacekeeper browser test score of 741, the Smart Ultra 6 isn’t that far behind the LG G4, which scored 841 overall and is five times as expensive.

Graphics performance was good, too. While its score of 346 in the offscreen Manhattan test in GFX Bench GL 3.0 only equates to around 5.6fps, it’s still much better than what we managed with the Moto G, which only produced 110 frames, or 1.8fps. As a result, its GPU is much better equipped to deal with more demanding titles like Blizzard’s Hearthstone card game, as battle animations were smooth and fluid and text bubbles didn’t stutter at all.

Display

Of course, its large 5.5in display, with a 1,920×1,080 resolution, makes playing any sort of game an absolute delight, as a much smaller proportion of it is covered by your fingers. Colours looked almost identical in terms of tone and saturation to a Moto G and both looked equally pleasing to the eye when we compared them both.

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If anything, the Smart Ultra 6’s higher peak brightness level gives colours a little bit of extra punch compared to the Moto G. We were also pleased to see the Smart Ultra 6’s high brightness levels didn’t impact the screen’s black levels too much either.

Battery Life

Considering the Smart Ultra 6 has such a big, high resolution screen, battery life was impressive. With the screen brightness set to full, its 3,000mAh battery lasted 10h 51m in our continuous video playback test, so it should be more than capable of lasting through the day even if you’re using it heavily.

Camera

On the back of the phone is the 13-megapixel camera. We were very pleased with the quality of the Smart Ultra 6’s photos, as colours were bright and vivid and there was plenty of crisp detail to be found despite its tendency to produce rather dark areas of shadow. There’s also a Manual mode available which lets you adjust the white balance, ISO and exposure levels, as well as a horizon level guide and grid lines to help you capture the perfectly aligned picture.

We’d recommend sparing use of the HDR mode, though, as this tended to bleach out colours slightly and produce overly bright and saturated images. This can be found in the Mode setting, which also includes a variety of filters, a smile detection mode, interval capture, which takes multiple shots on an automatic countdown timer, panorama and multi-exposure, which lets you combine multiple images together to create arty collages and layered shots.

Design & Apps

The Smart Ultra 6 is well-made, too. While its grey plastic 8.4mm thick isn’t particularly eye-catching, it fits in with Vodafone’s other own-brand devices and its lightly ribbed sides give your fingers something to hold onto when you’re using it with one hand. It’s a unibody design, with no removable rear panel, this makes it feel tougher but means you can’t replace the battery – not that you can on the Moto G either. The SIM and Micro SD card slots are on the edges of the handset, the latter means you can expand the memory by up to 128GB.

It has dedicated touch buttons below the screen, giving you more screen space to play with when running apps. At first we found it a little irritating that they kept turning themselves off, as this made it difficult to easily locate the home and back buttons, but this can be easily remedied in the Display settings menu by switching the touch key light duration option to always on.

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We also liked how Vodafone lets you choose which app appears as a fullscreen widget when you swipe to the left of the main home screen. It’s set to news aggregator Flipboard by default, but you can choose from any app currently installed on your phone, whether it’s Netflix, Twitter, or your favourite game. You can always disable this feature if you’d rather not have one at all, but we appreciate having the choice all the same, which is more than can be said for other smartphones with this feature.

Of course, as a Vodafone handset, the Smart Ultra 6 comes with several pre-installed Vodafone apps. Some are more useful than others, but thankfully you can uninstall them if you’d rather free up a bit of extra space. You’ll want to keep the Vodafone Start and Message+ apps, though, as the former lets you keep track of your data allowance and monthly texts and minutes while the latter is Vodafone’s messaging service, which gives you sent, delivered and read notifications when you send texts and lets you chat with multiple Message+ users in the same thread.

Conclusion

With so many practical features, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is unbelievably good value for its price. Contract prices put it in direct competition with the likes of the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, which is arguably more attractive and has better build quality, but the Ultra 6 is still a bargain with its larger, higher resolution screen and superior camera.

It’s a real steal on Pay-As-You-Go, too, as it completely blows the 2nd Gen Moto G out of the water. If you don’t mind joining Vodafone, the Smart Ultra 6 is an incredible bargain.

Charlie James Tennant

Editor-in-chief

Developer, videographer, photographer and a stickler for English grammar.

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