Vodafone Smart Prime 7 full review
It's been exactly a year since Vodafone launched the impressive Smart Prime 6 budget smartphone and the mobile network is back with a new model. We find out what's changed and improved in our Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review. Updated with our video review. See also: Best budget phones 2016.
Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals
Motorola used to rule the best budget smartphone but recently networks including EE and Vodafone have put out some pretty impressive own-brand devices. Although the name suggests the line has been around for a while, the Smart Prime 7 is a second generation phone and we've been able to spend some time with it ahead of the launch.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review: Release date and price
There's no waiting around for the new Smart Prime 7 as the release date is today, 12 May.
Following on from last year's Prime 6, the new Smart Prime 7 is even cheaper and can be yours for a tiny price of just £75 on a pay as you go basis. Decent smartphones for under £100 are hard to come by but this could be one of them.
On Vodafone's network, £16 per month will get you unlimited texts, 250 minutes and 250MB of data. Alternatively, a Red 1GB Bundle gets you unlimited texts and minutes, plus 1GB of data for £24 per month. As you'd expect, the Prime 7 is locked to Vodafone's network. See the best unlocked phones.
It's worth noting that if you're looking for something even cheaper, then Vodafone is also launching the Smart First 7. It will cost you just £25 and features a 3.5in touchscreen, 2Mp camera and Android 5.1.
If you're unsure about buying, Vodafone is offering the Smart Prime 7 under its 30 Day Network Guarantee, giving you a month to try it out before fully committing.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review: Design and build
While the Smart Prime 7 looks very similar to its predecessor, there are a few small design tweaks to be aware of. They come mostly in the style department and the phone has lost is shiny silver border which ran around the edge of the Prime 6. Instead the edge is a stylish gun metal grey colour with a brushed look which we prefer.
The rear cover is now a darker colour and has a fine textured finish – if you look really closely, it's made up of cubes so it resembles a QBert level. It's still removable and although it's textured, it doesn't provide much extra grip – the Smart Prime 7 is a pretty slippery customer.
If you're not into the 'Graphite Black' look then the Prime 7 is also available in 'Boron White', which we haven't seen in the flesh. It's also thinner and lighter now at 8mm and 128g.
Overall, the look is stealthier with nothing flashy going on. Even the Vodafone logo on the back is small and understated. Minor changes include the headphone jack being off-centre on the top of the phone and the speaker being relocated from the back to the bottom. The power and volume buttons also have a textured finish.
We're impressed with the build quality on offer here for the budget price. The rear cover is, of course, thin and bendy when it's not clipped into place. However, the main body of the phone is strong and rigid. There are no sharp edges or similar, which is something we've found even with 2016 flagship devices.
It's a thumbs up from us for design and build with a more desirable phone in the Prime 7 compared to its predecessor.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review: Hardware, specs and performance
Some of the hardware in the Smart Prime 7 is exactly the same as its predecessor. This includes the screen, rear camera, storage, RAM and more.
Let's tackle the main thing that's change first then, which is the processor. While the Prime 6 was powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, the new Prime 7 uses a Snapdragon 210. While the model number is lower, we'd hoped the newer chip would perhaps be level on performance.
It's still a quad-core chip and runs at 1.27GHz according to Geekbench 3 despite being listed as 1.1GHz by Qualcomm. However, it's only 32-bit and uses Cortex-A7 compared to A53 cores found in the 410. Even ARM says the 'A53 delivers significantly higher performance than the highly successful Cortex-A7'. The Snapdragon 210 also doesn't benefit from 'Big.Little' architecture, which balances the cores between power and efficiency, and has a slightly lower grade Adreno 304 GPU.
If all of that is a little bit too technical for you here it is in layman's terms: The 210 is a downgrade compared to the 410 in performance, and it shows in the benchmark results. Sometimes the numbers don't reflect the real-world experience of a phone but while the Prime 7 is smooth most of the time, you do notice and perceive the lack of raw power at times. You can run games such as 3D endless runners (like Temple Run 2) but it's not all plain sailing and tasks such as switching between apps can be jerky and slow at times.
One thing the Snapdragon 210 does have is LTE Advanced 2x10MHz carrier aggregation which may result in faster 4G download speeds. It's still a Cat 4 phone though so is limited to 150Mbps download speeds. We recorded a peak download speed of 5.73Mbps using the supplied Vodafone SIM card in our North London office which jumped to 20.27Mbps outside. The issue is that we can't tell you what performance will be like where you are or even if there's 4G coverage.
Continuing with connectivity, the Smart Prime 7 continues to offer Bluetooth but version 4.1 this time, NFC, GPS, an FM radio and 11b/g/n single-band Wi-Fi. We'd liked to have seen an upgrade to dual-band 11ac but the Prime 7 is perhaps too cheap to expect this.
There's nothing outstanding in terms of the Smart Prime 7's specs with the kind of core hardware you'd expect for the price. It still offers 8GB of storage, of which 5GB is available to the user. That's not much so it's a good job there's still a Micro-SD card slot which can take up to 128GB – you'll probably need it before long.
As we mentioned at the start of the hardware section, the display is still the same so it's 5in in size and uses a 720p HD resolution. That's not bad and the quality is good for the small asking price. Our only real complaint is that the screen is difficult to view outside in bright sunlight.
Before we get onto photography, let's talk about battery life. With a 2540mAh battery, the cell is not huge but equally not small. In our Geekbench 3 battery test the Prime 7 lasted an impressive eight hours and 33 minutes. Note that although the rear cover comes off, the battery is non-removable.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review: Cameras
The main camera of the Smart Prime 7 is still an 8Mp sensor with a single LED flash. The camera app is easy to use and you can quick launch the front camera by double pressing the volume up button. There are different shooting modes including Scene, Smile, Panorama and Multi-exposure. There's even a manual mode if you want to control things like white balance, exposure and ISO.
Pictures can be perfectly good for sharing online with your friends but don't expect too much from the device. What's strange is that the video quality is limited to 720p despite the Prime 6 being able to shoot in 1080p.
There's an upgrade at the front camera if you're a big selfie taker with a 5Mp front facing camera on the Prime 7. Photos aren't particularly sharp in terms of the focus but the quality is still better than before.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review: Software and apps
As we'd expect from any smartphone launching in 2016, the Smart Prime 7 comes pre-loaded with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That's the latest version of Google's mobile operating system until Android N is released later this year.
Vodafone has stuck to a mostly stock user interface which means the network hasn't messed about with Android too much. That's a good thing and makes for a pleasant experience with the same elements such as the notifications bar, app menu and recent apps all the same as you'd find on a Nexus phone.
Networks have tended to fill own-brand devices with bloatware in the past but things aren't too bad with the Prime 7. There are a couple of things installed (My Vodafone and Message+) but we were pleasantly surprised to find the choice during setup to install others like Protect and Wallet. You can uninstall most if you wish, too.
Also an option when you setup the phone is user tip, helpful if you've never used Android before but if you have then we'd recommend opting out as they are quite intrusive and persistent. If you are a beginner at things are too complex there's the option for a simple homescreen which give you larger icons and a panel for contact so there's less reliance on apps.
Swipe right from the main homescreen and you'll load the beginner tips screen. However, in the display settings you can choose a favourite app to launch with this gesture including Google Now if you want to mimic a Google Nexus device. You just can't swipe back to the homescreen since it's launched the app fully.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7: Specs
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5in (720x1280, 294ppi) IPS touchscreen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor (Quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A7)
- Adreno 304 GPU
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB storage
- Micro-SD up to 128GB
- 8Mp rear facing camera, LED flash
- 5Mp front facing camera
- 11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- FM Radio
- 2540mAh non-removable battery