Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 full review

A year after Vodafone’s Smart Ultra 6 stormed our ‘Best budget smartphones’ chart, the network has released its predecessor. However, a lot has changed in a year and there’s now a lot of competition in the budget end of the market, so how does the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 fare against newer budget smartphones, and also compared to its predecessor, the Smart Ultra 6? We’ve spent some time with the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7, and here’s what we think. Read next: Best Android smartphone

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Pricing and availability

So before we go any further, just how expensive is the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7? The Smart Ultra 7 was designed to be a budget smartphone that allows more people to use 4G (notable Vodafone’s 4G network, but you could probably get it unlocked) and as such, has a price tag to match. The Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 will set consumers back £135 on Pay as you Go, while Vodafone is also offering it on contract - £19 PCM will get you the smartphone along with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Design and build

The Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 can be considered a visual upgrade over the Smart Ultra 6 if nothing more. The Ultra 7 sports the same brushed metal body with a removable plastic rear, but with a few added details. For example, the plain-looking plastic rear cover has been upgraded and is clad in a rather intricate design, and while this isn’t ground-breaking, it does make a slightly bland looking phone a little bit more appealing.  

In fact, we’d argue that the 5.5in Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 doesn’t look like a sub-£150 smartphone at all. While it doesn’t have the build quality of high-end smartphones like, say, the iPhone 6s or Samsung Galaxy S7, it could definitely compete with mid-range smartphones in terms of design.

Why? For one, it’s fairly lightweight for a large budget smartphone, weighing in at 150g. It’s slightly thicker than its predecessor at 152.2 x 78.21 x 8.68mm, but is still thinner than the similarly priced EE Harrier (8.9mm) and EE Harrier Mini (9.5mm). The curved edges of the Smart Ultra 7 are dual purpose – as well as improving the aesthetics of the smartphone, it also provides users with a smartphone that’s comfortable to use over long periods, an important aspect to consider when buying a smartphone with a large display.

The Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 is available to purchase in Silver and the slightly darker ‘Dark Grey’, both featuring black bezels around the edges of the display. The build quality is generally quite good, although we’ve noticed that the plastic rear case doesn’t sit completely flush with the camera and while it’s not a huge deal, it’s worth pointing out.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Hardware, specs and performance

The first thing you’ll notice about the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 is the display – a beautiful 5.5in Full HD (1080x1920) IPS display, with a pixel density of around 401ppi. The display, although unchanged from the Ultra 6, is still pretty impressive for a smartphone with a price tag of £135, especially when you consider that similarly priced budget smartphones feature a 720p display. It’s crisp and vibrant, and we don’t really have any complaints about it – sure, it may not be the most visible in direct sunlight but for such a cheap smartphone, we’re not too fussed.

So if the display is still the same, what has changed? The internals – but we’re not sure if it’s for the better, if our benchmark results are anything to go by. On paper, it looks like the Smart Ultra 7 has had an upgrade – the Ultra 6 featured a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor comprised of one quad-core 1.5Ghz A53 and one quad-core 1.0Ghz A53 core, while the Ultra 7 features an octa-core Mediatek MT6755M processor, comprised of one quad-core 1.8GHz A53 and one 1.0GHz A53 core. Both feature 2GB of RAM and while the Smart Ultra 6 features an Adreno 405 GPU, the Smart Ultra 7 features a Mali-T860 GPU.

However, when we compared our benchmark results to the Smart Ultra 6, we were fairly surprised. As you can see from the chart below, the Smart Ultra 7 came out worse in both GFXBench tests, although it bested the year-old Smart Ultra 6 in the GeekBench 3 results. The Smart Ultra 7 scored 5.3fps in Manhattan while the Smart Ultra 6 scored 5.7fps, and the Smart Ultra 7 scored 13fps while the Smart Ultra 6 scored 14fps.

GeekBench 3 changes the tide for the Smart Ultra 7 though, as the Ultra 7 bested the 6 by quite a bit, scoring 3002 compared to the 2469 offering of the Ultra 6. We can’t compare JetStream test results, which test the browser speed, as we were using a different method of testing when we reviewed the Smart Ultra 6, but the Smart Ultra 7 scored an impressive (for its price) 22.6.

The Smart Ultra 7 features 16GB of internal storage and while that is okay for some, those of you that require a bit more space will be happy to learn that much like the Smart Ultra 6, the Smart Ultra 7 also features a MicroSD card slot. The MicroSD card slot allows Smart Ultra 7 users to expand their built-in storage by up to 128GB.

The smartphone also features a 2960mAh battery, but even though the rear plate is removable, the battery itself isn’t. The smartphone doesn’t feature any kind of fast-charging technology either, which means it does take a while to charge the high-capacity battery, although battery life is generally okay, lasting us the day without any real issue. We’ll run a battery test in the coming days and let you know the results soon!

Smart Ultra 7 review: Cameras

In terms of cameras, the Smart Ultra 7 features a front-facing 5Mp camera and a rear-facing 13Mp camera with autofocus and flash, which is the same as its processor, although we’re not sure if the tech inside is the same. Why? Because while we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the camera of the Smart Ultra 6, we can’t say the same about the Smart Ultra 7.

Sure, the cameras featured on the Smart Ultra 7 produce images that are fairly detailed and crisp, but the colour reproduction is terrible and the photos are washed out in direct sunlight, no matter how much we tried to combat it – even in HDR, the photos were unbalanced. Also, we’ve noticed that if anything moves when taking a photo in HDR (like cars driving by) this will cause a ghosting effect – probably due to poor processing power, amongst other factors.

Here’s what we mean – above is a sample of images taken on the Smart Ultra 6 (normal on left, HDR on right) and below is a sample of images taken on the Smart Ultra 7.

The 5Mp front-facing selfie camera is okay, but without any autofocus technology there’s not much to write home about – it’ll suffice for the likes of Skype and the odd selfie, but not much else. Vodafone chose to add a front-facing flash to the Smart Ultra 7 and while we’ve found that it does indeed brighten up dark selfies, harsh flashes aren’t the most flattering. But maybe that’s just us!

In terms of video, you can expect 1080p HD at 30fps from the Smart Ultra 7, and much like its predecessor, it doesn’t feature digital or optical image stabilisation. This means that even with the sturdiest of hands, you’re likely to see a bit of shakiness from videos captured on the Smart Ultra 7.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Connectivity

So, what does the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 offer in terms of connectivity? One of the biggest draws of the Ultra 7 is that it offers 4G connectivity on a budget. It’s worth noting that even though the smartphone offers 4G connectivity, you’re tied to using it on Vodafone (obviously!) unless you want to pay the extra to get the smartphone unlocked. We’ve been testing Vodafone’s 4G network on the Smart Prime 7 and can report average 4G speeds of 3.63MB download, a whopping 14.42MB upload and 24 ping.

Along with 4G connectivity, the Smart Ultra 7 offers Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band, providing users with the option to connect to newer, faster 5GHz Wi-Fi connections when not roaming around on Vodafone’s 4G. Along with Wi-Fi, the Smart Ultra 7 offers Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, GPS and a number of sensors, including an accelerometer, proximity sensor and compass.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Software

The Smart Ultra 7 comes packing Android Marshmallow 6.0, boasting a similarly Nexus-esque level of bloatware – aka almost none. Yes, the Vodafone branding is prominent throughout the hardware and software of the Smart Ultra 7, but the number of pre-installed Vodafone apps is surprisingly low. Okay, it still comes with Messages+ and Call+ and these can’t be deleted as they replace the stock message and phone apps, but the Vodafone updates app gives you the option of what bloatware to install when you first run the software.

It’s a nice relaxed approach to bloatware and we hope that other manufacturers will follow suit at some point in the future.

Apart from that, it’s a fairly standard Android Marshmallow experience featuring improvements over Android 5.0 Lollipop, including visual changes to the lock screen, dropdown notification centre, volume controls and more, along with Google Now on Tap, a contextual version of Google Now. For more information about what’s available in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, take a look at our Android Marshmallow release date and features article.  

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Vodafone Smart Ultra 7: Specs

  • 152.2 x 78.1 x 8.7mm
  • 150g
  • 5.5in Full HD IPS display
  • Mediatek MT6755M processor with 2GB RAM
  • Mali-T860MP2 GPU
  • 16GB storage, expandable via MicroSD
  • 13Mp rear-facing camera with autofocus and flash
  • Front-facing 5Mp camera with flash
  • 1080p HD video at 30fps
  • 4G connectivity
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • NFC
  • GPS
  • Non-removable 2960mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow