Smart thinking from Vodafone for best device of year
Tech focus: Vodafone Smart V8
€199 from Vodafone stores or Vodafone.ie
If you're looking for a budget smartphone that performs beyond its price tag, Vodafone's new Smart V8 is my choice as the best device of the year.
The 5.5-inch handset, a rebadged version of ZTE's VFD 710 model, is unusually well-designed for a device that costs under €200. The 16-megapixel camera, full HD screen, fingerprint reader and 32GB of storage is considerably more than you'd expect for a phone in this price range.
The phone's design is, too. It has really nice chamfered metal sides that give it a premium feel. This effect is also seen on the buttons, which are arranged slightly differently to most Android devices with the power button on the left side of the device.
The phone has a single 16-megapixel camera on the back, just above its fingerprint reader. This is accompanied by an LED flash, a bonus compared to the non-flash cameras you usually get at this price point.
The camera is pretty decent. There's good detail, low-light performance is fine and the colour looks reasonable. There are lots of different shooting modes, too. It's not as good as top iPhones or Samsungs and there's no 4K video recording. But this is hardly a sacrifice: I don't know of any real use for 4K video recording on a smartphone for casual use - 1080p 'full HD' is absolutely fine; the phone has a basic stabilisation process at play too when you're recording.
One area that cheap phones often compromise on is the screen. Happily, that isn't really the case on the Smart V8. It's 5.5-inch display has a really crisp full HD (401ppi) resolution. Videos look great on it.
But there definitely are some compromises. The biggest one is probably its comparative slowness in downloading very large files. If you only download things like photos and small apps, you won't notice this. But big files take considerably longer, because the V8 doesn't have high end wifi tech like the iPhone or pricier Samsung devices.
Other areas you'll see compromises include the speakers, which are noticeably below the standard of premium phones. In fact, they're positively tinny. Personally, this doesn't bother me as 99pc of my phone listening is with headphones.
A minor trade-off is having to initially put up with a bunch of Vodafone apps that you probably don't want and won't use. These include Accessories, Call+ and Message+, basically a bunch of services utterly redundant in an age of WhatsApp and Messenger. The 'My Vodafone' has a little more relevance, giving you access to balances on your account. Thankfully, you can remove all of these from your home screen.
One might also argue that Vodafone's Android skin means you don't quite have every last feature of top modern Android devices, such as the latest launcher. However, I don't think many people will be put out by this, or even notice it.
This uses the old MicroUSB charging standard, which means it's not quite as fast to power up as some rival sets, but the good news is that you already have umpteen cables and chargers that work with it. Replacements are also the cheapest of any charging apparatus.
Finally, I like that it places the fingerprint scanner on the back, recessed, below the camera lens. Putting it here means that you're unlikely to mix it up with one of the camera lenses, meaning that lens should remain smudge-free.
As the name suggests, this is a Vodafone-only handset. But for the more than 40pc of Irish phone users on that network, this is a pretty compelling proposition.
In all, I must say that this has unexpectedly turned out to be the best budget smartphone of the year. For the money, you're getting a device you'd expect to pay almost double for.