The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is a tablet for a very mainstream buyer, the kind of person who might have once bought a Tesco Hudl, a classic budget tablet.
This one is a little different, though. Instead of just buying it outright you get it ‘free’ with a 4G contract, starting at £16 per month. It’s a 4G tablet, the kind you might use to watch Netflix while on a boring train journey.
For £16 a month you get the tablet and 5GB of data (per month), enough for around ten hours of SD-quality video streaming. The plans creep up in intervals to £31 a month, which offers a tasty 50GB of data.
These are 24-month contracts, though, so in total the £16 deal will cost you £384.
If that puts you off you can also buy the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 outright for £129, which includes 6GB of data (lasting 90 days). After that you can ‘top up’ with data packs, starting at £5 for 250MB, moving up to £25 for 15GB.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is undoubtedly one of the cheapest 4G tablets around. However, the hardware is also rather uninspiring, and doesn’t do justice to high-end games and apps. To some extent that’s to be expected, but does it strike a reasonable balance of price to performance?
Basic specs and a big, but low-res screen
Cheapest slate offering 4G speeds
This is a basic tablet, there are no advanced features beyond a 4G SIM slot.
The CPU is fairly weak, the screen is low-res and performance won’t get anyone excited. Those with a lot of tablet experience will be able to taste the compromise, and there’s a bitterness to it.
However, there’s also no other recent 4G tablet at the price from a recognised brand. The Asus ZenPad 10 Z300M costs around the same amount, but is a Wi-Fi only device. The Amazon Fire HD 10 is £50 more but has a far more powerful CPU, although still no 4G, and the 4G Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 is over twice the price.
There’s 16GB of storage here and a fairly decent 2GB of RAM, but this is really just the minimum to ensure the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 isn’t painful to use.
Similarly, the cameras are low-spec, with a 5MP sensor on the back and a 2MP one on the front. Neither can take great photos.
It may all sound damning, but we don’t expect more than the bottom-rung essentials at the price.
Two features that are welcome little extras include stereo speakers and perfectly good colour reproduction in the display. That’s enough to elevate the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 to a decent buy if the price and 4G sound spot-on to you.
Design and display
Simple plastic build, not pretty or interesting
Low-res 10.1-inch screen
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is a big tablet with a 10.1-inch screen. This size of tablet is no longer all that popular, and new models don’t appear that often – though with Apple now switching to bigger tablets it’s possible that 10-inch+ Android slates will grow in popularity.
Either way, it’s reassuring to see the style of 10-inch widescreen Android tablets has at least changed a little. The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 doesn’t have giant expanses of black around the display like old models. That said, it is a bit longer than the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1.
Its build is also rather basic. You’re not going to convince yourself this is anything but an entry-level tablet.
On the Vodafone Smart Tab N8’s back there’s black plastic with a tight-knit texture of embossed lines. Vodafone uses the same design on the Smart N8 phone. It doesn’t work quite as well here but it is better than a flat block of grey plastic, which is what you get with some older Vodafone devices.
The tablet is 465g and is 8.95mm thick. We find 8-inch tablets a bit better for portable use, but the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 will slip into a bag very easily. There’s no carry case or bag included, though, and you might want to get hold of one if you’re going to take this tablet on your daily commute.
After all, the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 doesn’t have the Gorilla Glass protection of some more expensive tablets. The glass on the front is toughened, but it’s a no-brand type without more advanced extras like fingerprint smudge resistance.
There’s also no water resistance. The little flap on the side that covers the microSD and SIM slot is a basic piece of plastic: no rubber seal.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8's screen is 10.1 inches across, which seems massive when you’re used to a phone display. It’s like moving from a 26-inch bedroom TV to a 65-inch one.
This is great for video in particular. However, the size doesn’t half show off the limited resolution of the Vodafone Smart Tab N8. This is a 1280 x 800 IPS LCD, resulting in a low 149ppi pixel density.
Depending on the part of the software you’re looking at, it’ll either appear significantly pixelated or very soft. There’s also slight patterning to the panel, making it look like there are very fine lines running top to bottom across the display when the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is on its side. It can be distracting.
This is not a great screen, and its structure is dated too. Switch it off and the display part looks grey rather than black because there are air gaps between its layers, which cause a little bit of light to be reflected. It also means this grey is your ‘base’ black, limiting contrast.
The best part of the screen is colour, which is rather good for a budget tablet. Videos and games look rich and vibrant as soon as your eyes have adjusted to the lower resolution.
Interface and reliability
Android 7.0, mostly as Google intended
A bit of Vodafone bloat, but not rivers of the stuff
A little laggy, but not game-ending stuff
One of the best bits about Vodafone’s Android devices is that they use a near-vanilla version of Android, in this case Android 7.0.
There are simple home screens you can have your way with, and an apps menu that’s just a grid of icons on a ‘white page’.
Recently we reviewed the Amazon Fire HD 8 and the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is so much cleaner, simpler and more customisable. You can make this tablet feel like a digital ‘home’ with very little effort: it’s more a struggle with an Amazon tablet.
Android still doesn’t feel like a system made perfect for tablets, but unless you’re expecting to be able to max-out on the extra screen space you’ll be happy. And a load more app icons fit in the apps menu than on an Android phone.
There’s also relatively little bloat for a tablet branded with the Vodafone name. There are three Vodafone apps, and as long as you’re not buying this as just a cheapish Wi-Fi tablet, some are actually pretty useful.
You can look at your account balance, for example. The Accessories app is pure bloat, though, just a direct link to a web page that sells earphones and the like.
We think many will prefer the Vodafone style to the heavy-handed Amazon tablet approach.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is not a very fast tablet, but it has enough RAM, at 2GB, to avoid slug-like performance and while the 1.1GHz quad-core MediaTek MT8735B CPU is not all that powerful, it is at least a 64-bit CPU with ‘current’ Cortex-A53 cores.
Real-life performance is only fair, though. There’s intermittent lag when zipping through certain parts of apps or moving between them.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 screen is often slow to rotate when you turn the tablet around, the keyboard often takes a beat to show up and there’s occasionally a wait as you flick between parts of Google Play, for example.
That’s because while the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 has what we consider the basics needed for decent performance with Android 7.0, there’s not much slack here. The RAM is rather slow, as is the internal storage (with read speeds of 71MB/s).
Crucially, though, it’s at a level that isn’t constantly annoying to use. As long as the tablet isn’t downloading something in the background, anyway, which makes the lag far more common. The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 isn’t built for multi-tasking.
Movies, music and gaming
A big screen is always good for movies
High-end games don’t run that well
Stereo speakers but limited sound quality
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 may not have an amazing screen, but watching YouTube videos on it is a reminder of why sometimes bigger is simply better. Watching a movie on this is going to be more pleasurable than doing so on a Samsung Galaxy S8.
That’s as long as you can get over the fine lines the pixel structure leaves over the screen, anyway. These are apparent when the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is displaying darker content.
You don’t need to worry too much about the resolution when watching movies, as 720p content looks rather good on the display.
The low resolution is a lot clearer in 3D games, where you’ll see a lot of ‘jaggies’ in titles like Asphalt 8. High-end games like this also show the limits of the low-end CPU/GPU. At the default graphics setting, it’s too slow to be fun. Drop down one level of visual fidelity and it’s playable but still a tiny bit slow.
Asphalt 8 actually works best at ‘Low’ graphics, which turns it back into the smooth and fast game Gameloft designed. However, it also means you lose out on some textures and reflections. It’s still loads of fun, though.
But not every game lets you fiddle with the graphics. Real Racing 3 doesn’t have manually scalable visuals, and the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 struggles with it. The frame rate is noticeably shaky, making the game less fun than it should be.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8’s speakers are passable, their main strength being the stereo front-loaded drivers. This gets you proper stereo sound when you hold the tablet in front of you.
However, the tone is a bit thin, lacking the smoothness and power of the best tablet speakers, but it's the best you can hope for in a bottom rung tablet.
Specs and benchmark performance
Fairly poor Geekbench 4 results
Lower-performing than Amazon’s sub-£100 Fire HD 8
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8’s chipset is a MediaTek MT8735B, a CPU with four 1.1GHz Cortex-A53 cores. This is a low-end chipset, but comparable with some other budget tablets.
It has a dual-core Mali MT720 graphics chip, another low-end but reasonably capable component.
In Geekbench 4 the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 averages a multi-core score of 1,309 points. This is significantly lower than the 1,887 of the Fire HD 8.
It’s surprisingly low, actually, when the two tablets have comparable specs when you look at the numbers: four Cortex-A53 cores and a Mali T720 GPU. It’s no wonder the Vodafone tablet struggles with quite a lot of games.
6 hour battery life for movies and gaming
Micro USB charging but no fast charge
A few parts of the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 are real baseline elements, with battery life being another weak link compared to the competition.
It has a 4,600mAh cell, which is giant for a phone, but this isn’t a phone. The Lenovo Tab 2 A10-30, for example, has a 7,000mAh battery.
Playing a 90-minute movie at maximum brightness takes 25% off the battery, suggesting it will last just six hours. The Amazon Fire HD 8 for comparison dropped just 17% in the same test.
Half an hour of Real Racing 3 lops 9% off the battery, which points to 5.5 hours of gaming off a charge. This is actually a much better result than we see with video, suggesting the issue is really power management, as gaming stamina should be much lower than that of video, not just a little lower.
We see this sort of effect throughout the Vodafone Smart Tab N8. The CPU doesn’t seem to scale well, making the battery drain quicker than we’d like with light tasks. Battery level also seems to drip down quicker than we’d like in standby.
Poor 5MP rear camera
Basic 2MP selfie camera
Slow but reasonably effective HDR mode
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 has the kind of camera array that you see in budget tablets because these things must have two cameras. It might as well be the law. There’s no mandate for ‘good cameras’, though.
There’s a 5MP camera on the back and a 2MP one on the front. Neither has a flash.
The rear camera doesn’t even have autofocus, making it impossible to take true close-ups. In just about every respect this is a very weak camera.
Shooting speed is a little slow, and when you switch to HDR the speed drops even further. You need to stay still for a couple of seconds to avoid ghosting in your HDR shots.
Like other low-end 5MP cameras, the Vodafone Smart Tab N8’s photos have very limited detail, they don’t hold up well when you zoom in, at all.
Night shots look dark or noisy, or both, and the low-quality lens tends to smear strong light sources.
Use HDR for a well-lit daylight shot, though, and the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 can take the odd passable pic.
Around the front the 2MP camera is another low-end piece of hardware. However, it can reproduce skin tones reasonably. Ish. And it gives the kids something to play with.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 is a very affordable 4G tablet, but not a great one. Its performance is compromised, the screen is pixelated, the design typical entry-level fodder and the cameras are uninspiring.
No-one ever claimed this was a disruptive master among tablets that could blast rivals twice the price, though. If you must have 4G it’s one of the cheapest options around, and the whole price isn’t that much greater than the 4G upgrade for an iPad.
However, it makes us miss the good old days of real bargain tablets like the Nexus 7 and Tesco Hudl 2. We don’t seem to have made much progress since then.
Who’s this for?
Want a cheap tablet? Demand 4G? Vodafone has its eyes on you. The cheapest iPad with 4G costs £469, showing why mobile internet tablets have remained a bit of a niche interest.
So this tablet is aimed at anyone who’s on a tight budget but wants speedy mobile data and a sizeable screen.
Should you buy it?
There are currently no fantastic 10-inch tablets at this price. The Acer, Asus and Lenovo models all have their issues, and none has 4G as standard.
We can’t give the Vodafone Smart Tab N8 a full recommendation because it’s not really any better than some models several years old. Tablet progress in this area is static. However, if you limit your expectations it can still be a lot of fun, and a good partner for boring journeys.
The Vodafone Smart Tab N8 isn't the only budget tablet you might want to consider. The following four are alternative options.
Lenovo Tab A10-30
The Lenovo Tab A10-30 is not a desperately interesting tablet. It has the same so-so power as the Vodafone tablet, dull design and a low-resolution screen. And it doesn’t have 4G to give it an edge either.
However, its battery life is much better, with a 7,000mAh cell that claims to last for up to 16 hours of video. That will be with the screen set to a fairly dim level, but it will easily outlast the Vodafone Smart Tab N8.
Amazon Fire HD 10
Amazon’s Fire HD series tablets are now known for their good value. The 10-inch version isn’t too much of a bargain, though. It’s more expensive than the Vodafone tablet but doesn’t have a higher-resolution screen or mobile internet. And not everyone likes the heavy-handed Amazon software.
It does have more power on tap than the Vodafone tablet though, as while its cores are from an older generation, it uses a couple that used to be the bedrock of high-end mobile device performance.
If you want to take the step up from the Vodafone Smart Tab N8, the biggest-name option outside of a far more expensive iPad is the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1. The 4G version is twice the price, but shows what you get with the next level up.
It has a far sharper 1200 x 1920 screen, an octa-core chipset, a much larger battery and better rear camera.
Huawei T1 Pro 8
This is an ancient tablet but is currently being sold at EE as the low-cost option for those who want a cheap connected tablet. It’s old and mostly past it, though.
Screen resolution is as low as the Vodafone tablet, the version of Android used is out of date and the CPU is even weaker. Due to the old Android version it may function reasonably well, but it’s hard to recommend a tablet with several old parts.