Mainstream manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and HTC all offer handsets at the entry-level market, but these are usually designed with profits in mind, resulting in lower specs than is possible at the price tag. By comparison, carriers often offer better specs but couple them with large amounts of bloatware that ultimately results in a poorer experience.
Over the past couple of years, carriers in the UK have been progressively branching out by offering better handsets at reasonable prices (instead of focusing on an affordable price tag) and on paper, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 definitely achieves this by combining premium specs with a price point that should be affordable for all.
What does the handset bring to the table and is this a smartphone you should be considering as your next phone? Let’s take a look, in this in-depth Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 review.
In terms of design, the Smart Ultra 6 definitely looks like a handset where the end goal was a reasonable price tag. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the context of the Smart Ultra 6 as a whole, it does mean that you’re left with a very uninspiring design that is essentially just a large grey slate with a couple of unique features.
Measuring 154 x 77 mm, the handset is definitely on the larger side, and at 8.4 mm thick, it’s one of the thicker handsets. Given the price tag though, it was unlikely we would get a smartphone that aims to rival the race to be the thinnest smartphone (which is currently the Vivo V5 Max at 4.75 mm thick).
The two unique parts of the Smart Ultra 6 design are both good and bad; on the positive side, the middle of the three capacitive buttons beneath the display is the home button which doubles up as a notification light by flashing when you have an unread item. On the other side however, the handset has a contoured edge which is definitely strange, as it is a unibody device and the contoured edge goes against the concept of a unibody design.
While the Smart Ultra 6 is definitely not the sleekest or most interesting looking smartphone, the design is functional and the 159 grams’ weight ensures the handset feels comfortable and sturdy in the hand. Despite the plastic rear that aims to look like metal from afar – which it doesn’t by the way – the handset is somewhat resistant to scratching and has a premium feel in the hand that you might not expect.
Overall, the Smart Ultra 6 design definitely meets the target that Vodafone were going for. A hybrid of the ZTE Blade S6 and Blade S6 Plus, the Smart Ultra 6 takes the best parts of ZTE’s smartphones and improves them to deliver an impressive, if uninspiring, design.
One of the biggest positives on the Smart Ultra 6 specs list is the display as this is where Vodafone have set a new benchmark; the handset is affordable yet offers a Full HD display that many other handsets fail to offer at even higher price tags.
The 5.5-inch panel uses IPS technology and the Full HD resolutions delivers a very impressive 401 pixels per inch density. As a comparison, the Huawei Honor 6 Plus also offers a 5.5-inch Full HD display with the same pixel density, but costs more than double the price in the UK.
Like several affordable smartphones, Vodafone haven’t delivered a bezel free experience with large bezels all around the display resulting in a slightly less premium experience. This are a couple of very minor drawbacks as the 70.3% screen-to-body ratio is certainly higher than a lot of smartphones at this price point. The handset is definitely a fingerprint magnet but these are small issues that don’t detract away too much from the overall experience.
Overall, the Smart Ultra 6 display is certainly impressive as it is large and vibrant, which is even more surprising given the reasonable price tag. It’s not the best display on the market as sunlight legibility is a little suspect but overall, definitely impressive given the handset’s target market.
Under the hood is where the Smart Ultra 6 is slightly inferior to higher priced competitors (albeit not very much at all) as it is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor with four cores clocked at 1.5GHz and four more at 1.0 GHz. The handset is certainly not the fastest on the market but more than makes up for this with clever software optimisations and a healthy 2GB RAM.
The Smart Ultra 6 also comes with an Adreno 405 Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) and while there were certainly a few examples of slow game loading times and the odd missed frame in the middle of resource intensive games, overall graphics performance was certainly more than satisfactory. For most users, the processor, RAM and GPU will all be more than ample for daily usage.
One of the biggest decisions in the Smart Ultra 6 is the software as – apart from a few preloaded apps that can be disabled or uninstalled – Vodafone have opted for stock Android. In hindsight, the decision proves to be completely justified as the handset shows no signs of slow down even with lots of data installed and real-world performance in on-par with most flagship smartphones. The internal storage is 16GB with around 10-11 GB available to use and while this isn’t a lot, the microSD card slot will allow you to expand this as much as you need.
While most carrier branded handsets come with as much preloaded bloatware as possible, the Smart Ultra 6 bucks the trend and as a results, delivers performance and the Android experience as Google imagined it to be. If you’re looking for a low-cost handset that’s almost a blank slate for you to customise as you see fit, the Smart Ultra 6 is a good bet and is a shining example the experience that all carrier-branded devices (or any other smartphone really) should deliver.
One of the key things that sets the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 apart from the competition is the impressive specs list; most reasonably priced smartphones tend to be a result of several compromises in the various design stages but the Smart Ultra 6 has very few – if any – compromises in the impressive hardware.
The handset is LTE Cat 4 enabled offering download speeds of up to 150Mbps and upload speeds of up to 50Mbps when connected to a compatible network. The handset does keep locked to LTE fairly well and it has a strong antenna with very few examples of dropped calls and/or signal issues. The handset is surprisingly pleasant to use on a call as the earpiece speaker delivers rich sound that’s loud enough for most scenarios but the rear facing speaker leaves a little to be desired and can be muffled when held in your hand.
The handset comes with a 3000 mAh battery, which – despite the contoured edges which suggest otherwise – is non-removable, but the battery capacity itself is definitely commendable as it is on par with most premium smartphones. The large capacity is also reflected in the battery life, with the Smart Ultra 6 delivering an average of 14-16 hours with heavy usage on a single charge, including around four hours’ screen-on-time. For low users, the standby time is between three and four days and overall, the battery life should definitely be enough for all but the heaviest of users.
Carrier branded devices have usually compromised somewhere but looking at the Smart Ultra 6 specs list, it’s difficult to list one feature that’s a bad compromise. The handset doesn’t have all the features of a handset like the Galaxy S6 that costs nearly four times the price but this is to be expected and given the target market, the Smart Ultra 6 hardware is certainly impressive.
Smartphone cameras are proving to be ever important with manufacturers focusing on delivering not only a large megapixel count but also optimised algorithms to produce the best smartphone camera possible. Given the eventual price tag of the Smart Ultra 6, you could be forgiven for thinking that Vodafone have compromised on the camera but while that is somewhat correct, on a whole, the camera is adequate for most uses.
The handset sports a 13MP rear camera and uses the stock camera app to deliver an easy-to-use yet feature-rich interface. With a simple swipe next to the shutter button, you can switch between Manual, Auto and the various modes, which include the useful Filters, Multi-Exposure and HDR modes. Overall camera performance is pretty good and although some images do come out a little noisier than they seem in the viewfinder, the handset does produce images that should keep most users happy.
The 13MP camera also offers Full HD video capture at 30 frames per second and along with the ability to shoot at various resolutions, there’s also a time-lapse feature letting you create excellent videos from the handset and focus lock allowing to keep the camera locked on a particular subject when recording a video. When connected to the front 5MP camera, the video recording drops to a maximum of 720p HD but this still delivers good enough selfies and videos for most use cases, including video conferencing.
While the Smart Ultra 6 doesn’t have the most impressive camera, it does deliver a very practical and usable camera that produces impressive photos. Again it’s worth remembering that the price and target market of the Smart Ultra 6 mean the bells and whistles found in the camera on more expensive smartphones aren’t offered in order to keep the overall price tag reasonable. Compared to other handsets in the same target market, the Smart Ultra 6 has arguably the best camera in the low-end market.
As mentioned, Vodafone have restrained from really developing the software on the Smart Ultra 6 and as long as you like stock Android, you’ll find the software meets your needs. Most carriers tend to add to the software experience – most of the time they add a lot of bloatware – but Vodafone’s decision ensures that performance is smooth and snappy.
The result of no additions apart from a few preloaded apps that can be disabled or uninstalled is that some things don’t seem quite right. Although this is a stock Android problem and not a Vodafone issue, the lack of customisation in the app drawer and the very basic home screen management may alienate Android users who are considering switching from an OEM device. This is a shame as the overall experience is otherwise very impressive and the stock software means the handset remains fast and punctual even after adding lots of data and applications.
One thing that might be a particular issue going forward is future updates as carriers are often quite slow with (or never bother to release) updates for their own-branded devices. Given that the Smart Ultra 6 runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop out of the box, this isn’t necessarily an immediate problem but may become something of an issue when the next Android M OS is released towards the end of the year. One factor behind the decision to switch to stock Android over a customised ROM could be so that Vodafone are able to deliver timely updates but this remains to be seen.
13 MP rear camera with single LED flash, 1080p video
5 MP front-facing camera, 720p video
HSPA, LTE Cat4 150/50 Mbps
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct
Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
3,000 mAh non-removable
Android 5.1 Lollipop
154 x 77 x 8.4 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
Throughout this review, we’ve touched on the price tag but as yet, we haven’t revealed it and there’s a very good reason; the price tag is simply unbelievable. Considering that rivals such as the OnePlus One and Huawei Honor 6 Plus offer similar specs but cost between £250 ($390) and £300 ($470), the Smart Ultra 6’s price tag of just £125 ($195) without a contract is simply outstanding.
Most carrier branded devices aim to offer a relatively good experience at an affordable or reasonable price but do compromise in several places yet the Smart Ultra 6 doesn’t and instead, Vodafone have added the best specs that could possibly have been used while keeping the handset affordable.
While it may not offer the marketing gimmicks and additional features that allow Vodafone to shout about the handset, the Smart Ultra 6 quietly and unassumingly goes about its role of providing an excellent experience and if you’re in the market for an affordable large-screen handset, look no further than Vodafone’s latest smartphone.
there’s a new king in town and the Smart Ultra 6 could have a long and fruitful reign
It may cost you $10-$15 to unlock it for use on any carrier but the price tag and feature set combine to deliver the most impressive low-cost smartphone experience ever made. Many thought the Motorola Moto G was the low-cost smartphone king but this has been dethroned as there’s a new king in town and the Smart Ultra 6 could have a long and fruitful reign.