When you are on a budget, one of the biggest questions you must answer is which features you are willing to compromise on. Whether it’s a lower resolution display, less RAM, less capable cameras, poor build quality, or perhaps an underpowered processor, these are all things you must consider. There’s a host of budget smartphones to choose from, and most tend to compromise at least one area. Here in the United Kingdom, the Moto G (2015) is often viewed as the go-to device for people with limited budgets, but perhaps there’s an alternative, the Smart Ultra 6 that is available from Vodafone UK for just £115.
The Smart Ultra 6 has a unibody design. But, before you get your hopes up with thoughts of the HTC One M9 and its beautiful aesthetics, without being too blunt about it, the Smart Ultra 6 is fairly bland. While many unibody designs will strive for a smooth, sleek appearance without a noticeable seam along the length of the device, the Smart Ultra 6 has gone the other way.
For some reason, the designers went out of their way to put a fake seam on the Smart Ultra 6 that makes it appear as if its has a removable rear panel, except it doesn’t. It isn’t the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a smartphone, it’s just a little odd. On to the dimensions, and the Smart Ultra 6 is 154 x 77 x 8.35mm and weighs 159 grams. For a 5.5-inch handset, it’s quite pocketable, being a couple of millimeters narrower than my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The bezels aren’t the thinnest you’ve every seen, but then again, they aren’t the biggest either with the handset having a screen-to-body ratio of 70.3%.
The silver volume and power buttons are both on the right-hand-side of the display. The power button is in the middle of the phone, which is far too low for my personal liking but that’s just my preference. The buttons themselves are responsive, easy to find, and reward each press with a satisfying clicking sound. Navigation achieved by way of the on-screen buttons, and there’s a neat blue LED light for notifications that also serves as the Home button.
There’s a speaker on the rear of the handset, along with the Vodafone logo. Up top is the 3.5mm audio socket, with a microSD card slot on the left-hand side of the phone. On the right-hand-side is the SIM slot, just above the volume buttons. As you might expect, the micro-USB port is present on the bottom end of the handset.
When I say the Smart Ultra 6 is bland and inoffensive, don’t get me wrong. The build quality is good, the handset doesn’t creak or bend, and the glass feels sturdy enough. The Smart ultra 6 isn’t a terrible looking handset either, unlike some budget devices that are around. But it is bland, albeit inoffensive. The grey metallic plastic is not unpleasant to hold, the material isn’t terribly slippy in the hand, and it serves its purpose. Thankfully, a case can definitely smarten it up and add some bling if needed. If grey isn’t your thing, the Smart Ultra 6 is also available in silver.
The Smart Ultra 6 features a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS LCD display, Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, Adreno 405, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, a 13MP rear camera, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Smart Ultra 6 is nippy. The Snapdragon 615 is a mid-range processor with 8 Cortex A53 cores providing enough grunt to play the high-end games such as Asphalt 8 with acceptable frame rates. While the Smart Ultra 6 isn’t going to set new benchmark records, it will do the job, without noticeable strain. The rear of the handset doesn’t become overly hot, but it does get warm after playing Asphalt 8 for around 30mins. Although the Snapdragon 615 does its job well, it is possible to make it stutter now and again. For reference, the Smart Ultra 6 scores 2359 on Geekbench 3, and 31192 on Antutu.
Where some affordable handsets fall down when it comes to the display, here the Smart Ultra 6 carries on going. It’s 5.5-inch Full HD LCD display, with In-Plane-Switching (IPS) technology allows for impressive viewing angles and vibrant colours. I think it’s safe to say that you won’t find a better display on a similarly priced handset. Possibly the only letdown with the display is the lack of an automatic brightness option.
The speaker on the rear of the handset offers a rather middling performance. Its single driver sounds a little thin and isn’t anything to write home about, but, it is acceptable and delivers its top volume without distorting. Call quality is also at a good level, with callers able to hear you talk clearly. You won’t be scratching your ears off, but you also won’t want to be using the Smart Ultra as a portable speaker for any length of time.
While the handset is naturally locked to the Vodafone network, it is possible to unlock the Smart Ultra 6 with a minimum of fuss thanks to the unlock codes found on Ebay, which only around £4.
On to the battery and here the 3000mAh battery really helps the Smart Ultra 6 stand out. Despite having to provide the juice for a large 5.5-inch Full HD display, the battery manages to hold out for around 2 days with light usage. For normal usage, most users should manage to get through the day without having to charge. I found that by 9 PM, I had around 15% left, after the usual notifications, calls and texts, social media, checking accounts and emails, 20-30 mins gaming, and around 20 minutes of YouTube. As with pretty everything else about the Smart Ultra 6, it’s a good result. Not fantastic, not terrible, but firmly in the middle. On average I managed around 4 and a half hours of screen-on time.
Quite often we see these overbearing custom UI’s on Android handsets, whether they are cheap or expensive. Thankfully, Vodafone has refrained from putting its stamp on proceedings, leaving an almost stock Android 5.1.1 Lollipop experience. On that topic, there’s no word as yet when, or if, an update to Marshmallow is forthcoming.
While there are a few pre-installed apps present, that would appear to be the extent of Vodafone’s meddling. Even the wallpapers are stock Android, which is no bad thing. One feature that is missing, however, in common with stock Android, is the ability to see the battery percentage in the status bar. One way to get around it is by installing an app such as Circle Battery Widget from the Play Store.
Let’s get to the pre-installed apps. While the apps themselves are no blight on the handset, Vodafone has somehow decided that these apps are to be front and centre when opening the app drawer. There are seven apps pre-installed, and luckily you can uninstall 5 of them while the other two can be disabled. Other than possibly the Smart Tips and Smart Flow apps, you’ll probably find the pre-installed apps to be fairly pointless.
Updates: Lets you install more Vodafone applications
Direct Access: Links directly to Vodafone’s accessory store
Message: Vodafone’s free messaging app.
Discover: Helps you discover other Vodafone services
My Web: A shortcut to a Vodafone web page
Smart Flow: A wallpaper app that cycles through images. When it works it’s ok
Smart Tips: Helpful hints on how to use the Smart Ultra 6, and its features
It would seem that almost all the mid-range budget phones are using a 13MP sensor for the rear camera, and here the Smart Ultra 6 is no different. Features such as HDR, Panorama, Smile Detection, Multi-Exposure as well as the option to add a filter to your masterpiece are present. You can choose between three modes: Manual, Automatic or Mode which gives you access to the features previously mentioned.
As to the quality of the images, that can be a bit of a mixed bag, but for the most part, the sensor copes adequately when taking pictures in good lighting. In low-light conditions, however, the sensor does struggle to give sharp, detailed results, and can look a little washed out. For a £125, the camera is more than acceptable, so long as you are okay with chucking out the odd photo here and there. You can check out the sample shots I took with the Smart Ultra 6 below.
Vodafone partnered up with ZTE to develop the Smart Ultra 6, and the result is a handset boasting an impressive array of components for a very affordable price. Yes, the design is somewhat uninspired and nondescript, but it isn’t terribly offensive, and you can always put a case on it to add a bit of excitement. No, the camera is not going to compete with the Galaxy Note 5, and yes, the Snapdragon 615 can stutter at times when you are racing through the apps. But for a handset with a Full HD display, a beefy battery, and competent cameras that usually costs just £115, it’s downright appealing.
I would say that the Smart Ultra 6 is the definitive budget smartphone in the UK at the moment. If you are on a tight budget, this is the mobile phone you should be looking at. For £115, you just can’t go wrong.