When asked if I'd like to check out Vodafone's house branded Smart 4 mini I was intrigued.
Priced at a wallet pleasing $99, the Smart 4 mini is an entry-level smartphone offering that has several nifty features including HD voice support along with a pocket pleasing $99 sticker price.
Look & Feel
The mini's build is definitely budget. This said, it felt like a definite step up from the usual run of the mill Tupperware budget smartphone fare in that there was no noticeable flexing or creaking when handling it. Looks-wise it sports a predictable plain black glossy front complete with touch sensitive buttons. Its rear sports a light grey finish and a nifty looking camera-speaker grille combo.
Cracking open its removable rear cover revealed a removable battery, a SIM and microSD slot. Vodafone earns brownie points here for the inclusion of a MicroSD slot, which will be a boon for those with large media collections and is rarely seen in smartphones at this price point. It also extends the usefulness of the Smart 4 mini's 4GB of on-board storage.
Under the Hood
One of the first giveaways that you're using a budget smartphone is typically its screen. They're usually small and low resolution affairs. The mini's 4" 480x800 screen might be small, but at 233ppi it's on par with several other expensive handsets and isn't all that bad considering the mini's price. There's no Gorilla Glass here and the mini's screen is covered by plastic instead. Investing in a screen protector is a must if you want to avoid dings and scratches.
The mini's dual-core 1.3GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM performed well and it is loaded with Android 4.2. In use it ran with little to no noticeable lag with most basic apps. More demanding apps were however sometimes a tad sluggish.
The mini's battery is also on the small side at 1400mAh. While it delivered just under a day of use making a few calls and sending the odd text, frequent data use was another story. In this scenario the mini demanded quality time with its charger after just over 5 hours.
The mini's 3.2 megapixel camera performed well. Its streamlined interface is ideal for beginners. Firing up the camera app revealed a shutter button, a switch to change from photo to video modes and a settings button. I didn't test the camera in the evening owing to its lack of a flash.
Shooting in daylight conditions however produced acceptable photos. Colour saturation, contrast and pixel noise were all pretty acceptable. While not a patch on high end shooters such as those found in Nokia's 1020 or Samsung's Galaxy 5, the mini's photos were fine for sharing on Twitter or Facebook. Video was also good, but the microphone picked up wind noise or hand movements which proved to be distracting when viewing video footage.
The standout feature has to be the mini's support for HD voice. Smartphones may be one of the most transformative technologies of the past decade, but mobile call quality is at best a mixed blessing.
Muffled or distorted audio can make communicating numbers or names tricky. I've lost count of the number of times my surname has been misspelt because it was misheard during a mobile call.
Thanks to HD audio this could soon be a thing of the past as HD voice provides much needed improvements to call clarity.
This is achieved using similar wideband audio technology to what is already in use with a lot of VoIP apps such as Skype. Instead of limiting in-call audio to a range between 300Hz and 3.4kHz, wideband audio has an audio range of 50Hz to just over 7kHz - about the same as a human voice.
More audio samples are also taken. Instead of the usual 8,000 per second, HD Voice takes about 16,000, making for more audible detail when in a call.
In use it makes a big difference to call quality - calls to another HD voice capable device on the same mobile network sounded as if the person was next to you instead of on the phone. The biggest constraint to audio quality with HD voice is now the speaker and mic on your phone.
HD voice support has been the domain of flagship phones like the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy range or the HTC One, Lumia 920 and Sony's Xperia Z1. That the mini brings HD voice support to the party at an affordable price point is definitely good news.
For smartphone newbies or those not wanting to decode the human genome while waiting for a bus, the Smart 4 mini represents pretty good value for money. Battery life could be better, but the inclusion of a MicroSD slot and HD voice makes it a great purchase at just $99. In short while it is a budget device, the Smart 4 mini delivers solid bang per buck value for money.
Network: (2g) GSM 850/900/1800/1900, (3g) HSDPA 900/2100
Dimensions: 121.6 x 64.4 x 12.3 mm
Screen: TFT capacitive touchscreen, 480 x 800 pixels, 4" (233 ppi)
Card slot: microSD (32 GB max)
Internal storage: 4 GB, 512 MB RAM
Connectivity: WLAN 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth Yes, v4.0 with A2DP
Camera: (Rear) 3.15 MP, Video 630x480 (30fps)
OS: Android OS, v4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
Chipset: Mediatek MT6572
CPU: Dual-core 1.3 GHz
Battery: Li-Ion 1400mAh
Stand-by Up to 600 h (2G) / Up to 600 h (3G)
Talk time Up to 8 h (2G) / Up to 8 h (3G)