• Giveaway at bottom of review
People spend lots on their handsets, but if your budget is limited you can still get less prestigious, yet capable smartphones these days.
Vodafone sent their own-branded Smart N8 and V8 handsets to check out; while I thought last year that the Mini, Turbo and Ultra 7 handsets weren't terribly interesting Vodafone apparently sold plenty of the devices and believes the new devices will appeal to customers not interested in expensive premium smartphones.
The 8-series devices are made for Vodafone by China's ZTE, a giant telco equipment vendor which like Huawei makes everything under sun, smartphones as well as the gear for the network itself.
Both are fairly well assembled; the N8 has a plastic pop-the-back cover that gives access to the nano SIM and microSD slots so you can bump up the 16 gigabytes of internal storage with a 32GB memory card.
Despite the removable cover, you can't change battery in the N8.
In comparison the V8 is a more premium feel with a solid aluminium body. You get more storage in the V8, 32GB and can add a big 128GB SD card next to the SIM in the pop-out tray.
Pricing's sharp for both devices: the N8 costs $199 and the V8 $349. That's budget pricing, but you get some pretty good gear for the money.
The N8 has a 1280 by 720 pixel screen that measures 5 inches diagonally, and is OK to use but not all that visible in sunlight. Combined with the quad-core Mediatek 1.25GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM, the N8 won't set any speed records, and can lag on tasks like web browsing.
If anything, the N8 makes the V8 seem like better value for just $150 more. The more expensive phone has a 5.5-inch 1080p HD screen with 400 pixels per inch density that's much nicer than the basic display on the N8, plus much better hardware like a Qualcomm Snapdragon eight-core processor and 3GB of RAM for better multi-tasking.
That's roughly the same specification hardware that Vodafone put in the $699 Platinum 7 from last year, but for much less money. Both smartphones have fingerprint scanners that can be used to log in and with payments.
The 16 megapixel camera on the V8 won't impress those who've tried imagers on the latest smartphones that cost four to five times as much, but does fairly well in good light. On the N8, the 13 Mpixel camera works OK, but isn't much to write home about.
If hang on to the phone for more than nine months, and want to change over to Spark or 2 Degrees, Vodafone will unlock it for free.
For the operating system, the Smart N8 and the V8 came with the newer version 7.1.1. During the review period, the N8 got a 300MB system upgrade but the V8 didn't get an update.
Will there be an upgrade to the latest Android 8.0 Oreo for the two?
Vodafone was cagey about that, saying it couldn't confirm they would be upgraded as "there are many variables that have be worked through".
That's ZTE coming up with appropriate versions of Oreo for the two, which may or may not happen; I suspect you'll need to upgrade the phone to get Android 8.0.
One reason the two smartphones are so cheap is because they're locked to Vodafone's network. If you hang on to the phone for more than nine months, and want to change over to Spark or 2 Degrees, Vodafone will unlock it for free. Do it before nine months have passed and it'll cost $30; I'm still not convinced that locking phones to their network is what Vodafone should do.
I'd say paying a bit more for the V8 is worth it as you get a good deal more for your money, and you'll be happier with the better performance in the long run, but the N8 is workable too at a pinch.