Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: premium phone on a budget

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: premium phone on a budget

Famed for its longevity in the UK mobile network market, Vodafone currently sells five own-brand smartphones. While a slight generalisation, they all aim to bring the user 4G connectivity and access to the Android app world on varying budgets. The latest is the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7, and it’s aimed squarely at people who might be considering high-end flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7, OnePlus 3 or LG G5. So is it up to the task? Here's our Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: Price, availability and rivals

As you might expect, the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 is only available through Vodafone. The cheapest you can pick it up for on a 24 month contract is £24 with £50 up front cost, but this only gets you a paltry 500MB of data per month.

However, the Platinum (as it shall now be christened) is actually more compelling as a SIM-free or pay as you go handset, selling at the time of writing for £295 outright. Considering its flagship pretentions, this is excellent value.

However, this doesn’t necessarily make the Platinum a no-brain purchase. The still brilliant Samsung Galaxy S6 is available for £349.99, while the OnePlus 3 has some better specs than the Platinum and the S6 and is just £309.

It's not as good value if you're not on the Vodafone network and are unwilling to switch. The Platinum 7 is SIM-locked to Vodafone so you'll need to spend extra getting it unlocked.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: Design and build

As you might expect, Vodafone’s smartphones aren’t design marvels, taking the tried and tested ‘black rectangle’ form. Thankfully the Platinum pushes the boat out a bit given it is at the higher end of the range.

For a smartphone with a large 5.5in screen it’s the perfect weight, heavy enough to feel premium but won’t weigh down your pocket or bag. It measures 154 x 76 x 7mm, making it very similar in dimensions to the 192g iPhone 6s Plus, but much lighter than that phone at a managable 155g.

Be aware we are in distinctly phablet territory, so if you’ve got smaller hands this is going to prove slightly cumbersome to use, particularly with one hand. The advantages are that long-form documents are easier to draft and everything from spreadsheets to videos better to view. You might even use your tablet less, which is a good thing if you’re looking for one device to all your mobile activity on.

The front and back are coated in gorilla glass, the hilarious tech name for glass, which means this is a phone that is eminently breakable, but most are these days. The back has an attractive diamond cut detailing which is also present on the physical buttons on the Platinum’s sides. This gives the phone a distinctly masculine feel, so you may want to check it out in person before buying.

There’s a pleasingly subtle Vodafone logo on the back, along with the camera, which protrudes a tad from the casing. Just underneath this is the circular fingerprint reader, yet another attractive feature crammed into this sub-£300 handset.

The front is distinctly iPhone-like in its bezel design but we love the thin, wide speaker grills at the very top and bottom of the front, lending further to the Platinum’s premium aspirations. It's very well made, but a shade less interesting to what we've come to expect from a high end device.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: Hardware, specs and performance

The Smart Platinum 7’s headline specs are its AMOLED touchscreen with 534ppi pixel density (i.e. very good), 3GB RAM and 16Mp rear-facing camera.

As is the case with many smartphones in 2016, the 3000mAh battery is non-removable, but there is a Micro-SD card slot to boost the 32GB internal storage with 128GB more if you fancy putting several seasons of the Sopranos in your pocket. While initial stocks last, the phone comes bundled with a free Smart VR headset, allowing you to view various third party VR content hands-free (we haven't tried it out so can't vouch for it).

The phone is charged via microUSB v2.0, which we were happy to see supports fast charging with the bundled charger; Vodafone claims you can charge half the battery in 30 minutes and our real-life use confirmed this as true. In a Geekbench battery rundown test, the Platinum lasted a respectable but not outstanding seven hours and 32 minutes. Fast charging is a great feature, but as with 2015’s Samsung Galaxy S6, we do feel like it’s a compromise for having a battery that runs down too fast.

We ran the usual Geekbench and JetStream tests on the Platinum against the flagship phones we believe it’s fighting against in the market. Higher scores are better, and as you can see in the charts below, it’s in these graphically intensive tests where the Platinum's QuadHD display and mid-range processor struggle.

We were initially disappointed in the use of the mid-range octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip, considering the similarly priced OnePlus 3 has the superior 820 (and double the Platinum’s RAM at 6GB). Objectively, this is extreme tech-hack nit picking, but it’s worth pointing out that Vodafone has skimped a little on the internals, presumably to keep the price below £300.

Our benchmarking of the two phones against one another reflects this, but it is worth reiterating that in our extended use of the Platinum, we encountered barely any lag in every day app use, video streaming, emailing and umpteen other things. So, unless you want to play the very latest, graphically intensive games on your smartphone, you shouldn’t notice any deficiencies in performance.

We recorded a download speed indoors of 11.9Mbps on Vodafone’s 4G network in central London which is great – clearly the hardware can handle high download speeds for music streaming and app downloads on the go.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: Camera

The 16Mp camera is decent, but the overall experience does give away the phone’s lower price where other aspects like its screen and build quality reflect its premium leanings. The camera app includes an array of different modes that we have come to expect from our smartphones, from slo-mo to macro, HDR to panorama. It’s pleasant to use even if the end results aren’t the best available. Check out our in depth tests of the best smartphone cameras of 2016.

Photos contain good levels of detail but are grainier on closer inspection than that which we have seen on the likes of the LG G5 or Samsung Galaxy S7. Those are higher end phones in terms of hardware specs and price, however this fact conversely once again highlights the advantages of the Platinum’s excellent price point as the camera is above average.

The Platinum’s design also incorporates a dedicated camera button, something we always welcome – you simply double click it to launch the camera app. One niggle is that the camera button is on the top left hand edge, so using the camera right handed as the phone dictates means it’s hard not to cover the lens with your right hand. We prefer designs where such buttons are on the bottom right as you look at the phone portrait, as opposed to top left.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 review: Software and apps

The Platinum runs Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 right out the box, and we were impressed with the ease of the set up. Vodafone has opted for nigh-on stock Android here, so it’s Google all the way. We were easily able to transfer our entire existing Android phone’s apps, contacts and data over to the Platinum via Wi-Fi and NFC thanks to excellent set up instructions, and were using it within minutes – bear in mind things are a tad trickier if you are moving from iOS to Android. Here’s our guide on how to wrestle that beast.

There is the option to turn on little pop ups that guide you through the use of your phone on first-time tasks. These could be handy if you are new to Android but we found them annoying. It is the only example here where Vodafone patronise the user – in the past, many operator branded phones have made the mistake of coaching people through the phone at all times. It’s nice to see that Vodafone have largely abandoned the incorrect assumption that those who buy these phones are completely tech illiterate, but still included relatively subtle prompts for those that need help.

The choice to use stock Android makes the phone feel like a Nexus device, which is no bad thing. The only signs of dreaded operator bloatware are in the apps Vodafone politely cajoles you into downloading/using/ignoring. They aren’t as intrusive as we had feared, letting you easily uninstall what you don’t want. We ended up using the SMS app Message+ rather than the standard messaging app, as it adds useful multimedia options.

The home screen is a blank canvas for you to customise, and apps run slick with the hardware. The fingerprint sensor software integrates with apps you might expect to use it, like banking apps and the Play Store. However, we found it a tad frustrating to use given its position on the rear of the phone. It does work, but the button is fairly small and doesn’t protrude, so sometimes if your finger isn’t flush with it, it won’t read it properly. We still prefer using such sensors when they are on the front or edges of devices.

Vodafone Smart Platinum 7: Specs

  • GSM / HSPA / LTE
    Announced 2016 June
    Available. Released 2016, June
    Dimensions 154 x 75.7 x 7 mm
    Weight 155 g
    Dual SIM
    AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
    Size 5.5 inches
    1440 x 2560 pixels (~534 ppi pixel density)
    Android OS, v6.0.1
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 652
    CPU Quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A72 & quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53
    GPU Adreno 510
    Card slot microSD, up to 256 GB
    Internal 32 GB, 3 GB RAM
    Primary 16 MP, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, LED flash
    Secondary 8 MP, 1080p, LED flash
    3.5mm jack
    Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
    Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, LE
    NFC
    USB microUSB v2.0
    Sensors Fingerprint, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
    Fast battery charging: 50% in 30 min (Quick Charge 3.0)
    Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery
  • GSM / HSPA / LTE
    Announced 2016 June
    Available. Released 2016, June
    Dimensions 154 x 75.7 x 7 mm
    Weight 155 g
    Dual SIM
    AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
    Size 5.5 inches
    1440 x 2560 pixels (~534 ppi pixel density)
    Android OS, v6.0.1
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 652
    CPU Quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A72 & quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53
    GPU Adreno 510
    Card slot microSD, up to 256 GB
    Internal 32 GB, 3 GB RAM
    Primary 16 MP, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, LED flash
    Secondary 8 MP, 1080p, LED flash
    3.5mm jack
    Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
    Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, LE
    NFC
    USB microUSB v2.0
    Sensors Fingerprint, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
    Fast battery charging: 50% in 30 min (Quick Charge 3.0)
    Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery

OUR VERDICT

After time with the Platinum it becomes very clear that this is a premium phone, but one attempting to be ever so slightly more premium than it actually is. If you want the best Android phone on the market, get a Samsung Galaxy S7. However if you want to buy a smartphone outright without breaking the bank and are after a larger screen, fingerprint sensor, stock Android and great design (on Vodafone’s network) then this is a solid choice. We do recommend the OnePlus 3 which is almost the same price, though.

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