Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo review – bloody brilliant

It isn’t often that a smartphone or tablet PC comes through to our offices and surprises us.

That may sound like the whining of a jaded technology journalist, but it really isn’t. Getting to play with a new phone is still exciting, even though you can usually predict from the price and specs what the experience will be like.

The Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo (or Vodafone 820N), though, was different.

With a recommended retail price of R1,499, the Smart 4 Turbo is firmly in “budget smartphone” territory.

This usually means a less-than-stellar touch response, weird software and hardware design decisions, tons of irremovable crapware, and other little niggles that only rear their ugly heads after using the device for a month or so.

However, the Smart 4 Turbo surprised us by delivering a great overall user experience, thanks to its solid touch response.

This gave a good first impression, but while the responsiveness of the touch screen is the cornerstone of a decent user experience on a modern smartphone, it is not the only thing that must be considered.

GPS: functional, but not fantastic

One of the areas budget smartphones often fall short is the global positioning system chip.

To test this, I used Google Maps, Ingress, and a handful of other location-aware apps.

While not always as accurate as those found in more expensive devices, the GPS receiver in the Smart 4 Turbo is functional, albeit below-par.

Some issues we saw was that your position on a map is not always updated as fast as it needs to be, and that apps like Zomato often couldn’t get a position to “check in” to places.

Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo with its back cover open, showing the battery, NFC antenna inside the cover, and Icasa sticker
Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo with its back cover open

Storage

While the Smart 4 Turbo comes with 150MB or so of Vodacom’s pre-installed software which nobody not everyone will use, almost all of it was removable.

It was only Vodacom’s non-standard SMS application Message+ that could not be uninstalled.

In addition to this welcome change from operators’ usual tendency to pre-install rubbish software that cannot be removed, the storage system design of the Smart 4 Turbo was also pretty sane.

The device ships with 4GB of internal storage, which is (mercifully) configured in a single partition. Roughly 2.2GB of this space is empty when you switch the device on for the first time.

It also has a microSD card slot behind the back cover of the device which can be accessed without removing the battery.

Camera

Unfortunately, when you build a phone for R1,500 there have to be some trade-offs.

As is typical for a budget device, the camera on the Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo is not great.

In daylight it takes decent stills, but in low light or darkness photos come out either grainy or completely black, despite the flash.

Hardware and design

Specifications Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo
Dimensions 134.5 x 67.5 x 10.4mm
Weight 155g
Operating system Android 4.4
Display 4.5″ FWVGA (480×854)
Rear camera 5MP
Front camera 0.3MP
Storage, internal 4GB
Storage, expandable microSD
RAM 1GB
Processor 1.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8926
Graphics Adreno 306
Battery 1,880mAh
Cellular data LTE, HSPA
SIM type Micro SIM
NFC Yes

No budget phone would be complete without a few hardware and aesthetic design choices to nitpick at.

Like so many of its kin, the Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo has opted for capacitive hardware buttons despite the fact that it uses a post-Honeycomb Android operating system and boasts decent touch response.

To crown it off, Vodacom has opted for the old-school menu button instead of the newer “recent apps” button many modern Android smartphones use.

Another strange choice is having the micro USB port on the top right edge of the device, rather than the bottom middle.

A number of generic accessories are designed for phones that have a charging port in the middle of their bottom edge.

The Verdict

Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo
Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo

Not all the hardware and design choices of the Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo are worthy of nitpicking, though. Some may even be commended.

The power/wake switch, for example, sits along the right edge of the device where right-handed users can easily press it with their thumb, while lefties can get to it with their index finger.

Battery life is good, with the phone giving us more than a full day of use in areas with good coverage.

Vodacom has also managed to cram in support for both Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks and near field communications (NFC).

The retail box that our review device came in even includes two NFC tags in addition to the usual bag of essential accessories (charger, USB cable, headset).

Overall, the Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo represents great value for money.

Not only has Vodacom and its parent Vodafone managed to get all the basics right with this device, they also manage to offer a number of advanced features such as LTE and NFC with the phone.

The Bottom Line: Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo (Vodafone 820N)
The Good The Bad
  • Good touch response
  • Sane configuration of limited internal storage
  • LTE support
  • NFC support (with tags in the box)
  • Most Vodacom/Vodafone crapware is removable
  • Price
  • GPS accuracy slightly below-par
  • Micro USB port in odd location
  • Why, oh why still with the hardware menu buttons?
  • Camera basically unusable in the dark at medium range (short range flash)

Review disclosure: Vodacom provided the Smart 4 Turbo that was tested for this review. Review devices are typically returned when the review period expires.

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Vodacom Smart 4 Turbo review – bloody brilliant