If you’re out for a cheap phone, you might head to the Moto G range or a Chinese brand like Honor or Huawei. The truly ambitious might consider importing a mobile from a company your friends have never heard of, and probably never will.
There are other bargains to be had closer to home, though. Vodafone has quietly made some of the best cheapo mobiles for years, and the Vodafone Smart X9 continues this trend.
Trying to convince people it’s better than an iPhone is a non-starter. But at £109 it even undercuts most Honor phones. You even get some surprising touches of class too.
Own-brand network phones may live in an “uncool” underclass, but the Vodafone Smart X9 is a true bargain at just £109 (plus a £10 top-up).
Design: Plastic Fantastic
Screen: Hi-Def, Low Cost
Software and Performance: Fast & Furious
Camera: Serious Snapper
You might expect the Vodafone Smart X9 to have a ropey camera. With this type of hardware, you can easily put together a setup that looks great on paper, but is trash in reality.
That is not the case at all. Here’s a shocker: the Vodafone Smart X9 has the same main camera sensor as the LG V30, which originally cost around eight times the price. Before you put one of these phones in into your basket, it doesn’t have OIS like the V30, and both the lens and software aren’t in the same league.
Still, as in other areas of the Vodafone Smart X9, the hardware at its heart is almost bizarrely good. This plays out in some of its images too. I’m not sure you’ll find any phone at £120 on the high street that can take daylight images as good as this. They’re often bloomin’ lovely, with plenty of contrast, great sharpness that only degrades a bit at the extreme corners, and vital-looking colour.
Even the HDR mode is very effective. It can bring out the mid tones even in scenes with extreme light contrasts, like when you shoot right into the sun. Getting all this for £120 is a bit of a jaw-dropper.
There’s more too. The Vodafone Smart X9 holds into its contrast, colour and most of its detail when shooting indoors. It’s more proof this is a high-quality camera sensor at work.
You even get a secondary 5MP sensor for background blur Portrait shots, and can choose the virtual aperture level. This changes how blurry the background becomes. It’s not perfect, but can easily go head-to-head with phones a few times the price.
There’s a big “but” coming. The Vodafone Smart X9’s handling of night scenes is rubbish. Total rubbish. It doesn’t even try to brighten up night-grade dark shots. Play with them in a photo editor after shooting and you can get them up to the level of the Moto G7’s night images. But that’s not really saying much.
No-one expects a £120 phone to take brilliant night photos, but a clever bit of auto-tweaking could make your images look a lot better than they do here. In the day time, exposure can end up a bit off if you don’t choose your subject carefully too.
There are other missing pieces. You can only shoot video at up to 1080p, and there’s no use of software stabilisation. At all. Your videos will look juddery if you walk around with the Vodafone Smart X9 in your hand.
And while the rear camera is generally a great surprise, the front camera isn’t. This 8-megapixel camera looks soft and vague indoors, and while there’s a decent amount of detail in good lighting it’s not close to the Moto G7’s performance. Still, it’s half the price of the Moto G7.
Battery Life: 24 Hour Party People
Network branded phones may not be cool, but this one’s a legit bargain
Camera is great for daylight shots
Sharp, bright screen
Locked to Vodafone
Minor performance limitations
Poor night photography