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Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: A solid ultra-budget smartphone

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
65
Not including £10 top-up

The Smart N9 Lite might not be best in its class, but for less than £100 you can do a lot worse

Pros 
Super cheap
Design is fine
Decent battery life
Cons 
Limited storage
Disappointing display
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Smartphones as cheap as the Vodafone Smart N9 Lite are hard to come by, and to find one that’s semi-usable is even rarer. At £65, however, the Smart N9 Lite seems to offer that perfect blend of useability without having to dig into your rainy day fund. If you’re strapped for cash but still want a touchscreen smartphone that can run basic apps, then the Vodafone Smart N9 lite might be just the ticket.

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Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: What you need to know

As the name suggests, the Smart N9 Lite is the ultra-budget version of Vodafone’s regular Smart N9. It follows a similar design template and uses an identical MediaTek MT6739WA chipset, although the display has been reduced from 5.5in to 5.34in, and the screen resolution has taken a knock to 960 x 480 from 1,440 x 720.

Additionally, the Smart N9 Lite’s RAM has been halved to just 1GB. And, unlike its big brother, the Vodafone Smart N9 Lite runs a special version of Android 8.1 Oreo called Android Go, which offers trimmed-down versions of the typical pre-installed apps like Google Maps and Gmail. Catering for low-powered devices, these slightly-tweaked apps should perform just as well as the standard versions, while taking up less storage space.

Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Price and competition

The Vodafone Smart N9 Lite may be listed as £65, but there is a hidden cost to consider. You can only buy one as part of a pay-as-you-go package, which incurs an added minimum top-up of £10. As such, the Smart N9 Lite realistically costs £75, which is still £34 cheaper than the regular Smart N9.

For a fiver less you could pick up the Alcatel 1, which is another budget Android Go phone. But, before you reach for your wallet, your money is probably better spent elsewhere. The Alcatel 1 is a horribly-designed handset that struggles to multitask, has a terrible display and woeful photo capabilities

Though it may be tempting to go for the cheapest available option, it’s worth considering what you could get for only an extra £15. The Motorola Moto E5 Play costs £89, and offers an impressive camera, along with a longer-lasting battery and twice the RAM.

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Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Design

The Vodafone Smart N9 Lite isn’t the best-looking phone on the market, that’s for certain, but that’s not something you should reasonably expect from an ultra-budget handset. From the front, it looks similar to a black iPhone 8 without the home button. The screen’s side bezels are roughly the same, and they both have rounded corners and petite dimensions. Being a £65 Vodafone handset, it doesn’t have the same level of build quality, though, with a rather cheap and flimsy feel.

Ironically, this “Lite” model actually takes up a fractionally larger space in the pocket than the regular Smart N9, measuring 148.2 x 68.88 x 9.4mm. Weighing 155g, it’s also 10g heavier. Likewise, while the Smart N9 was fitted with a glossy rear, the Lite has a slightly-more grippy, textured back.

The front and rear camera arrangements look identical, but the Smart N9 Lite doesn’t have a fingerprint reader, so you’ll have to make do with swipe patterns and PIN locks for security. The volume rocker and textured power button are both sensibly placed on the right edge of the phone, with a microUSB charging port and solitary speaker grille sitting on the bottom.

A nice addition is the 3.5mm audio jack up top, and the left edge houses the nano-SIM slot, which also takes microSD cards up to 32GB in capacity. This brings the total available storage of the N9 Lite up to a maximum 48GB.

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Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Display

Here’s where we begin to run into problems. The 5.34in IPS display has a resolution of 960 x 480, which is considerably lower than the Smart N9’s 720p panel and is only capable of producing 64.1% of the sRGB colour gamut. What this means is that colours look particularly washed out across the entire palette, and an average Delta E score of 9.43 indicates that this phone screen has some serious issues.

An 818:1 contrast ratio is equally disappointing, and you’ll struggle to use this screen outdoors as it’s only capable of reaching a maximum brightness of 458cd/m2. But, by far the biggest problem is the Smart N9 Lite’s poor viewing angles. Simply tilt the phone’s screen just a few degrees, for instance, and reds transform into muddy-looking dark-brown colours.

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Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Performance and battery life

With a budget 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6739WA chipset on board, the Vodafone Smart N9 Lite was never going to break any speed records. Thankfully, the experience is far from terrible and in fact it ranks quite well amongst its peers.

In the GeekBench 4 single and multi-core CPU benchmarks, the Smart N9 Lite reached scores of 529 and 1,632, which is only marginally behind the regular Smart N9. In real-world use, however, the phone does struggle to keep up with certain applications, while opening new tabs in Google Chrome is particularly sluggish.

With 1GB of RAM and the embedded 700MHz ARM Mali-T720 MP2 GPU, you’ll often encounter issues with most gaming applications. The GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 on-screen test only returned an average of 4fps, and the Car Chase benchmark failed to run. Stick to less graphically-demanding titles such as Threes! and Florence, though, and you shouldn’t have any problems.

There’s nothing special about the Smart N9 Lite’s battery life, either. In our video rundown test, Vodafone’s latest budget handset reached 8hrs 50mins before needing to recharge. That might not sound like much, and it isn’t a scratch on the phones at the top-end of our battery life hierarchy, but with moderate use, this should see you through the day.

Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Camera

The 8-megapixel camera on the rear of the Smart N9 Lite has a reasonably-narrow aperture of f/2.4, while a single LED flash is nestled neatly below. As expected, the overall picture quality is about as poor as I’ve come to expect from a phone in this price range.

Even in good light, the Smart N9 lite’s snapper struggles to capture the finer details of an image and noticeably struggles with visual noise and compression artifacting. I especially recommend enabling HDR, as taking still photos without this setting engaged results in dim and dull-looking photos that lack any contrast between the bright sky and shadowy streets.

HDR has its own problems, however, as the Smart N9 Lite’s lengthy camera shutter delay is even more noticeable. The rear camera is also only capable of recording video in 1080p at a maximum framerate of 30fps. Likewise, selfies captured on the 5-megapixel front-facing camera could be better.

Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Android Go edition

Android Go is a helpful tool for hardware-limited budget phones. The Smart N9 Lite certainly benefits from the Go-tweaked apps, which open faster than their full-fat equivalents. Sure, Assistant Go and other Go versions of Google staples aren’t quite as nippy than their regular counterparts, but at least they run without any major hiccups.

And, with only 16GB storage to work with, it’s handy to have a trimmed down (if more primitive) version of a popular app. Regular Google Maps takes up 23MB of space, for example, while Maps Go requires only 175KB of the Smart N9 Lite’s precious storage.

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READ NEXT: What is Android Go?

Vodafone Smart N9 Lite review: Verdict

It’s a lot harder to criticise a sub-£100 phone’s faults. It might not draw admiring glances on the morning commute, nor will it offer best-in-class performance but for a mere £65, the Smart N9 Lite actually does the job rather nicely.

So long as you aren’t fussed about its sub-par display, the Smart N9 Lite actually represents far better value for money than the regular Smart N9. Those on a budget could certainly do a lot worse.

Vodafone Smart N9 Lite specifications
ProcessorMediatek MT6739WA
RAM1GB
Screen size5.34in
Screen resolution960 x 480
Pixel density201
Screen typeIPS
Front camera5MP (f/2.4)
Rear camera8MP (f/2.4)
FlashLED flash
Dust and water resistanceN/A
3.5mm headphone jackYes
Wireless chargingN/A
USB connection typemicro-USB
Storage options16GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD, up to 32GB
Wi-FiWi-Fi 802.11
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
NFCYes
Cellular data4G LTE, 150Mbs
Dual SIMNo
Dimensions (WDH)148.2 x 68.88 x 9.4 mm
Weight155g
Operating systemAndroid Oreo 8.1 (Go edition)
Battery size2460mAh

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