February 7, 2017
11
784 2
Positives

Great battery life
Attractive 2K AMOLED screen
Near-stock Android 6.0.1
Dual front-facing speakers
Excellent price (£300)
Fast fingerprint sensor
Dedicated programmable camera button

Negatives

Design may be an acquired taste
Lacks 'wow factor'
Slower specs compared with true flagships
Lackluster camera

Rating
Battery
9.0
Display
8.0
Camera
7.0
Performance
7.5
Software
8.5
Design
7.3
Bottom Line
8
8
Smart Platinum 7
by Vodafone

The Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 is a decent if unexciting phone. It’s not going to compete with the big-name flagships in the specs, camera or build-quality departments; but it is nevertheless a surprisingly-smooth operator with seriously impressive battery-game, near-stock Android and a very appealing price tag.

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Vodafone isn’t exactly the first company that comes to mind when you think of premium smartphone manufacturers but with the Smart Platinum 7, the UK carrier is giving it its best shot. This is a device that has some surprisingly neat features for a £300 phone and that might just be worthy of your attention – as long as you’re happy with being tied to a Vodafone contract.

One question that springs to mind is this: if this is Vodafone’s first attempt at a premium handset though, then why is it the ‘Smart Platinum 7’ and not just the ‘Smart Platinum’? The company also offers a ‘Smart Prime 7’, ‘Smart Ultra 7’ and ‘Smart Turbo 7’ though and these did come with lower numbered-versions, so presumably it’s an attempt to get all the branding to line up.

Nomenclature aside, let’s take a look at the Smart Platinum 7 and see just how smart it really is.

Design

To look at, the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 is off to a good – but not great – start. It doesn’t have quite the same ‘wow factor’ as flagships from the likes of Samsung or Sony but then not everything has to be new to be good. What the Platinum 7 does have is a professional-looking black finish and a nicely patterned, reflective rear. It’s understated but feels quite ‘executive’ and as a rare surprise the shiny rear panel is not too much of a fingerprint magnet!

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The body is made entirely from metal and glass, has thin bezels and no physical home button on the front. The device can be a little slippery when placed on some surfaces, though it feels very nice in the hand with a decent amount of heft and rounded edges.

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Overall, the presentation is fairly ‘by the numbers’ but there are a few nice elements that are worth mentioning. For one, there’s a fingerprint sensor located around the back, just below the camera and at just the right height to find easily with an index finger. What’s particularly impressive for a phone in this price range is the two front facing speakers which will be a very welcome addition for audiophiles.

If it’s a comfy and stylish set of buttons you look for in a device, then this is the phone for you! They are very nice to use and they kind of put the buttons on other devices to shame! Oh, and you’ll also find one more button than usual here too: a dedicated camera button!

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Things aren’t perfect in the design department though. Unfortunately, there is some visible separation between the individual elements: the speaker grilles are on separately textured panels for example. This means you’re not getting the ‘unibody’ feel of the really heavy-hitters and to me, this prevents it from feeling truly ‘premium’ in the way a more expensive phone might. Overall though, there’s more good than bad here. It may just be an acquired taste.

Display

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It’s the same story with the screen: surprisingly high-end. It has a nice and crisp 2K (1440 x 2560) resolution and it’s an AMOLED panel at that. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that it also has great color saturation, deep blacks that almost blend into the bezels and decent brightness. At 5.5”, the screen is also more than large enough for the majority of tasks and to be considered a phablet. Whether you’re watching YouTube or playing games, you’re going to have a good time with this display.

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Look closely and you’ll notice that the screen is actually very slightly curved too, which is interesting. It describes itself as being 2.5D but it’s not going to be giving Samsung any sleepless nights. Rather, it appears as though the screen is very slightly raised off of the rest of the body of the phone, like a slight bulge. This contributes to the less cohesive look of the phone in my opinion but points for trying.

There’s Gorilla Glass here, though I can’t find the version anywhere on the net. And I have already managed to pick up a slight scratch in my few days with the phone – I think my keys were the culprits here – so you’ll still want to be a bit careful with it.

Performance

This phone performs pretty smoothly, due to the great combination of software and hardware. Specs-wise, the Platinum 7 could be seen to be slightly under powered when compared with the last-generation of flagships as it uses an octa-core Snapdragon 652 processor, which has four Cortex-A72 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and the other four Cortex-A53 cores at 1.2GHz. Despite that, navigating around the home screen is seamless, launching apps is snappy and the processor should be beefy enough to handle most games and apps with no problem.

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More importantly, I haven’t experienced any stutters or lags. Multitasking is also super-smooth, which is helped along by the welcome 3GB of RAM and the relatively stock version of Android (more on that in a moment). If you want the top performing Android phone on the market, then this is not it. But for general use, you shouldn’t have any problems and actually, it’s pretty slick.

If you are interested in the numbers though, then you can check out the results from GeekBench, Antutu and 3D Mark below:

performance

As you can see the phone scored 82566 on AnTutu. According to that test, it falls just below something like the Galaxy Note 5. The Galaxy Note 5 was a very powerful phone for its time, but like I say – that’s a phone that came out in 2015. The score from Geekbench was pretty low here but it is very inconsistent in testing and regularly scored higher. Suffice to say though that once again, the results don’t keep up with the best phones on the market today. You’ll be playing most games just fine but keep in mind that it’s not as future-proof as a device from a bigger name.

Storage wise, you get 32GB on-board and happily Vodafone saw fit to provide space for a microSD card too. Another great choice!

Hardware

So, we have average internals and an above-average screen. How about the rest of the hardware in here?

First, let’s take a closer look at the fingerprint sensor. Some have reported finding it hard to locate but I have had no trouble since locating it the first time. It’s also particularly quick and accurate and has become my preferred way to unlock the phone, though I have had it freeze on me once or twice (which of course always happens right when you need it to work!).

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That fingerprint sensor doesn’t have any fancy tricks like some others– you can’t use it to swipe through your photo gallery for instance. Somewhat making up for this though, is the hardware camera button that can also be programmed to perform various other jobs, including quick-launching specific apps. NFC is here too, something that distinguishes this device from some of the offerings in the mid-range segment. It is also handy for Android Pay fans.

The other highlight in terms of hardware is the inclusion of stereo speakers. These always make a difference and this is no exception; the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 is capable of immersing you in its sound and can be heard easily over the sound of a frying pan if you like to watch YouTube while you cook.

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Having stereo front facing speakers is a real luxury actually and it’s something you won’t find even on many truly premium devices – so that’s a real win for Vodafone!

The call quality is also exactly what you would expect/hope, while the signal strength has been very reliable in my testing. Of course the phone is locked to Vodafone, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how you feel about that. Oh and while I didn’t get to play with one, note that Vodafone has also released its own VR headset to work with the device. This is likely what motivated the decision to include such a fancy screen, though I can’t imagine this will be in contention as the ‘go-to’ setup for mobile VR.

Battery life

For me, the longevity of the 3,000-mAh battery is actually one of the stars of the show here and it’s one of the things that Vodafone is bragging about the most in its marketing. Bragging rights are earned though and the battery life here has put all my recent phones to shame. To shame!

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At the end of a full day of moderate-to-heavy use, the Smart Platinum 7 will generally still have about 20% battery life. This is pretty impressive, especially considering that it’s running such a nice display. More impressive still, is the phone’s longevity on idle. On my first day with the phone, I ended the day on 10%. I then set it down on my bedside table without charging it. To my surprise, it was still on 10% the next day when I woke. That’s some great performance and it’s something I’m going to really miss when I give the phone back. Again, some of this is down to the software and specifically Google Doze. There’s quick charging too, so you can fill up quickly again when it finally does run out.

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If you are one of the many people bemoaning the lack of battery life on modern phones, then I would definitely recommend checking this device out. The only thing that they could have done better in this regard is make the battery replaceable. But we can’t have everything I guess…

Camera

For me, the camera lets the side down somewhat. The rear shooter has plenty of pixels at 16MP but the results just can’t compete with the top players. There’s a f/2.0 aperture but it does not perform well in low-light settings. To be fair though, a two-tone LED flash makes up for that to some degree.

Depth of field effects are distinctly underwhelming and autofocus seems to struggle in macro shots. Photos often look over-exposed and pictures will often feature cloudless white skies. And HDR doesn’t make a ton of difference. At times the colors look washed-out, though admittedly I am a fan of a little hyper-real saturation.

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I’m not saying it’s terrible, under the right circumstances it will pick up a lot of detail and the app is easy to use and nicely laid out; but coming from my Galaxy S6 Edge+, this is just a big step backward. I do love the inclusion of a dedicated hardware camera button though. Here are some samples so you can judge for yourself:

As for video you can record in 2160p at 30fps, or 1080p at 60fps. There’s also a front facing 8MP camera, capable of filming at 1080p.

Software

The Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 wins back some major points with its software implementation. Specifically, Vodafone should be applauded for opting to provide us with a pretty-much stock version of Android 6.0.1. There’s no ugly skin on top of the UI and even the bloatware is surprisingly restrained (what is there can largely be removed!). This no doubt helps the performance a great deal and Android purists are certain to be very pleased with the choice – it almost feels like using a Nexus device.

One tweak that Vodafone has made, is the ability to swipe from the homescreen to a favorite app. This might be occasionally useful for some people but it does mean you can accidentally launch an app when flicking through your widgets and then have to wait for it to launch!

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Final thoughts

So just how premium is Vodafone’s top-end offering? How does it stack up against the big flagships? For those who really want the best Android experience, the slightly less-futureproof processor is likely to be a turn off. Everyday users meanwhile may find the camera a little lacklustre for their tastes.

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But for those who don’t have the money to spend on a £700 phone, choosing the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 will involve making surprisingly few compromises. I think those who do pick this up are going to be very pleasantly surprised by a number of the features – that battery in particular and certainly the front-facing speakers. There are no sexy gimmicks but this is a very reliable phone that performs better-than-average in almost every capacity and will last as long as you need it to. It would be a great choice for road warriors and busy business-types.

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