Vodafone Smart Tab 2 £149.99
2nd Sep 2013 | 10:58
A big, clunky, tablet that fails to wow but manages to deliver
Inoffensive. If this was a one word review, that's how we would describe the Vodafone Smart Tab 2. Which, in today's increasingly over-crowded multi-tablet market, isn't a bad description to carry.
We can't imagine the marketing department will be plastering billboards with "inoffensive, says TechRadar" – but rest assured that it's not an insult.
The Smart Tab 2 is built like it's ready for medieval war with its thick plastic dotted armour, which is encompassed by a metal outer-rim that, overall, weighs a ton. Well, not an actual ton, more like 400g, which is pretty hefty for a 7-inch "on-the-go" tablet.
It's not the star striker, it's the often ignored utility man who makes up the numbers – it's the John O'Shea of the tablet world. Its functionality is impressive, boasting 3G, front and back cameras and it has all of the glory and guff that comes with an Android OS.
But there are some obvious drawbacks that places this tablet squarely in the second tier, namely the woefully small 4GB of on-board data, a very basic 1GHz processor and an average quality screen.
The Smart Tab 2 is 7 inches of solid rubber and metal and is subsequently one of the heaviest tablets in its category on the market. If you're looking to do some light reading in bed, or hold this in your hand for an extended period of time, then you'll probably need some sort of wrist support.
The upside of such a solid build is that it's (almost) damage proof, the rubber back acts as a cushion should you drop the device when your iron grip fails and your arms wither. Although do you really want to sacrifice mobility for sturdiness?
Standard features such as a headphone jack, a micro-USB port and volume buttons are included – but there's also the added bonus of SD and SIM card slots.
The Smart Tab only carries 4GB of on-board memory, most of which is taken up by bloatware – so purchasing an SD card will be imperative. The SD card slot, however, will only house up to a maximum of 32GB.
There's no light sensor for auto-dimming and the screen suffers in direct sunlight. The screen itself is a reasonable 1024x600, but with more and more affordable 7-inch tablets coming with 1080p as standard – such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle fire HD – it looks a bit dated.
Edges of apps are pixelated, browsing doesn't looks as pretty as it could do and the colours look washed out, which is very noticeable if you've ever used a more accomplished tablet like the iPad mini. However at £149 you can't go expecting the world from the Smart Tab 2.
Fortunately there's very little customisation of the UI on the Vodafone Smart Tab 2, this is pretty much stock android out of the box. Unfortunately, it's the aging Ice Cream Sandwich on board and not the fresher faced Jelly Bean.
The small amount of customisation that it comes with is the Vodafone keyboard, which is surprisingly nice to use and much better than the stock keyboard, although not as good as SwiftKey.
There are 6 homescreens which can be fully customised with whatever widgets that take your fancy, alongside wallpapers and backgrounds.
The screen is responsive to touch but laggy on execution. Flicking between the menu and homescreen reveals a delayed animation that just looks, well, ugly.
The problem is exacerbated when you're multi-tasking and the limitations of what the Smart Tab 2 is capable of becomes immediately clear. The device is powered by a 1GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, which is pretty measly, especially if you plan to use this in any semi-serious way.
The app system is standard Android, you can flick between apps in the menu and move them around to different pages or create folders to better organise your tablet. You can easily create a folder by simply selecting an app (press and hold) and drag and drop it on top of another app.
The notification bar can be accessed from swiping up from the bottom right corner of the screen giving you access to quick settings, which includes turning changing the Wi-Fi, screen rotation brightness and toggling notifications.
Interestingly, the notifications bar tells you what your most recent action was, so you'll know if someone has been using your tablet without your knowledge. You'll be given information on firmware updates, Wi-Fi and 3G strength, battery power and how much space you've got left on your SD card.
There aren't any specific app shortcuts, but because the homescreen is customizable you can add/remove at your pleasure and customise it for quick access to your preferred apps. The same can be done for widgets.
Although, because the Smart Tab 2 is running a slightly older version of Android it doesn't come with Google Now, an app that customises your tablet for you by learning your preferences and habits and displaying useful information before you request it.
For example, it will display a weather report when you get up, or open Google Maps before an appointment and tell you the best route to your destination. It's come under some criticism because of its impact on performance, and it's likely that, with the Smart Tab 2's average specifications, it would suffer.
Because the Smart Tab is stock Android, users will be familiar with the outlay and you won't be faced with any nasty surprises or unreasonable learning curves. Accessing apps through the menu, the multitasking menu and purchasing apps via the Google Play Store is all familiar territory.
The standard messaging options are available, including Google Hangouts, Gmail and email. Annoyingly, despite this being a 3G enabled device, WhatsApp messenger isn't available and can't be downloaded from the Play Store.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus come natively installed. Tje Twitter and Facebook apps aren't the latest versions, and the former seems to be particularly out-of-date because this version doesn't display profile backgrounds or cover pictures. The low-quality of the screen, too, takes away some of the magic from the social media apps and makes them look washed out and pixelated.
The Vodafone Smart Tab 2 comes with both the stock Android browser and Chrome. The Ice Cream Sandwich browser operates well, although it can be a touch slow.
Resisizing and features such as requesting a desktop site, tabbed browsing and downloading web-pages for offline viewing (particularly useful when you're on a 3G data plan) are available.
A slightly annoying, but not deal breaking, downside is that that the browser doesn't sync up with any other browser that you might have on another device. Chrome allows you to do this if you use Chrome on your desktop, phone and tablet. You can access boomarks, history and preferences from any device because it's all held on the cloud.
As with most tablets, flash is not supported. But this won't be much of an issue for the average user since websites that require flash (BBC iPlayer, YouTube) will have an app that can access its content.
The device does have an ace up its sleeve however - 3G connectivity -which is as speedy as your phone (so for many of us in the UK, not very speedy at all).
There isn't an offline one off price for the tablet, it has to be purchased with a tariff from Vodafone and the tariffs aren't cheap - £29 a month for a whopping 24 month contract and 2GB of data, which is reduced to £20 for new customers.
Both 3G and Wi-Fi options are make the tablet more of an attractive purchase, especially if you consider the fact that similar devices with the same connectivity will usually cost over £200.
To fully load the TechRadar desktop site via the stock browser over Wi-Fi took a reasonable 15 seconds, which might not sound like much, but if you compare it to a Nexus 7 which took 9 seconds you can see the gulf. Over 3G it took a shocking 83 seconds. Over Wi-Fi, the mobile site took a blink of an eye to load, about 3 seconds, and over 3G it took about 5 seconds.
Websites load to the correct size automatically, which is something that isn't always standard for all tablets – check out the StarPad 7 review in the buying guide and you'll see what we mean.
You can zoom in and out (by pinching) and the picture will adjust to the most readable clarity that's possible with this screen. Black and white text is passable but because the screen isn't the best, it lacks the crisp finish that other 1080p would offer.
Media, apps and games
Entertainment in the form of music, movies, books, games and magazines are available from the Google Play Store – Vodafone does not have its own dedicated store, which is fine as Google's offering is pretty darn good. You can also access services like Netflix, Kindle book and Kobo books on the Smart Tab 2.
The issue with the Smart Tab 2 is its internal storage, which is only 4GB, and a decent chunk of that is taken up by the operating system and pre-installed apps. Needless to say, you'll need to purchase a SD card.
Google's revamped Goolge Play Music runs nicely and it's a delight to see all of you music synced up immediately when you first sign in.
Although, the album covers are strangely pixelated, which takes away from the smooth modern experience the rest of Google Play Music offers. Tracks can be bought and downloaded from the Play Store and they're priced at about 99p for a single and £4.99 for an album.
Music playback quality is good, it sounds clear, undistorted and lacking the dreaded tinny sound - it also runs in the background when you want to do other things.
More base heavy songs don't fare as well, but for such small speakers they operate nicely. Obviously, with headphone the sound quality is greatly increased, especially with a decent pair.
We tested the Smart Tab 2's playback with a pair of Sennheiser on-ear Momentum headphones, listened to Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, and kicked back for a few minutes. The audio is impressive, crisp, clear and the pitch was just right.
Google Play Music supports all music formats accept wav, aiff and ra – but these formats are rarely used so the average listener shouldn't be affected.
Downloading movies and music from the Play Store presents no problem for the Smart Tab 2 and is surprisingly quick, although this will depend on your Wi-Fi speed. Downloaded videos will through the 'Play Movies' app, which also hosts your own personal videos.
Videos will cost around £3.49 to rent and £9.99 to purchase in HD, standard definition costs are slightly cheaper. The video playing app itself is similar to YouTube and unimposing, the controls will fade away after a few seconds and you can skip to certain points of the film by tapping on the running bar at the bottom.
But, as we said before, this is a weighty device and holding up for 90 minutes straight will be a strain on the arms and wrists.
You'll have to prop it up with a makeshift device to watch a full film because it's unlikely that you'll hold it mid-air for that long, unless you're working out, then you'll look great after a few weeks of movie marathons.
However, streaming video playback, via Netflex for example, leaves a little bit to be desired for. The device struggles with a data heavy app like Netflix and you'll find yourself staring at frozen screens and pressing on a video multiple times to get it to load.
The actual playback is jittery at times and takes a few minutes to buffer. Video also looks washed out in comparison to the Nexus 7, mainly because the screen isn't as powerful and it doesn't have the depth of colour that other, higher-end, tablets have.
Books, via the Kindle app, are easy to navigate around and there's no lag when switching between pages. The Kindle reading experience isn't hampered by the device in terms of performance, but it does falter on aesthetics, slightly.
As in other areas, the slightly pixelated screen makes for less than attractive viewing and given that the device weighs 400g it's not something you'll be holding up for too long.
Reading a magazine is probably one of the most entertaining things to do on a tablet, mostly because of the crisp images and sharp text – but that is a sensation that is missing from the Vodafone Smart Tab 2.
The washed out colours and not so crisp screen takes away from what should be a much more enjoyable experience.
The gallery app runs very smoothly, with a cool animation that displays pictures like a deck of sprawled out cards. You can make some very basic adjustments to pictures including rotation and cropping, but not much else.
The more advanced picture editors out there won't be wowed – or even interested – by the apps editing abilities but, being Android, there's always options – namely excellent apps like Snapseed or Instagram, which give you far more creative control and editing ability over your snaps.
The device comes with an inbuilt media streamer call the Vodafone Media Manager, which connects to other devices in your house that are connected to your Wi-Fi. This means you should be able to stream media from your PC to your tablet and vice-versa or to your TV if you have a smart box or smart TV.
It's a bit fiddly to get working and expect to see the error screen a few times. You'll need to make sure that other devices are discoverable and ready to share. Once you do get it working, transferring files and streaming is seamless – a nice option for people with multiple devices in the home.
If you're not comfortable using the Vodafone media manager, there's a whole host of other DLNA media servers available on Android – we'd recommend the excellent MediaHouse browser.
You can transfer content onto the tablet by plugging it into your computer, via the micro-USB slot, or by inserting an SD card. We'd recommend that you purchase an SD card because on the on-board storage, at 4GB, is particularly poor – most of which is taken up by bloatware. The SD slot can hold up to a 32GB SD card, but no higher.
When you insert an SD card, you'll be able to browse its contents by clicking on an icon in the notification bar – but the browsing system isn't the most attractive or intuitive.
It displays the data raw without any sort of wizard or helpful sections for different types of media. Alternately, the content on the SD card will be available in respective apps. For example, pictures on the SD card will be available through the galley app.
Similarly, when you plug the Vodafone Smart Tab 2 into your computer you're presented with a bunch of folders. You can deploy content into the relevant folder and the content will be available in the respective app.
Apps, games and battery life
Apps and games
Since the Vodafone Smart Tab 2 runs a stock Android OS apps and games can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. The Play Store has over 900,000 apps and games, which includes lots of indy content – one of the Play Sotre's greatest attractions.
The device itself comes with quite a lot of apps pre-installed, around 2GB worth. Including the basic android apps like Maps and Hangouts, but also apps like Docs To Go, a Microsoft office document editor, and Tune In Radio, a digital radio receiver.
Tune In Radio is pretty cool, it finds your local stations relatively quickly and you can get to playback in just a few taps.
We wanted to test games performance on the Smart Tab 2, so we downloaded Let's Bowl and tested how long it took to open compared to the Nexus 7. The Smart Tab 2 took 14 seconds, which was double what the Nexus 7 took.
We then took it a step further. We began a large download of another game, via the Google Play Store, and reopened Let's Bowl and the game became almost non-responsive. The Nexus 7, however, had no performance issues whatsoever.
Aside from the lag, the Smart Tab suffers in the graphics department too. Although, they don't look bad, the colours look washed out and the animations are blurred – not exactly an entertaining experience.
Google Maps runs well, it found our position quickly and, with 3G, we were able to navigate around without any hiccups.
We took the SatNav for a spin and it directed us without the need to stop, scratch the head, and ask a stranger for directions.
As on other devices you'll get full text directions of where to turn and which roads to head down – as well as the option of turning on navigate and being told, audibly, where to go. The device was able to give us real time, accurate, updates on our location.
Battery life on the Vodafone Smart Tab 2 isn't great and you will get around 5 hours on average with general use.
That includes some mild gaming and brief video watching, but we reckon 3G is most likely what is chomping battery life and you can extend it by an hour or so if you turn it off. It's just slightly lower than other tablets in the range with the Nexus 7 coming in at 8 hours and the Kobo Arc at 6.
We ran our 90 minute Nyan video test, with push notifications on and full screen brightness, and after a full charge, the Smart Tab had lost 25% battery, leaving it at 75% - which is lower than the Kindle Fire HD at 82%.
Camera and video
The Vodafone Samrt Tab 2 comes with a front facing 0.3MP camera and rear facing 2MP camera, which isn't standard for this type of tablet – but is a useful feature.
There's no flash, but we can't imagine why you would want to take any serious pictures with a tablet when your smartphone probably has a more accomplished camera fitted. On a sunny day, outdoors, the photo quality is generous, but in most scenarios you won't get much out of a 2MP camera.
The camera app is straight forward to use, and the buttons are all on-screen. You can start taking pictures by selecting the camera app and you'll be greeted with some simple options such as switching which camera to use (front or back) and settings, where you can adjust the white balance and screen mode (to day or night).
It's not a great camera, so fiddling with these options offers little extra in terms of the quality of photos you're going to take.
There's a novelty colour effect options where you can add sepia and negative effects to your pictures, but you might be better off purchasing a better camera app like Colour FX, from the Play Store, if you want to delve deeper into the photo effects arena.
Video footage is accessed through the same app as the camera and, just as the still camera, it comes with a stripped back interface and few features.
The video footage, which only records from the rear camera, and on its highest setting it isn't too horrific, but it's not good. The footage isn't too wobbly and it can handle fast movements without too much image drag, but it's not rivaling many of the smartphones on the market today.
At 2MP you wouldn't expect much more than what it currently offers and you wouldn't use this for anything particularly serious.
On the plus side you you're given a timer of how much recording you can do before you run out of space and there's a selection of video quality which ranges from low to fine.
Although it's not 'fine' in the truest sense of the word – more the maximum the 2MP camera will allow. Switching between low and fine quality changes the size of the image you're recording, with low quality videos being bigger in width.
Colour effects such as sepia and negative are also available in record mode and the exposure level is adjustable.
The Vodafone Smart Tab 2 sits squarely in the middle range. It performs well enough to keep you entertained but it doesn't perform well enough to challenge the more accomplished tablets in a similar size and price range – namely the Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7 or even the Asus Fonepad.
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Its 3G capability is useful, it's nice not having to worry about downloading everything you need for your journey before you leave your house. Many other tablets in the £150- £200 market won't come with 3G, so this is a welcome addition.
The front and rear facing cameras is a nice touch too. Other, better, mid-level tablets, like the Nexus 7, don't include rear facing cameras.
The SD card slot is another feature that is lacking from some of the bigger names, but the Smart Tab gives you this a takes away a reliance on the cloud. With the abysmal onboard memory, the SD card slot is a necessity.
Finally we liked the sound, both with and without headphones, which is decent. Without headphones is surprisingly good and you won't notice any distortion or tinny noise, but plugging in a pair of high-end headphones will multiply any multimedia experience by 10.
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The Smart Tab 2 is not light on its feet. At 400g it is far too heavy to hold in your hand for an extended period of time and you'll start to pay more attention to how much your forearm is aching, more than whatever you're doing on the tablet.
The screen resolution simply isn't good enough either. The 1024 x 600 resolution doesn't cut the mustard and its washed out colours make watching films and TV shows less entertaining, especially the more CGI-heavy blockbusters.
There's also the issue of lag, performance isn't the Smart Tab 2's strong point and it suffers when you're multitasking with heavy duty apps.
The Smart Tab 2 will do pretty much everything you'd expect an Android tablet to do, and in a way this is to its credit. There aren't any glaring software issues – but it does a reasonable job.
You'll be able to listen to your music, watch films (with some issues when streaming) and read your books – but it won't be the most exciting experience.
The Smart Tab 2 is worth purchasing if you can get it out of contract, second hand, and for less than £100 - but we've been informed by Vodafone that it's no longer selling the tablet for an upfront cost offline.
Over the course of the 24 month contract you'll spend £696 on this tablet, which it most definitely isn't worth – if you're happy to spend that kind of money pick up an iPad mini or a 3G enabled Nexus 7.