Modern-day flagship smartphones from brands such as Apple, Sony and Samsung are simply too expensive for most South Africans. Or some people just don’t want to break the bank on a telephone.
For those, Vodacom’s 2014 Smart Kicka, which cost just R499, proved ideal. Not only did it deliver features good enough for most, but did so at a price that was impossible to beat.
Although the Smart Kicka was the cheapest smartphone ever reviewed on TechCentral, the device was impressive for such an affordable, entry-level smartphone.
It’s been two years since the launch of the first Smart Kicka, and the time is ripe for an upgrade – of the hardware, not the price, which stays at R499.
In this compact review, I won’t even try to compare the Smart Kicka 2 with more expensive smartphones. That would be unfair. Instead, my goal is to find out if the concessions Vodacom made to keep the device affordable are too great to bear.
Apart from a fresh look, the new Smart Kicka 2 now comes pre-installed with Android 5.1 Lollipop and runs a quad-core processor instead of the dual-core version in the first model.
The 3,5-inch, 320×480-pixel screen, 4GB of internal storage and 1 400mAh battery have all remained untouched, though. Just like the first model, storage capacity can be extended up to 32GB with an optional microSD card, adding to the total price. The Smart Kicka 2 still has just one 2-megapixel camera on the rear and just 512MB of RAM.
Despite its low price, the Smart Kicka 2 connects effortlessly to Wi-Fi networks and can even pair with Bluetooth devices. There’s no GPS or 4G/LTE support, however. It does come with a stereo headphone that simultaneously functions as an antenna for FM radio – essential for the target market.
The Smart Kicka 2 includes a straightforward manual. It shows you how to physically prepare the device for use in just a few steps, like inserting the battery and Sim card. Basic Android navigation is also explained, which is important given that for many users this will be their first experience with a smartphone.
Vodacom has its own subtle Android skin and app store. During first-time use, a lot of tips and help are offered on screen to ensure users know how to get the most out of the phone. Vodacom has clearly tried its best to keep installation, setup and day-to-day use as easy and understandable as possible.
The Smart Kicka 2 comes preinstalled with various Google apps, including YouTube, Chrome, Gmail and Google Maps, as well as social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. The included Vodacom app store enables you to browse and access a lot of local South African content, check airtime balances and buy airtime or bundles. It even comes with preinstalled security software, which unfortunately is considered a necessary evil on the Android platform. The downside to this feature-packed setup is that half of the 4GB on-board storage capacity is already taken up by all the apps and functionality, making the optional microSD card a necessity.
To top it all off, the phone comes with R300 worth of airtime/data, valid for seven days after activation.
It won’t come as a surprise that with a price point this low, the Smart Kicka 2 is an all-plastic device. Still, it feels remarkably lightweight, well manufactured and anything but fragile. Its compact size feels good in the hand, with the back sporting a slightly rougher finish to avoid it slipping.
Given the fact that most people are right-handed, and will therefore use their right thumb to operate and navigate, Vodacom chose to put its three physical button on the right side of the device.
Screen and camera
The screen resolution of 320×480 pixels hasn’t changed from the first Smart Kicka. Let’s face it: with a screen only 3,5-inch in diameter, who really needs more pixels? Screen brightness could have been better, though: it’s not always easy to read in direct sunlight.
Viewing angles deserve criticism. If you’re not facing the Kicka 2 head on, readability quickly diminishes. But considering the low price point, screen quality is more than adequate.
The Smart Kicka only houses one camera, which will suffice for most people that just want to snap a picture now and then and don’t need ultra-high resolution images. For that, the 2-megapixel camera does a reasonable job. Don’t expect much detail, though.
Hardware and performance
While the initial 2014 Smart Kicka ran on a dual-core processor, the Kicka 2 now has four cores at its disposal. The result is a smartphone that offers smooth navigation and scrolling in general operation. Just don’t expect it to run modern games fluidly.
The lack of real processing power becomes obvious in situations where a lot of pixels need to be moved around on-screen, such as when taking a photo. Given the Kicka 2’s price, again there’s still nothing too much one can complain about.
With its 1 400mAh battery, the Smart Kicka 2 will last you about a day if not using it continuously for browsing the Internet or taking pictures. This can be explained by the low pixel density and low-powered hardware that isn’t a big drain on the battery. No quibbles here.
Vodacom’s Smart Kicka 2 is undoubtedly as good a deal as its predecessor. Although the improvements are fairly limited – better processor, newer Android version and slightly improved design – it offers all you could want, and more, from a smartphone that costs only R499.
The Vodacom Smart Kicka 2 is available from all Vodacom outlets now. It gets 8/10. — © 2016 NewsCentral Media