If you fancy grabbing yourself a decent smart phone without having to take out a second mortgage, cast your eye in the direction of the T-Mobile Vivacity.
The Vivacity has taken design tips from the iconic iPhone, mimicking its black and silver rectangular body down to the finest details. Its innards though, are closer to another budget smart phone, the Orange San Francisco 2.
It will set you back £90 on pay as you go.
Should I buy the T-Mobile Vivacity?
While the Vivacity's appearance may ape the iPhone, it has the guts of the San Francisco 2 (which, confusingly, looks like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo). And when we say similar, we mean identical, as they were made to the same specification.
Both the Vivacity and the San Francisco 2 were built by ZTE. Both are good, solid options for first-time smart phone buyers. Choosing between them could come down to something as superficial as design preference. T-Mobile's Android operating system skin is definitely prettier than the drab grey and tangerine-hued one that Orange has slapped on the San Francisco 2, but the latter's handset design arguably has the edge over the Vivacity.
The Vivacity carries a decent enough 5-megapixel camera, as well as a front-facing 640x480-pixel resolution camera, which is perfect for video calls to rellies around the world using services like Skype.
It comes packing Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which means you'll have access to all the apps on the Android Market. Day-to-day tasks are handled with aplomb, including playing YouTube clips on the vibrant 3.5-inch screen.
If you're fond of the minimalist iPhone design but price is an issue, the Vivacity may well be the right phone for you. Of course, while it may look like the iPhone, an iPhone it is not. It won't provide you with the same power or functionality, but it will do the trick if you want to convince people that you've got a more expensive blower than you actually have. From a distance, at least.
Design and build quality
The Vivacity design team quite clearly had a mood board full of Apple mobiles for inspiration when they set about creating this phone. You'd recognise the oblong shape, rounded corners and flat sides anywhere. It even has the same lock/unlock button and silver rim running around the edge.
As the Vivacity is constructed almost entirely from plastic, it doesn't have the same expensive feel or comforting weightiness that you get when cradling the glass and metal slab that is the iPhone 4S. That's to be expected as it's around £400 cheaper. The shiny black plastic is a magnet for fingerprints and the phone began to look grubby and smudged with minimal amounts of handling.
The phone feels sturdy enough, but take off the back panel and you'll see that the plastic casing is pretty thin and flimsy. There's little to no flex in the phone though, which is helped by the lack of physical buttons.
There are four touch keys on the front of the phone, which provide standard Android handset controls -- home, back, search and options. On the side of the device is a volume rocker and on top is a 3.5mm jack, where you will inevitably plug in your own headphones rather than the naff-looking ones that come bundled with the phone. The front-facing camera perches next to the slim speaker grill.
Instead of the iPhone's docking port on the bottom of the handset, the Vivacity sports a micro-USB socket on the left-hand side of the phone for charging and connecting it to a computer. Inside you'll find a micro-SD slot, which you can access without removing the battery. This will allow you to expand the memory by up to 32GB.
The Vivacity weighs in at a featherweight 118g, and at a mere 10.5mm in depth, you won't find it too cumbersome to slide into your pocket.
The Vivacity boasts a 3.5-inch screen on the diagonal, which is the same size as the iPhone, although when we compared the two, the Vivacity has a thicker bezel, which definitely makes its screen slightly slimmer. A display this size isn't ideal for perusing the web or watching videos, but if you do choose to indulge in these activities, you'll be rewarded with rich, vibrant colours.
The 800x480-pixel resolution isn't huge, so be prepared to do quite a lot of scrolling around web pages to see everything. For a budget phone, a pixel density of 267ppi is much higher than we would have expected -- it even beats the pricier Motorola Razr's 256ppi -- and renders text and images sharply.
The Vivacity's touchscreen is capacitive, meaning it's lovely and responsive when pinching yout digits to zoom in on pages, although we did find typing and texting on the narrow screen a tad fiddly compared to other smart phones.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread
The wonderful thing about Android is that it brings top-of-the-range software to phones of all budgets, unlike iOS, which is only available on high-end phones (although the upgrade to iOS 5 on the older, cheaper iPhone 3GS will have made it more affordable for many). While the Vivacity doesn't pack the latest version of Android -- the tongue-tingling Ice Cream Sandwich -- it does have the latest version of Gingerbread, which offers great functionality.
You get five home screens to fill up with your favourite apps, widgets showing live information, or shortcuts to folders and web pages. Adding an icon to a home screen simply involves pressing and holding on the display and selecting from a menu the icon you'd like to put down. Live widgets can be downloaded from Android Market and are a great way to make your home screens come to life.
The app launcher nestles at the bottom of the home screen between the contacts and web browser shortcuts. With one tap you can pull up the menu, which lists all of your apps in one icontastic grid.
T-Mobile has slapped its own skin on top of Android, and as they go, it's quite easy on the eye. There's some unwanted apps -- or bloatware -- and while you can't dispose of them completely, they're easy enough to hide so it doesn't feel overly intrusive.
A handy toolbar on one of homes creens gives you instant access to settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen brightness and more, allowing you to turn them up and down, or on and off, at the press of a single icon. Another home screen comes equipped with a Google search bar, meaning you can begin an Internet search without having to slip into the browser first.
T-Mobile's customisation is not that extensive -- it has made-do with the standard Android browser and music player. The browser is perfectly adequate and efficient and allows you to have up to eight tabs open at one time.
Lurking under the bonnet of the T-Mobile Vivacity is a an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM. It's not a particularly mighty motor as modern mobile machines go, but you're getting a lot of power for your pennies. It should potter quite happily through most tasks.
While web browsing and opening apps is quite nippy, the scrolling motion on the Vivacity is a little juddery for our liking. If you've never experienced the smooth swiping on more powerful phones, however, this niggle probably won't colour your everyday use.
It was easy to navigate around the menus and we found that the Vivacity was generally quick and responsive. It's important to remember that the relatively weak processor could become overburdened if you download an excessive number of apps. It will also struggle if you try to play 3D games or run more demanding tasks.
When we ran the Quadrant benchmark test, we saw that the Vivacity had the edge in the power stakes over the Orange San Francisco 2, although the difference is so small as to be almost negligible. Both phones inched in above the Samsung Galaxy S -- a blower that still offers a pleasing experience, despite being completely overshadowed by its big brother, the Samsung Galaxy S2.
While the battery life on smart phones is always pretty poor, the Vivacity's slightly weaker engine means you're likely to get more out of it than phones with more powerful, juice-guzzling innards.
T-Mobile reckons you can get 4 hours of talk time from the Vivacity and around 200 hours in standby mode, which on paper is a teensy bit less than the San Francisco 2, but decent nonetheless.
On the back of the phone you'll find a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. There are a few settings you can tinker with if you fancy getting creative. But while it's a decent enough snapper for a phone, it's hardly going to replace your favourite compact camera.
In use, there's a bit too much lag on the autofocus and a frustrating amount of delay in capturing photos. It managed to take some decent enough stills that were rich in colour, although sharpness and exposure was definitely iffy.
Getting images from the phone is very easy. Simply plug it into your computer via USB and your phone will ask you if you want to use USB storage. Tap Yes and a folder will open on your computer, allowing you to take out all the photos to share with the world.
We're not sure if we could describe the Vivacity as being "vivacious" exactly, but if you're looking for a budget Android phone, you can't go far wrong with this little blower. It's handsome, simple to use and offers all the delicious functionality of Android 2.3 Gingerbread.