Among the usual line-up of handsets from manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, every now and then Vodafone slips in one of its own-branded phones. The 526 is a classic example. Priced at £30, it's aimed at pay as you go users looking for a bargain -- but can its low asking price tempt buyers away from the big-name brands?
The 526 may carry Vodafone branding, but the phone is actually made by French company Sagem. It's not surprising then that the design looks very similar to Sagem's other budget offerings, such as the my511X and my150X. That's no bad thing though because, like those handsets, the 526 has a certain air of French chic to it that makes its unfussy design quite visually appealing. The handset's slim and small frame also adds to its charm.
The 526 isn't exactly packed with features, but the lack of extras combined with the intuitive menu system means it's very easy to use.
There are also some neat shortcuts included in the user interface. For example, pressing the down key takes you directly to your contacts list, while hitting the call button in the main menu brings up a tabbed display showing your received and missed calls, as well as recently dialled numbers.
One of the best things about the phone is its keypad. The buttons are quite large and nicely spaced, so it's very easy to get up to a decent speed when texting.
Budget handsets never have fantastic battery life, but the 526 is not too shabby in this area, as it offers up 3 hours of talk time and around 220 hours of standby time.
Vodafone has made a number of compromises with the 526 to keep a lid on costs. For starters, there's no connector for hooking it up to an external handset-free kit, so the only hands-free calling available is via the built-in speaker, which is on the quiet side.
If you live the life of a high-profile international man or woman of mystery, this handset isn't for you -- it's dual-band only, so it won't work in faraway lands like the US of A. It's also unlikely to appeal to music lovers because, unlike most modern handsets, it lacks an MP3 player.
The phone is also saddled with an older-style CSTN display rather than the modern-style LCDs used on pretty much all the latest phones. As a result, it has a limited range of colours and tends to look muddy and washed-out.
The 526 is a very basic handset that offers little in the way of superfluous features. It's definitely a case of what you see is what you get. But if you're just looking for a cheap handset that's easy to make calls with, it's certainly worth a look.
Edited by Marian Smith