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Tecno has two flagship devices this year, the Phantom 6 and the Phantom 6 Plus. In the melee that is occasioned by working with partners like Safaricom who would never tolerate dual-SIM devices on their shops, you will find the Phantom 6s. Worry not, it’s not yet another Phantom 6 but rather a variant with a single SIM.

The Phantom 6 has a 5.5-inch display and a characteristic dual-camera setup at its back that you can’t miss. The size, the two cameras and the lack of a fingerprint sensor at the back is what differentiates it from its larger sibling, the Phantom 6 Plus (see a more detailed side-by-side comparison of the two devices here). As the name insinuates, and from our experience with other devices having ‘Plus’ in the name, it is slightly larger than the standard Phantom 6.

It is this larger Phantom 6 that I have been using for a month now and I have made several observations as a result.

In my 4 weeks with the device, it has grown on me. From being overbearing thanks to its unwieldy stature to being something I want to bring with me on a road trip because I can read my eBooks for hours on end, catch up on the latest episodes of Greys Anatomy and occasionally check my Twitter and email, all without having to worry about battery life or straining to view the expansive display.

Should you really get it if you can? Well, that requires a long response so read on.

Specifications

Display6.0-inch full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) LTPS
ProcessorDeca-core MediaTek Helio X20 (MT6797) clocked at 2.0GHz with Mali-T880 MP4 GPU in tow
Memory4GB RAM; 64GB internal storage (expandable via microSD)
Camera21MP rear with dual-tone LED flash; 8MP front
Operating SystemAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow with HiOS
Battery4,050mAh
Network3G, 4G LTE
ConnectivityUSB Type-C, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11ac
OtherHybrid dual SIM, fingerprint sensor, FM radio

Design

The Tecno Phantom 6 Plus is huge. You have to see it in person to appreciate how huge it is. Depending on the size of your hands, you may or may not enjoy holding it and I guess that is why Tecno is offering a choice between it and the 5.5-inch model (which is still large but hey, welcome to the year of our Lord 2016 where that is almost the new standard).

However, its large figure means that Tecno is able to spread out the device’s internals including the beefy non-removable battery so that in the end it is just as thin as most phones in the market.

The speaker has moved to the bottom of the device. On last year’s Phantom 5, it was at the back. Next to it is a microphone in a similar grille setting that you can easily confuse for another speaker. Sandwiched in between the speaker and the microphone is a USB Type-C port for charging and data transfer, the first time Tecno is implementing this on any of their devices as noted in the device’s preview.

All buttons are on the left with the right reserved for the hybrid dual-SIM/microSD card slot. The power button is centrally-located and textured to make it easy to reach and tell apart from the volume rocker which sits a few milimetres on top of it.

The device’s top features the now endangered 3.5mm headphone jack and nothing else, which is quite surprising as I would expect a microphone for noise-cancelling purposes to be up there as well. No worries, though, as this is instead found on the upper most antenna strip at the back of the device just above the camera most likely to aid with video recording. Below the camera is the dual-tone LED flash and the fingerprint scanner. More on those in a moment.

The front is largely untouched with only the Phantom branding breaking the monotony of the expansive glass panel. There’s also the proximity sensor, the front-facing camera and the front-facing LED flash on either side of the device’s earpiece.

Display

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The Phantom 6 Plus has a 6-inch display that is well calibrated, vivid and just about fine when outdoors. There isn’t much not to like about it. The display is a huge upgrade over last year’s Phantom 5. It pops and makes consuming content a pleasure be it text like on a document or web browser or video on YouTube or on a video player.

Tecno would want you to know that all this is because it has switched to LTPS for the underlying display tech but all that you need to know is that you get a good display, end of story.

Software

Like every other device that has been released to the market recently, the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus arrives with Android Marshmallow. Like every other Tecno smartphone we’ve seen this year, it also arrives with HiOS, Tecno’s customized overlay which is what we get to interact with on the device.

I don’t know if it is because the Phantom 6 Plus has the best of the best when it comes to the internals Tecno could pack in a smartphone this year or that HiOS has actually had a lot of the things that made it a bit sluggish sorted out but it seems well-suited for this device. The icons are now in order and everything seems to work as it should.

That the HiOS interface on the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus is tuned to reflect the gold colour of the device was a good thing as it spared me the colourfulness of HiOS that I have always known and silently loathed.

tecno_hios

However, one of my favourite features of HiOS since day 1, the data traffic manager, didn’t seem to work when I keyed in my remaining cellular data so that it could compute the balance as the day/week/month went on. It was forever stuck on the 1.5GB I entered and made no effort to update despite the network speed meter showing the right uplink and downlink speeds.

Tecno has also bundled quite a lot of apps that you may or may not find to be that useful. I’d rather they used placeholders which then download the app if one is interested because after all, you will still have to update all those apps when you sign into the Play Store.

Overall, the software on the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus, does not get in the way of one experiencing the device and stretching it to the fullest of its capabilities thanks to its impressive spec sheet. This would certainly not be the case if this was a budget Tecno device.

Still, we could do with less of the bloat.

I signed in with my Tecno (forums) account and haven’t done anything with it since then.

While I certainly welcome the ability to tune the device’s built-in music player, the Boom Player, to produce sound that corresponds to the connected headsets (thanks to Boom Maxx), I don’t like that the Boom Player keeps on pestering me with unnecessary notifications. “You have 32 unread messages.” Oh! You mean alerts? And when you make the effort to check out the alerts you find that they are about things you mostly don’t care about.

The Boom Player incorporates a music streaming service (it’s been like this since it was introduced on the Boom J7 last year) but it is here that Tecno loses it. There’s little local content. Most of the music over there is Nigerian. There’s very little Kenyan music and the little that there is, one has to sweat to find it. I understand that Nigerian music is popular all over the continent and Kenya is no different but this should change if we are to fully embrace whatever Tecno is on to with its content efforts.

There is one little thing I liked about the Boom Player, though, that I could set a time when music stops playing. That comes in handy when you queue a couple of songs to help you fall asleep. However, your playlist shouldn’t run to the end if you fall asleep after, say, 20 minutes, right? The Boom Player can be set so that it ends things after the specified period. Useful. I wish this feature was there on my favourite music apps.

And, by the way, what about a one-handed mode to use the device? Come on guys, it’s a 6-inch smartphone! It’s not asking for too much when one wishes to have a keyboard they can shrink to the sides when they need to quickly send a text while holding a plastic bag full of groceries on the other hand, right?

Other gimmicks like the Eyeprint Identification are just that, gimmicks.

Camera

Well, what can I say?

With its Phantom series, Tecno takes a stab at the big boys at least once every year and as such we must hold the devices in this series to a higher standard. That starts with the camera, a critical feature in any smartphone worth its name today.

tecno_phantom_6_plus_1

After the hype about the camera at the launch event, my expectations of the camera on the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus had been raised. I expected so much from it. Long story short, it underdelivered.

While generally images are of acceptable quality most of the time, they don’t rise above and beyond the ordinary

I am not a professional photographer or even remotely a camera hobbyist or whatever career Instagram uploaders call themselves these days but I can tell apart good photos from bad photos. With the Phantom 6 Plus, I captured several images that fall into the latter category. This mostly had to do with the camera’s aggressive image processing when Beauty Mode was on, mostly when taking selfies, and over-exposure when taking photos with the main 21-megapixel camera. In the process, the nice blue skies we all like sharing on social media are lost in most images taken during the day ending up with different tones of blue or just plain white thanks to the excess light bleed.

While generally images are of acceptable quality most of the time, they don’t rise above and beyond the ordinary. The Tecno Phantom 6 Plus camera is good, period. 2016 flagship smartphone good? Not really.

When you lower your expectations, though, and just go about capturing the best shots that you can possibly get, things are a bit different. You will be surprised at the very good selfies you can take (just don’t look at the background a lot) and the like.

The camera also does try when night falls. From a distance. That is without even turning Night Scene mode on.

Things are a bit different (at night) when up close unless you use the front-facing LED flash to lighten things up a bit. Oh, and I am not as dark as that statement would make you believe.

There’s something else that the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus’ main camera is known for thanks to all those pixels it can capture: Super Pixel.

Super Pixel mode automatically kicks in once you try to zoom so that details are not lost. Or you can just turn it on by tapping on the three circles on the lower left of the viewfinder. What this does instead is capture an image with so much detail (up to 80 megapixels, I am told) that even cropping it won’t result in some details being lost. Or zooming in and out. It’s the one thing that the Phantom 6 Plus camera gets very right and I liked it.

See my favourite Super Pixel shots at the Mall of the Emirates here.

The camera’s auto-focus is also not the best. It’s terrible. It’s rather slow and more often than not, just misses everything entirely. Slow auto-focus can mean the difference between missing a great shot at an event and ending up with something blurry.

So, yeah, the camera is a mixed bag. You can get shots you’ll be proud of mostly if you are lucky enough. Nothing is guaranteed when you take the phone out of the pocket to quickly capture something which I find to be rather unfortunate for such a beautiful device and a hyped camera.

Performance

When it comes to what it can and cannot take, the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus is a beast. The Helio X20 chip coupled with the 4GB RAM takes just about anything you throw at it and makes mincemeat out of it. Or so it seems. With the user interface seemingly optimized, things are smooth and there are no hanging frames or any form of lag anywhere.

Fingerprint scanner

The fingerprint sensor at the back of the device is always on which means you can use it to wake the device from its sleep and unlock it straight away. No need to use the power button to wake up the phone and then the fingerprint sensor to unlock it. It does it all. It can also be used to unlock apps that require an extra layer of security thanks to the sensitivity of the data and information they hold like password managers like LastPass, for instance.

With the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus running on Android Marshmallow, basically any application that has been developed with fingerprint authentication support in mind can be used with the device’s fingerprint sensor.

Battery

The lack of many sensors and the software’s aggressive shut down of any processes running in the background (Doze?) combines to make sure that not much is drained from the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus’ 4,050mAh sealed unit. The battery lasts all day long even with heavy usage which is very impressive. Juicing it up when it goes empty is also a quick process thanks to the device’s fast charging capabilities (Tecno calls that “light speed charge”).

Others

Gestures work on the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus as they do on most other Tecno devices. Drawing a C on the screen when the device is locked and asleep, for instance, results in the camera app being launched.

Call quality on the Phantom 6 Plus is good. As is general network reception when using LTE data over cellular networks so nothing to worry about here.

I don’t know if this has to do with me using the bundled USB Type-C to microUSB adaptor to connect my flash drive or something but USB On the Go (OTG) which the Phantom 6 Plus is listed as having support for, just doesn’t work. What gives?

The device’s speaker, which is placed at the bottom, as already noted in the preview, is great. The sound coming from it is loud and up there with any good-sounding smartphone to come out this year. Now if only they made them two, one at the top and another at the bottom! We’d have an absolute winner.

The Good

  • Excellent retail packaging and the added freebies/gifts. Tecno outdid itself on this one.
  • The best sound on any smartphone I have used this year.
  • Good design.
  • Very fast fingerprint scanner.
  • Good battery life.
  • Good display.
  • Responsive UI even though it has its quirks and annoyances.
  • Excellent performance.
  • More storage. Tecno is selling the 64GB model locally. With 52GB being user-accessible, that’s more storage than the average user will fill up in a whim as is often the case with the 16/32GB phones most are used to buying from other brands at the Phantom 6 Plus’ price.

The Bad

  • Too many unnecessary apps pre-installed.
  • The camera’s auto-focus is an endless circus and stands in the way of great photos while generally undermining the entire camera’s ability to take some great shots straight out of one’s pants pockets.
  • The device has just 3 sensors: the proximity sensor, the G sensor (G is for gravity) and the ambient light sensor. This is acceptable on a budget smartphone like the many that Tecno already has in the market. It is not acceptable on a flagship device. While some users will never care about such, and which I believe is Tecno’s argument, those that will install a weather app that requires extra sensors not available on the device won’t know why their Kshs 35,000 purchase can’t correctly handle a nice weather app. Or even a proper compass app.
  • There’s no LED for notifications/alerts which is a bummer considering that Tecno’s budget devices have that beautiful “breathing light” for similar purposes.
  • No one-handed mode. For such a huge device, a one-handed UI is a no-brainer. Too bad the Tecno Phantom 6 Plus lacks one.

Final Word

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The Tecno Phantom 6 Plus is, overall, a really nice phone. All-round if I may say. It combines a great design (that all-metal body and its chamfered edges is just the one) with the best internal hardware that Tecno could find while not inflating costs to produce the most affordable flagship smartphone in the Kenyan market.

However, its failure to go for the kill with an equally great camera holds me back from having it as a personal favourite and leaves me asking for more. This shouldn’t stop any fans of the Tecno Phantom series from getting it, though, since it is a deserved upgrade to last year’s Phantom 5 and arguably the better phone when pitted against its smaller sibling, the Phantom 6, even though guys with small hands may hold a different view.

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