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For a company that started making smartphones less than 5 years ago, Tecno has grown, and while it is yet to match the offerings of legacy and older OEMs, its gains in the smartphone game are significant and encouraging. Back in 2012, the device manufacturer was struggling to navigate a rather immature Android market, at least, locally. Its focus was the budget segment, and to be honest, those devices were not great. It is something they may have recognized and returned to the drawing board to formulate a better strategy. At the moment, its devices are better looking, with great cameras and pocket-friendly to fit into the budget of its target customer base. For instance, the Camon series are built well, pack good camera sensors – all for less than KES 20,000. Competitors, on the other hand will charge you more.

Together with a robust marketing strategy, it is not difficult to ascertain why these devices fly off the shelves. In fact, there are occasions I have walked into a shop, only to be told that a certain Tecno model is unavailable because people scooped them all. Retailers love devices that fly off their shelves, and by extension, the OEM, which is Tecno in this case, sees gainful strides in terms of revenue. Generally speaking, it appears that Tecno has used these revenues in the best way possible (those commercials you see on TV, print and online media are costly) – and the results are evident.

The device of the hour is the Tecno Phantom 8. I have played with this baby for some time, and I’m fairly certain that I’m in a better position to give readers a concrete overview about it. In case you are not aware, the device was unveiled in Dubai in October, and a local launch was done in mid-November. The Phantom 8 is the successor of last year’s duo, the Phantom 6 and 6 Plus. No, a generation has not been skipped. Rather, this is how phone manufacturers roll nowadays. Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8? iPhone 8 and 8 Plus? See the correlation? Great.

That said, lets dive in.

Key specs and hardware overview

The Phantom 8 is a large device. I get most of us are used to large phones, which range from the budget segment all the way to premium devices. Large phones are mainstream; in fact, the term phablet has since been phased out for the same reason. Stretching at 5.7”, this is a good balance between the Phantom 6 with its 5.5” diagonal and a 6.0” for the Plus. It should also be noted that it uses IPS technology. It looks good enough for its price, and while I wish it were brighter in outdoor conditions and a tad dimmer during those late-night stalking activities, it admirable nonetheless. At 1920 by 1080, it packs sufficient pixels as well, so images and videos will look crisp.

What is more, you can tune the screen your liking with MiraVision. The tool allows adjustment of picture mode, where colours can be changed to a vivid, standard or user mode. Depending on your eyeballs, you can pick what suits you best. Personally, I prefer the standard mode, which, if you are really keen, tends to oversharpen images. It is something I have mostly noticed especially when watching videos. It is not a deal breaker, and there is a good chance you will not observe the artefact.

When ‘user mode’ is enabled, you will access additional metrics such as basic colour tuning in terms of contrast and saturation, advanced colour tuning that includes adjustments in sharpness and colour temperatures, as well as a video enhancement toggle. I’m glad these settings are here for those who want their screen to render in certain manner. All in all, this a great display for media consumption. You will not be disappointed.

Everything else on the front panel is pretty standard. At the top, an earpiece is flanked by a 20 MP camera and LED flash. A notification LED, thankfully, is included. The lip of the phone is equipped with capacitive keys, which, sadly, are not backlit. I’m yet to understand why this decision was made, but I hope Tecno abandons them for modern, onscreen buttons. Also, you will notice that the device has sizeable bezels that unnecessarily increase the overall footprint of the device.

The back of the device is plastic (not a necessarily bad decision), which does a nice job of aping glass – but looks beautiful if you manage to keep it clean. In my opinion, the material choice does not bother me, but glass should have been a better choice because it is more premium. Anyway, it is a fingerprint blackhole and accumulates smudges at an alarming rate. Worse, it easily scratches. Both can be mitigated by snapping in the included clear, sturdy case. It increases the mass of the device, but on the bright side, your Phantom 8 will be protected.

Notably, 2017 continues to be the year of dual camera sensors, and the Phantom 8 fits into that narrative. It packs 12 MP and 13 MP cameras with a slight protrusion at the back with a triple-tone LED flash. The fingerprint scanner, which is favourably recessed is above the TECNO logo. A subtle Phantom 8 branding is present as well.

The sides, which are metallic for sturdiness, are home for a hybrid SIM slot (left), volume rocker and power key on the right, a headphone jack at the top (I prefer it at the bottom) as well as a speaker grill and a modern USB C port at the bottom. It is a complete package that does not skip on the basics.

Handling and feel is fantastic, although a tad heavy and slippery. These are issues that can be corrected if Tecno decides to drop the now older screen aspect ratio at 16:9 for a newer. 18:9 AR. That way, Tecno can even fit a larger display on shrunken footprint, which is all we want.

You can check what is under the hood on this spec sheet post but as a recap, there are 6 gigs of RAM, a MTK Helio P25 chipset and a 3500 mAh battery that supports very fast charging.

Battery performance

Tecno may have reduced the size of the Phantom 8 in comparison to its predecessors but that does not mean longevity has seen a cut as well. Admittedly, for the first two days, I was quite unimpressed with battery behaviour, until the device miraculously learned my usage pattern. It is great, to say the least.

My usage pattern includes heavy online music streaming via Bluetooth speakers, heavy use of social media, media consumption via YouTube and occasional camera use. I do not play games on my phones, nor do I let my device idle for long. With this pattern. I managed to hit 5-6 hours of screen on time (with about 60% of screen brightness). In other words, this is an easy two-day battery for frugal users or a full day even for heavy users.

Tecno Phantom 8 BatteryTecno has also packed a fast charger with an output of 5V – 9V = 2A and 9V – 12 V = 1.5 A. You will get a full charge in less than 70 mins, with up to 55 percent for the first thirty minutes. Gotta love that, right? Terrific. Unfortunately, I’m yet to establish if the first charging technology is developed by the chip maker (MediaTek’s PumpExpress) or is proprietary system. I will update this segment as soon as I find out (It is in-house solution called Light Speed Charge).

Lastly, there are a tone of battery settings, including an ultra-power mode that dumbs the phone down with basic features. These options are available to help users squeeze additional usage in case they are not close to a power socket.

Software and performance

The Phantom 8 is packed to the brim with a lot, and I mean a lot. I covered most of them here. In summary, think of what Touchwiz was a couple of years ago. That is HI OS v3.0.0 for you, and if that is a bit confusing, imagine this scenario: you can lift the device to receive a call sans hitting the RECEIVE button. You can micromanage how apps behave. What is more, you can theme the entire system, switch between fonts, and so many customization options.  Accompanying these features are a lot of apps that no one asked for. Some of them push ads to the lock screen, which is annoying. However, these are things you can disable. Sadly, most of these apps cannot be uninstalled.

Phantom 8 Lockscreen

Fortunately, the device does not break a sweat pushing these features to action. Apps open fast, and you can keep most of them in memory. I tested up to 30 apps, which switched back and forth without refreshing. I like that.

I don’t know if performance will remain constant for the next 12 months because phones slow down over time. For the moment, performance is not an issue.

Fingerprint performance

This is a great fingerprint scanner if you set it well. I had a stretch of bad luck at first, with multiple inconsistencies. This was solved when I registered each of the two fingers I use twice. Also, you might want to use a case as it helps in reaching it with minimal fumbling.

Tecno Phantom 8 Back Other than securing you device, you can restrict apps access as well. I wish more Android devices had this feature to stop the need of getting another app to do something that can be enabled via settings. Also, you can receive a phone call with the sensor or use it as a shutter button when taking pictures (although you cannot call the notification shade). For the last two actions, a fingerprint does not need to be registered because any print just works.

Camera

There are three of them; two at the back and one on the front. Tecno couldn’t skip the urge to include a dual camera, which is a welcome addition. Notably, there are several ways Tecno could have implemented this; use a normal and ultra-wide sensor like LG, adopt a colour and b/w sensor the Huawei way, or wide angle and telephoto like Apple does.

Tecno’s approach is the last one with a normal 12 MP and a tele 13 MP sensor with 2X zoom that does not compromise on quality, at least in theory.

The camera app has several shooting modes. One of them is Refocus that focuses on a subject and blurs the background.

I’m no camera expert, but I will tell you the photos taken by the Phantom 8 are rich in fine detail when the primary 12 MP camera is used to the fullest. While noise can be spotted in tricky setups, especially in low light, colours are nicely balanced.

However, this is not the case when the secondary camera is used especially in portrait mode. Edges are inaccurately cut, and blurring is done wrong in some occasions.

Phantom 8 Refocus
This is a bad refocus shot. See how it fails focus on the subject and starts blurring the background at the wrong place?

Its rate of success is below average, and okay results are pegged on distance between the subject and the background. Fortunately, these are issues that can be improved with software updates.

Phantom 8 Refocus
Sometimes, the phone’s portrait mode does a good job like this.

The front camera is excellent. The details are there, colours are well balanced, and there is no way you will get poor self portraits with it.

Lastly, you will get cleaner images if you keep the standard 1.0x zoom distance, and while you will get zoomed in images at 2.0x, quality depreciates significantly with washed out pictures.

Key findings and others

  • The Phantom 8 has lots of storage at 64 GB and as of writing this review, I haven’t filled half of it.
  • Music playback is fair, but I have heard better quality from competitors. On the bright side, the included earphones are awesome.
  • Speakers sound okay and loud.
  • No, there is no wireless charging here.
  • The device also lacks some form of Ingress Protection, so do not put it under water.
  • Hi OS v3.0.0 could be leaner. It feels a little bloated with a bunch of features that are not necessary. Also, it ships with Android 7.0, which is not the latest around. The company has not given a word about the Oreo ETA, but my guess is that it will happen in the course of Q1 2018.
  • Camera performance is great for the price.
  • Battery life is terrific.
  • Day to day performance is admirable.
  • Diamond Fire Design is a drastic departure from Tecno’s previous design concepts. In this case, the back of the device has a polished glass back that reflects light to give a shimmering touch that reflects light. It looks great, but just make sure you keep your cleaning cloth around.

The Tecno Phantom 8 is available across multiple stores, including official Tecno outlets for KES 37,000. Telkom Kenya sells it for the same price, with a gift hamper and 2.5 GB of free data.

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