You will probably never use a Tecno phone. Until this week, I had never heard of the Chinese brand or its Camon line of handsets. Now, it’s unlikely I’ll forget them.
The company recently held a chic New York City launch for its new Tecno Camon Series 19 Pro Android 12 phones, even though the products aren’t for sale in the US (or UK, for that matter). I honestly wondered what they were doing there and, more importantly, why I was there.
Tecno insisted on describing the handsets as “designed for fashionistas”. I couldn’t tell you what that means, but I admit I was intrigued by the design, specs, and most importantly, the price.
The main specifications include:
- 6.8-inch FHD+ near edge-to-edge 120Hz display
- 32MP Borehole Front Camera
- 64MP and 50MP rear cameras
- 2X optical zoom
- Optical Image Stabilization
- 5,000 mAh battery
- Fingerprint reader
- Face unlock
- Some Useful AI Infused Photo Tricks
- a 3.5mm headphone jack (!)
- A power brick, cable and earplugs (!!)
It’s also a surprisingly attractive phone. There’s a fingerprint-resistant diamond-coated back that looks and feels beautiful. The dual-circle camera array (which houses three cameras – there’s a 2MP bokeh-supporting lens), is large yet elegant, the premium look supported by the crystal glass cover. The chassis is only slightly thicker than a iPhone 13 Pro Maxbut the phone feels significantly lighter.
The Camon 19 Pro comes all this (and more) for $280. That’s a phone you can pay back in five or six months (if you pay around $50 a month). The Camon Series 19 Pro 5G starts at just $320. That is, on both phones, with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.
To put that in perspective, the cheapest iPhone you can buy is the $429 Apple iPhone SEwhich has only 64 GB of storage.
There’s a snag in the grass
There are, of course, huge caveats, the biggest of which is global availability. These Tecno phones are available in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, but not, as I mentioned earlier, in the US or Europe. Prices may also vary and the $280 and $320 Tecno offered is still just an “estimate” for my market.
There are plenty of limits often associated with budget phones, such as no under-screen fingerprint reader. Instead, the power button doubles as an effective fingerprint reader. The screen is still LCD and not OLED. There is no reported IP rating (maybe keep it away from deep puddles). It does not offer wireless charging.
Then there’s the mobile CPU, a MediaTek Helio G96which is probably equivalent to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G† The benchmark numbers aren’t even close to say an Apple A15 Bionic or a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1†
So when I unexpectedly left the event with a review unit in hand and decided to spend a day or so with it, I tried to adjust my expectations.
For the most part, however, this budget device surpassed them.
Not bad at all
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As I said, it’s an attractive phone with a big screen and a vibrant display that, of course, looks excellent indoors. Outside is another matter. It struggled with bright light, but I could still see well enough to use the camera and rather rich settings to take a variety of shots. Everything from standard to 2x telephoto and from portrait to slow motion looked pretty good. Even low-light and nighttime shots were decent (nothing would be classed as noteworthy). There’s no wide-angle lens, let alone ultra-wide-angle, but the included lenses captured sharp, colorful and accurate images.
The rear camera’s portrait mode is good (the front camera had more artifacts), although you can’t adjust the bokeh level before or after the shot (how many people do this on their iPhone 13 or Samsung Galaxy, anyway?). There’s an editing tool that lets you add and adjust a bokeh effect to any image, but it’s not directly linked to portrait mode photography, which is kind of silly.
The AI-powered camera and its efforts to identify objects in a scene were entertaining. At one point I pointed the phone to my hand and ‘Pet’ came up.
There are so many options for image manipulation that you may never find or use them all. The body manipulation kit is problematic at best. It offers the possibility to adjust the waist, head, shoulder, slender and longer legs, “fat butt”, along with other cosmetic adjustments. Perhaps this is what Techno meant by a phone for ‘fashionistas’.
It was, to be honest, hard to find those features and the phone certainly doesn’t push them. Still, it’s weird that they’re there.
Punching above its weight
For a phone under $300, the Tecno Camon 19 Pro is quite the feat. It played heavy games like Asphalt 9: Legends without missing a beat. I think it may have dropped a few frames, and the audio could be richer, but it was still an enjoyable experience.
It’s an effective productivity platform for browsing and file management, and I love the alphabetically ordered app list (Apple, Samsung, please do).
That 5,000 mAh battery is an all-day champion, by the way.
In short, this is an above-average phone for a ridiculously good price.
Will it ever arrive in the US and UK? I don’t know and Tecno offered no guidance. I’m not sure if it matters. What the Tecno Camon 19 Pro shows for me is that all phone manufacturers can do better in terms of affordability. We’ll pay a whopping $999 for big-screen, powerful phones that probably do a lot more than we’ll ever need (at least for most of us).
The Camon 19 Pro is a good example for the possibilities of budget. I think it’s time for Apple, Samsung and others to answer in kind.