With the emergence of the Phantom 9 as a mid-range device, it seems the Phantom product line is now designed to position Tecno Mobile as the mid-tier brand in Transsion Holding’s portfolio. Tecno Phantom 9 is a mid-range phone that has a few pleasant surprises.
It’s a device that showcases the latest raves in mobile design– a notched, almost bezel-less display, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and a bunch of other features. I’ve had this phone for a week now, using it daily for this review, and I can say that it strikes a fair balance between features and price like a good mid-tier phone would. However, there are some unexpected trade-offs.
These are the items found in the box apart from the phone:
- a USB cable
- a wall adapter
- a pair of earphones
- a matte TPU cover
- a SIM ejector tool
Display and Design
Taking the phone out of the box, the first thing that strikes you is the beautiful back cover. The unit I got comes in a color Tecno calls Lapland Aurora. It’s a shiny gradient of blue and purple with diagonal lines running through. It’s so beautiful I felt bad covering it up with the matte cover I found in the package. It’s the kind of back cover you want to show off if you can take the risk of using a naked phone. However, it’s a polycarbonate material that’s more likely to scratch than shatter. The back cover is not removable, and I don’t think it’s a feature you find on mid-range or high-end devices these days.
There’s an array of three cameras at the back arranged vertically with a quad-LED flash just below them.
At the front, you see the centrally placed 32MP front camera that’s one of the highlight features of this device. On each side of the front camera are two carefully concealed LED flashlights for taking selfies in the dark. I’m probably the lone voice saying this, but I’ve never been a fan of front LEDs on smartphones. The truth is, there are millions of people who appreciate this. The fact that it’s neatly concealed gives me satisfaction though. You won’t even know it’s there until you use it.
The screen is a 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED display with a resolution of 1080×2340. For those in the know, an AMOLED display is always preferred over an LCD screen. It’s generally believed to be better in all aspects. The notch at the top is pretty small, but there’s still a section in the settings that lets you hide it.
The brightness can get really low to protect your eyes when reading and it gets really bright when needed. As with every phone I use, I always look for any form of blue light filter available. It’s called Eye Care on Tecno Phantom 9 and a slider lets you adjust the intensity.
There’s a tiny chin at the bottom I don’t consider an issue.
On the right side are the volume rocker and the power button. The right side has the SIM tray which can hold two nano-SIM cards and an SD card, all at once. I’ve always hated hybrid slots that lets you choose between using a second SIM or an SD card. I’m glad the Phantom 9 doesn’t come with this.
The tiny hole at the top is the noise-canceling microphone. At the bottom are the mono speaker, audio port, micro-USB port, and microphone opening.
The design is what you expect a 2019 phone to be except for the lack of a USB Type-C port and the absence of stereo speakers. However, this is a reminder that it’s a mid-range device.
Tecno Phantom 9 has three cameras at the back, each doing a different job. There’s a 16MP primary shooter with f/1.8 aperture that does most of the job. There’s another 8MP camera that’s responsible for wide-angle shots. The third camera is a 2MP shooter that does depth sensing. This is what makes photos with bokeh (blurred background) possible.
The rear camera setup has a quad-LED flash that makes a lot of difference in extreme low light conditions. As expected, the rear camera shoots 1080p videos at 30fps max. I took it outdoors and took a few shots. I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance, but the result was quite surprising. The brightness, saturation and color balancing were really good.
The rear camera has lots of shooting modes. AI CAM mode has other sub-modes like wide-angle and macro. As a macro photography enthusiast, I did play around with the macro mode, and it wasn’t bad. Here are some unedited photos taken in this mode:
The front camera has a 32MP shooter which I consider to be an overkill. It’s no longer a secret that huge pixel resolution does not necessarily translate to great photos. However, the advantage is that photos shot in high resolution often have a good print quality when they need to be enlarged.
Using the selfie camera for the first time, I noticed most of the photos were overexposed. I later discovered that the default HDRA mode was the issue. Changing this to HDR fixed the problem and I was finally able to take some really great selfies. The front camera doesn’t have manual focusing though.
The front camera also has Bokeh mode (blurred background), but the edge detection isn’t as nice as the rear camera that employs an additional depth-sensing camera for this purpose.
For people who take lots of selfies in the dark, there is a dual-LED flash at the front.
Biometrics and Sensors
Being a relatively new technology in the mobile market, I was curious to see how the in-display fingerprint sensor would perform on this device. It took a while to fully register a finger, but you only need to go through this just one time. Surprisingly, this feature works pretty well. Picking the phone up activates the screen for unlocking.
The face unlock seems a lot faster though. Maybe even too fast for my liking that I had to disable it. Sometimes I only want to check the lock screen to read notifications only for the phone to take me straight to the home screen. It’s a good thing there multiple ways to secure the phone.
The last Tecno device I reviewed was the Phantom 6 Plus which I criticized for lacking basic sensors; there wasn’t even a Gyroscope sensor. Tecno Phantom 9 is very different in a very good. There are over a dozen sensors including the most important ones every phone should have and a bunch of others you might not really use.
Performance and Storage
One of the best things about Tecno Phantom 9 is the generous 128GB of mass storage. With this, lots of people might not find the need to use an SD card. On mobile phones, I’ve never been able to max out 128GB storage. This isn’t the same for everyone though. But for an average user who has been restricted to lower storage sizes before now, it’s a dream come true.
This device comes with an ample 6GB of random access memory. Tecno Phantom 9 gets its processing power from Helio P35 processor which is often compared to Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 in terms of performance. It’s an octa-core processor with ARM Cortex-A53 architecture. It is designed to have 4 performance cores with a maximum frequency of 2.3GHz while the second cluster has the rest of the cores clocked at 1.8HGz. Graphics is powered by IMG PowerVR GE8320 GPU running up to a speed of 680MHz.
Based on my experience, this is quite good for everyday use by mid-range standards. As far as performance is concerned, there is no issue in terms of day-to-day use since I wasn’t expecting a mid-range device to act as a high-end phone and the benchmark scores prove this.
However, PUBG, the only mobile game I seem to play these days, was only playable at the lowest graphics settings. I had to set the framerate to the lowest, disable anti-aliasing, and set graphics to smooth.
The IMG PowerVR GE8320 GPU doesn’t support high graphics settings. Trying out medium settings also made the game lag.
It’s also worth noting that running games that require huge CPU/GPU power at medium/maximum graphics settings isn’t one of the strengths of this device. Playing PES 2019 as well on this device didn’t give the best experience I’ve seen. This is a major point to consider if you’re a hardcore mobile gamer.
Software and Battery Life
The Phantom 9 runs HiOS 5, Tecno’s customized version of Android 9. There are customizations here and there and some really nice features. One of the good ones is the bike mode you can toggle on and off. This rejects incoming calls and sends automated messages when turned on.
The alphabetically arranged app drawer is still there though I rarely use it as I have most of my apps on the home screen.
On the right side is a Smart Panel that acts similar to the Edge Panel on Samsung phones. This quickly lets you access tools and apps you mostly use. It’s customizable and can be disabled from the settings.
The software comes with a bunch of bloatware apps but gladly, most of them are removable.
The battery has a capacity of 3,500mAh which is just around average these days. A 4,000mAh battery would’ve looked better on paper in my opinion. However, I was still able to get between 7 to 8 hours of on-screen time using just social media apps and Chrome browser during the day. In my test, the battery takes around 2 hours to fully charge.
Networking and Connectivity
If you’ve always had issues finding a phone compatible with weird network bands like the one Glo uses, this device should solve that problem. It works with Glo 4G and every Nigerian network provider I used it with. This phone’s support for a wide range of network bands is an added advantage. The phone retains the FM radio feature not found in high-end devices these days. Although I don’t use it, it’s nice knowing it’s there as quite many people would find it useful.
Tecno Phantom 9 has its strengths and weaknesses. The huge mass storage is an advantage everyone wants. Tecno’s choice to use an AMOLED screen with an in-display fingerprint sensor too is nice. The camera performance is similar to phones in its price range. However, running heavy games like PUBG or PES 2019 isn’t particularly enjoyable at medium graphics settings. It’s one of the trade-offs which might be a major dealbreaker for some. The absence of a USB Type-C port can’t be ignored as well. But if you care about a decent camera, a beautiful design, and plenty of storage, you can’t go wrong with Tecno Phantom 9.