You will probably never use a Tecno phone. Until this week, I had never heard of the Chinese brand or its Camon line of appliances. Now, I’m unlikely to forget them.
The company recently held a fancy launch in New York for its new Tecno Camon Series 19 Pro Android 12 phones, though the products aren’t on sale in the US (or UK). I honestly wondered what they were doing there and more importantly why I was there.
Tecno insisted on describing the devices as being “designed for fashionistas”. I couldn’t tell you what that means, but I admit to being intrigued by the design, the specs and, most importantly, the price.
Key specs include:
- 6.8-inch virtually edge-to-edge 120 Hz FHD+ display
- 32 MP front camera with punched hole
- 64 MP and 50 MP cameras on the back
- 2X optical zoom
- Optical Image Stabilization
- 5000mAh battery
- fingerprint reader
- face unlock
- Some AI-infused photo tricks
- a 3.5mm headphone jack (!)
- A power pack, cable and headphones (!!)
It’s also a surprisingly attractive phone. There’s a diamond-coated back with fingerprint rejection that looks and feels adorable. The dual-circle camera array (which houses three cameras – there’s a 2MP bokeh auxiliary lens) is large but stylish, its premium look aided by its crystal glass cover. The chassis is just a little thicker than an iPhone 13 Pro Max, but the phone feels considerably lighter.
The Camon 19 Pro comes with all that (and more) for $280. That’s a phone you can afford in the space of five or six months (if you pay around $50 a month). The Camon Series 19 Pro 5G starts at just $320. That’s 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 SE, which only has 64GB of storage.
There is a catch
There are, of course, major caveats, the biggest one being global availability. These Tecno phones are available in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South Asia, but not, as I noted earlier, in the US or Europe. Prices can also vary and the $280 and $320 offered by Tecno is still just an “estimate” for my market.
There are several limits often associated with budget phones, such as no under-display fingerprint reader. Instead, the power button works as an effective fingerprint reader. The screen is still LCD and not OLED. No IP rating reported (maybe keep it away from deep puddles). It does not offer wireless charging.
Then there’s the mobile CPU, a MediaTek Helio G96, which is likely equivalent to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G. Its reference numbers aren’t even in the same neighborhood as, say, an Apple A15 Bionic or a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.
So when I unexpectedly walked out of the event with a review unit in hand and decided to spend a day or two with her, I tried to level my expectations.
Most of the time, however, this budget device exceeded them.
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As I mentioned, it’s an attractive big-screen phone with a vibrant display that naturally looks great indoors. Outside is something else. He struggled with bright light, but I could still see well enough to use his camera and pretty 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 night shots were decent (nothing would qualify as remarkable). There’s no wide-angle lens, let alone ultra-wide, but the included lenses captured sharp, colorful, and accurate images.
The rear camera’s portrait mode is fine (the front camera had more artifacts), although you can’t adjust the bokeh level before or after the photo (how many people do that 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 tied to Portrait Mode photography, which is kind of silly.
The AI camera and its efforts to identify objects in a scene were fun. At one point I pointed the phone at my hand and it came up with “Pet”.
There are so many image manipulation options that you may never find or use them all. The body manipulation set is problematic at best. It offers to thin the waist, head, shoulders, thin and elongated legs, “pump butt”, in addition to other cosmetic alterations. Maybe that’s what Techno meant by a phone for “fashionists”.
It was, to be fair, hard to find these features and the phone certainly doesn’t put pressure on them. Still, it’s strange that they’re there.
Drilling above your weight
For a phone under $300, the Tecno Camon 19 Pro performs well. He played demanding games like Asphalt 9: Legends without missing a beat. I think it might have dropped a frame or two, and the audio could have been richer, but it was still a pleasant experience.
It’s an effective productivity platform for browsing and managing files, and I love the alphabetical list of apps (Apple, Samsung, please do).
That 5,000mAh battery is, by the way, an all-day champion.
Basically, this is an above-average phone at a ridiculously good price.
Will it ever make it to the US and UK? I don’t know and Tecno didn’t offer any guidance. Not sure if it matters. What the Tecno Camon 19 Pro demonstrates to me is that all phone manufacturers can do better in terms of affordability. We’re paying up to $999 for powerful, big-screen phones that probably do a lot more than we need to (at least for most of us).
The Camon 19 Pro is a good example of budget possibilities. I think it’s time for Apple, Samsung and others to respond in kind.