Chinese smartphone maker Tecno is best known for its budget phones that dominate the African smartphone scene, but the Shenzhen-headquartered company has begun its expansion plan, both geographically and by market segment.
The company launched by far the most premium and most expensive phone this month, and it’s one of the most original – both in design and concept – phones of the year.
The main selling point of this new flagship, dubbed Phantom X2 Pro, is the retractable portrait lens, and it really works. But more than that, I’m particularly impressed with the Phantom X2 Pro’s software image processing, something that smaller phone brands usually struggle with.
Hardware and design
I’ll get back to the cameras in a minute, let’s look at the overall design first. The Phantom X2 Pro is an extra-tall plate phone with a 6.8-inch OLED display with an elongated 20:9 aspect ratio. The back can be glass or vegan leather “made from recycled materials from the Indian Ocean”, and it’s the last model I’m testing. I like the look and feel of the orange leather, and the visually striking camera module makes it a real eye-catcher. I’ve been approached twice in the last month by random strangers asking about the phone because the back cover caught their eye.
The screen is curved, with a resolution of 1080 x 2400, a maximum brightness of 500 nits and a refresh rate of up to 120 Hz. In terms of vividness of colors, viewing angles, animations and sharpness, I have no complaints. The screen looks good. But the 500 nits brightness is a bit low by 2022 flagship standards, and this is a screen that looks decidedly dim in direct sunlight compared to something like a new iPhone or Samsung.
There’s an optical in-display fingerprint scanner and selfie camera under the display panel, and both work well. The phone is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 9000 chip, a flagship chip from Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek. It’s not as powerful as the top Qualcomm chip, but the Dimensity 9000, paired with 12GB of RAM, is still more than capable enough for any task you throw at it. There’s a large 5,160mAh battery that can be fast-charged at 45W, and the charger comes with the box.
The main attraction here is the retractable portrait zoom, which physically stands out (see image below). This not only allows the lens to get a little closer to the subject, but also allows more space for image information to travel through before it reaches the ISP (image signal processor). This extra space makes all the difference, as the zoom lens can achieve a convincing 2.5x zoom for a focal length of around 65mm.
The retractable zoom really works. There is noticeable natural bokeh (depth of field blur) in photos due to the focal length, image sensor size (1/1.3-inch) and fast f/1.5 aperture. This fast aperture also allows the lens to perform well at night, which is where smartphone zooms usually suffer.
The main camera is a 50MP Samsung GNV sensor which is basically the same sensor Google uses in the Pixel 7 Pro. It’s a great sensor, but it wouldn’t matter if Tecno’s image processing isn’t up to scratch, and as I said at the beginning, Tecno’s image processing is surprisingly good. Check out the photo samples below, all captured by the Phantom X2 Pro’s main cameras. I’m impressed with the HDR, which requires clever software to quickly take multiple photos and merge them into one shot.
Video stabilization is also similar, the only weakness I’d say is the ultra-wide lens and that the portrait lens struggles to focus in low-light situations. Otherwise, this is a camera system that can almost stick with the biggest names in the industry, and this is a remarkable achievement from Tecno.
Software and performance
The Phantom X2 Pro runs Tecno’s Android HiOS Android skin over Android 12. HiOS is one of the most customizable Android skins I’ve ever tested. Everything from the appearance of the app icon to animations when swiping through the home screen to the dozens of shortcut gestures can be customized to your liking. Honestly, it can be a bit overwhelming how many things you can change here. For the most part, everything works and the heavy-handed skin doesn’t get in the way of basic Android functionality. However, Android 12 is now a generation old and Tecno has no proven track record of providing software updates in a timely manner. I wouldn’t hold my breath if Android 13 comes here soon.
The MediaTek chip here is built on 4nm architecture and is fast enough to handle any app. Even when playing graphically intensive games like Genshin Impact, the phone didn’t miss a beat, although it does heat up like most smartphones.
Battery life is great, thanks to that big battery. I took this phone for a 15 hour day of heavy use consisting of taking dozens of photos and videos, navigating from point to point, streaming Spotify, using social media, and the phone would end that intense 15 hour day with more than 10% battery left.
The Tecno Phantom X2 Pro is the company’s most ambitious and premium device ever made. It has an eye-catching design and a real innovative breakthrough in camera hardware. But it is also very pricey for a brand that is far from a household name. The phone will launch first in Saudi Arabia (it will reach other markets soon) and will cost SAR 3,499, which equates to around $930. This is about four or five times the average price of a Tecno handset, so it’s quite a big leap.
I think it’s hard for many consumers to ask them to pay nearly $1,000 for a Tecno phone instead of a more established brand. But this is also part of Tecno’s strategy: it wants to expand and be seen as a premium brand, not just a manufacturer of $100 phones sold in Africa. If it seems too expensive at first, so be it. That was also Huawei’s strategy during its mobile heyday (2017 to 2019): the company priced its phone at Apple level rather than Xiaomi level, because Huawei saw itself as a maker of premium products. And it worked, eventually people accepted Huawei’s status and the phones were selling really well before US sanctions.
Of course, Huawei also got there by making really cutting-edge premium phones. Tecno has taken a big first step with the Phantom X2 Pro.