The Phantom line is Tecno’s most technologically advanced lineup of smartphones and the Phantom X I have here is probably their best execution of a Tecno flagship smartphone to date. It has an uncompromising look and feel to it even though some compromises were made to make it what I would call a flagship killer. You can watch the cinematic review below
The front is dominated by a 6.7 inch full HD Oled display with a 90Hz refresh rate, some extreme curves to the sides and a pill shaped cut out for the dual selfie cameras, one regular one and a wide angle. The earpiece is a tiny slot between the edge of the display and the metal frame and in that tiny bezel are the usual sensors as well as a selfie flash.
Your volume and power buttons are on the right edge but slightly pushed towards the back to accommodate the curved display and I very much love how the back glass and the metal frame neatly divert from their original line to give equal margins of frame above and below the row of buttons.
The top edge houses the secondary microphone and the triple slot tray which holds 2 sim cards and an SD card. It also has a rubber ring for improved water resistance even though it does not have an official water resistance certification.
Towards the bottom edge is the headphone jack which is thoroughly extinct on a number of flagships, the primary microphone, a USB-C port which supports 33W fast charging, faster than what Samsung, Apple or Sony can do with their flagships, and an array of holes for the loudspeaker.
Moving over to the back, the Phantom X has one of the biggest camera bumps I have ever seen on a smartphone. It is as thick as 4 credit cards stacked on top of each other and it’s a 2 tier bump as well with the first one housing the signature Quad LED flash and the laser autofocus and the second one housing 3 camera lenses.
Such an extravagant camera bump should mean an extravagant camera experience too which we will find out in the camera section of this review but right now, just looking at the sheer size of the main sensor tells me we are in for one solid camera experience.
The setup is a massive 1/1.3 inch 50MP ultra sensing sensor, an 8MP wide-angle camera and a 13MP 2x telephoto. The Tecno branding is laid underneath the glass horizontally and the glass itself feels very nice in the hand. It’s a frosted glass finish with really subtle grooves running the length of the back. I noticed when I handled it, the camera bump would be a natural resting place for my index finger.
Software & UI
The Phantom X is running Android 11 with HiOS 7.6 on top and I found 6 software features that looked pretty interesting.
It has a picture in picture mode. So if I want to continue listening to my YouTube video whilst I write down my notes. I just swipe up with 3 fingers in the YouTube app and it becomes a floating window then I can open my Notes app and get to jotting.
If I want to interact with the YouTube app whilst it’s in this floating window mode to maybe select another video, I just tap it once, search for the clip i want to watch and then tap these pinch in buttons to make it smaller and resume with my notes. When I feel like closing the youtube app I can just swipe left or right and it’s gone.
There is also a peek proof mode which allows you to dim or completely black out part of the screen so that snoopy passengers or spouses can’t see the full view of the content on your screen. You use some virtual buttons to adjust the blinders to exactly what you want to show or hide by moving them up or down and left or right to adjust how transparent or opaque the blinds will be.
The fingerprint is now in the display and it is very snappy but more crucially very reliable. It was able to recognise my fingerprint 100% of the time. I was not too confident with it because of how slow it was during the set up phase but it performs well when it matters.
There are also 3 different unlock animations available in case you want to spice up the unlocking experience but unfortunately there is no way of switching animations off or downloading more. Something that can be solved with a software update.
There is edge lighting as well which animates the curved edges of the display for stuff like app notifications and calls. For each you have an option of 3 different animations to choose from and also the option of disabling them all together if you prefer not having them.
Video assistant mode is another interesting feature. It only activates when you are in any of the prelisted video apps and you can add more if they are not on the list.
So let’s say you are in YouTube, you swipe and hold from the left or right edge of the screen and you get a tool kit for some quick controls and quick actions like a do not disturb mode for just calls or just messages or just notifications.
Play in the background is super awesome for YouTube because it allows you to listen to whatever video you are playing whilst the display is off. Unfortunately, it won’t allow you to play a video on YouTube in the background whilst you do other things like WhatsApp or something but you have the floating window feature for that.
Ella Virtual Assistant
And finally, there is Ella, Tecno’s own virtual assistant. You can summon it by saying Hey Ella so naturally we all want to know how she compares to google assistant.
It can perform some basic tasks like setting timers, telling you the weather and a voice search on Google. It can even make voice calls or play music. the simple stuff.
However, the harder stuff like reading calendar events as well as context-based requests like saying good morning to it yield no results. I was troubled as well that it cannot perform arithmetic requests which I assumed is one of the basic stuff.
Granted Ella still has a long way to go before it gets to the level of Google Assistant but if you still prefer Google Assistant you can set it as a default in the settings. I am impressed to see Tecno taking a jab at having its own virtual assistant. It’s quite a bold move.
Smooth has been my experience since day one with the Phantom X. It has a very generous spec sheet that I’ll throw in below.
|CPU||MediaTek Helio G90
|Display||6.7″ 2340×1080 pixels
FHD+ OLED HDR10
|Main Camera||50MP primary
13MP 2x zoom
8MP wide angle
4k video recording
|Secondary Camera||48MP primary
8MP wide angle
MicroSD up to 256GB
2G, 3G, 4G
33W fast charge
30% battery drain after 3 hour endurance test
It’s got a 90Hz refresh rate panel which adds to the smooth user experience to the animations when closing apps, switching windows and even gaming. It’s pleasant in day-to-day usage. The display is FHD+ and does the job well for general stuff like navigating the UI and going through social media. It’s not as sharp as what you’d get from the likes of Samsung, Sony or Xiaomi but most people won’t notice.
Something Tecno does not mention is that the display on the Phantom X supports HDR 10 which is impressive at this price range. HDR means better picture quality especially for gradients as well as richer colours. I am impressed with that.
Both sim slots get the same treatment in terms of connectivity with 4G available on both. And for those who are curious, yes Zol sim cards work in this phone but because of the always on LTE demands of Zol and TelOne sim cards, it will SIGNIFICANTLY affect battery life.
Speaking of battery life, the Phantom had a 4700mAh battery which is 300mAh smaller than the one in the Camon 17 and Spark 7 that I did a comparison of.
But the Phantom X can charge that battery at a very impressive 33W with the bundled charger that unfortunately I did not have for this review. As much as the battery is a bit smaller that the rest of the Tecno lineup, the Phantom managed to beat the Camon 17 and the Spark 7 on endurance only experiencing a 30% power drain after our 3 hour battery torture test of an hour each of gaming, video recording and video streaming.
The Phantom X is a guaranteed 2 day battery phone as long as you are not using a Zol or TelOne line in it.
The loudspeaker is noticeably better than other Tecno smartphones I have reviewed so far. It produces a richer and meatier sound and it gets pretty loud too. In fact I could not tell the difference compared to the loudspeaker on my Huawei P30 Pro apart from the higher max volume.
It’s a solid performer. More pleasing to use on a day to day basis but also with enough horsepower for the heavy lifting when you demand it.
The Phantom X has an impressive camera setup. And to see how impressive it is, I decided to pit it against the best smartphone camera of 2019.
Tecno’s ultra sensing camera system vs Huawei’s Super sensing system.
Daylight shots are pretty close. In fact it is pretty difficult to tell them apart. Both the Tecno and the Huawei were shooting in full auto with each phone’s AI imaging wizardry turned on. They were pretty much even when it came to detail with the Tecno’s HDR brightening up shadows in images a bit better than the Huawei. In Fact throughout most of the daylight shots, the Tecno is taking slightly brighter shots than the Huawei
The Tecno also takes photos that are slightly more true to life when looking at the colour balance. Huawei tries to saturate the colours a bit more to make the colours in photos pop and so the greens are greener, the blues are deeper and the reds are more vivid on the Huawei than on the Tecno.
But every phone does a good job of taking photos during the day. The real test of those cameras is at night.
Here is where the Tecno takes Huawei’s lunch. Night shots on the Tecno look brighter than on the Huawei. The stars are nice and crisp and let’s face it, you can see a lot more of them on the Tecno than on the Huawei.
Colour is also where I preferred the Tecno. It had a more accurate white balance and more accurate hues than the Huawei which was throwing a weird green shade to every night shot and what impressed me most about the Phantom is how the image processing did a much better job than the Huawei of smoothing out the shades and colour gradients. The Huawei has distinct gradient steps that make the image a lot less clinical.
It’s a toss up when it comes to daylight photos between these 2 phones but for night shots the Tecno definitely wins that one. The only dent to it’s clean record is that it took a lot more work to get the night mode to work on the Tecno versus the Huawei and also while the Huawei was always spot on with focus, the Tecno was hit or miss and I had to do 4 retakes of some shots whilst I took none with the Huawei.
The Phantom can shoot videos in 4K and the videos look phenomenal. The dynamic range is as good as in the photos with impressive details in the shadows as well as in the highlights. Focus is alright. It does a lot less focus hunting which means it spends a lot less time twitching as it looks for focus.
The camera UI also has some convenience where if you swipe from the top down in the viewfinder it essentially drags the whole top row of toggles closer to the bottom so that it’s easier to reach all the controls with one hand.
There are only 2 frustrations I had with the camera. The 1st is that you can only shoot 4K on the main sensor and not on the wide angle or the telephoto which both top out at 1080P.
The second and biggest issue I had is that it does not have a pro mode or manual mode that allows me to be a lot more creative with the camera. And it hurt me a lot because Tecno fitted the Phantom with a monster camera and I know I could get a lot more out of it than what Tecno is allowing me.
The Tecno Phantom X will be retailing between 500 and 600 dollars in Zimbabwe which is a decent chunk of change but a lot cheaper than let’s say an iPhone 11 or a Galaxy S21 Ultra. This is because some sacrifices were made to make it cheaper than the competition.
There is no NFC, wireless charging, water resistance certification
or a more powerful chipset like Mediatek’s Dimensity chips so when I ran Geekbench 5, the Tecno was considerably far behind the 2 year old Huawei P30 Pro in every way.
That said, the kind of corners Tecno is cutting are those that a majority of people in their target market will not use and most likely won’t miss either which makes them good compromises.
The Tecno Phantom X is one very well rounded phone. Price aside it is complete. The design is breathtaking and matches the flagship aesthetic.
The performance of the software is very fluid and intuitive and it has some nuggets buried inside it like the play in background feature for videos.
Same goes for demanding tasks like gaming where the decent chip does a good job on a number of titles but also the 90Hz display amplifies the immersive experience.
The camera. It is a phenomenal performer both day and night in both photos and videos and delivers quality all the time so long reliability stays true.
And a solid 2 day battery as expected from Tecno devices as of late so long you don’t spend your time using Zol or TelOne sims in it.
Throw in the price of 5 to 600 dollars and you start to ask a couple of questions. Will it perform as good as other 500 dollar smartphones from other brands like Xiaomi, Samsung or Huawei? The simple answer is yes it will. You cannot get a better all round package from other brands in the same price bracket.
But is the very best from Samsung, Huawei, Apple and Xiaomi up to 700 dollars better than the Phantom X? That’s a definite No. While some compromises were definitely made on the Tecno it is still pretty much 90% of the phone that all these other flaships are but at half the price. It’s also good enough to fully satisfy the needs of over 90% of the market Tecno is targeting. Easily.
What a time to be alive when cheap phones are becoming VERY good.