The Camon 18 Premier is probably the most important smartphone Tecno has made since the Phantom 6 Plus. Tecno is all grown up. This Camon 18 Premier has a mature sophistication about it which, and dare I say, warrants the cheeky jab Tecno took at Samsung. This is the Tecno Camon 18 Premier and it’s as exciting as the Premier League. Check out the video below for some beautiful visuals.
It’s quite a well crafted smartphone. the body has a clean aesthetic with clean lines and yes it has a strong resemblance to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the ironry that exists there, but that does not take away from the fact that it is a stunning looking smartphone. It feels just as spectacular as well. The frosted glass gives it a smooth satin feel to it.
All the buttons are on the right edge of the smartphone with the fingerprint scanner baked into the power button. The top edge has a tiny hole for the secondary microphone and the left edge has the dual SIM and SDcard tray which also has the customary rubber ring for added water resistance even though this phone does not have a water resistance certification.
The bottom edge has the 3.5mm headphone jack, another tiny hole for the primary mic, a USB-C port for data transfer and also 33W fast charging and the loudspeaker.
The star of the show is the amazing 6.7 inch OLED 1080p display which supports 120Hz refresh rate. Scrolling on this phone is addictive just from how responsive it is when navigating the UI and also how smooth everything is when doing day to day tasks. We will dive into it later in the review but there is also a 32MP selfie camera with eye tracking autofocus for better portraits in a centre lined punch hole at the top of the display.
I’d give the exterior design an 8 out of 10. It loses some points on originality but ignoring that it is one expensive looking and feeling smartphone.
Software & UI
The Camon 18 Premier is running Android 11 and a brand new skin. This is HiOS 8.0 and it’s got a bunch of goodies baked inside it as well as a whole UI refresh.
Starting off with the looks. It’s cleaner, smoother and more mature. The notification curtain got a couple of tweaks. It’s been split into 2 so swiping down from the left half of the display will show the notifications only. This is messages, app notifications, ongoing downloads and stuff.
The right half of the screen launches the shortcut toggles for stuff like your wifi, bluetooth, flashlight as well as the brightness and volume slider.
An interesting one is the gear features in each mode. In the notification shade the gear icon will send you to notification settings where you can customize which apps show notifications on the shade as well as notification badges on app icons and banner notifications.
The gear icon in the toggles curtain will send you to the device settings which we are all used to. It’s some impressive attention to detail.
The only nitpick I have is that the animation for both these features moves in the opposite direction to the gesture. You swipe down to open the curtain and the actual animation pops up from the bottom which is not as intuitive as I would prefer.
This time the UI supports an always on display (AOD) and Tecno went absolutely all out on the selection of different AOD animations. There are static ones which just show your digital and analog clocks, artsy looking geometric ones and frames for those that want custom images.
Then there are dynamic ones as well. The elapsed ones change depending on the time of day with 4 different animation styles for that quarter of the day…except for the man in the cave which only has 2 styles. Day and night.
The other dynamic ones are nature which are not related to the time of day but actually move whenever the AOD is summoned by locking the display or when the display timeout is initiated. I have to say they really put in some effort into the quality of the animations because they are smooth and pretty detailed.
Oh and the AOD will turn itself off if the phone is completely still for 10 seconds. As soon as you pick it up the AOD turns on and you can see the date, time and some notifications like missed calls.
120Hz refresh rate is very noticeable especially with me being used to a 60Hz refresh rate phone and just usage in general feels better. It’s smoother and snappier. In the settings you can choose between a 60Hz and 120Hz mode as well as Auto switch which essentially leaves the display at 60Hz when nothing is moving and then 120Hz when some motion is present on the display mostly when scrolling stuff.
As expected the battery will move a bit quicker with the refresh rate at full tilt so something to think about before permanently pinning it at 120Hz.
Under the hood is a Mediatek Helio G96 CPU which brings 120Hz refresh rate to Tecno. On an OLED display. The particular one I have has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage which is pretty generous for some very smooth performance.
|CPU||Mediatek Helio G96
|Display||6.7″ 2340×1080 pixels
120Hz refresh rate
|Main Camera||64MP main camera
12MP ultra wide
8MP 5x telephoto
2K video recording
Eye tracking auto focus
MicroSD up to 256GB
2G, 3G, 4G
33W Flash Charge
40% power drain after 3 hour endurance test
The hardware is quite capable. I was throwing everything at it and it didn’t care. Light gaming. Heavy gaming, multitasking, video recording, it was always on the ball all the time. Even the reaction time when navigating the UI felt more responsive than my Huawei P30 Pro. In Fact it felt quite similar to the Pova 2 I reviewed recently with it’s 180Hz touch sampling rate. It’s an awesome experience.
On the battery side of things the Camon 18 Premier takes a similar approach to the Phantom X. It’s got a 4750mAh battery supporting 33W flash charge and this time I tested the charging speed because I had the whole box with the 33W brick in it and dear lord it is rapid. Here are the headline stats.
0 – 24% in 10 minutes
0 – 66% in 30 minutes
0 – 100% in 57 minutes
It takes less than an hour to get a dead Camon 18 Premier to 100%. And for those asking if this is safe for the battery, this charging system has been tested and certified by an independent testing organisation which gave it the green light. It’s not going to explode or melt whilst charging that rapidly.
What about battery life? The Camon 18 Premier lost 40% of juice after an hour each of gaming, video recording and video streaming. It’s not the 30% that the Phantom X with a similar battery managed to pull off but that is also a reflection of the price to pay for that ultra smooth 120Hz refresh rate.
Also this test was done with the refresh rate set to auto which is the mode a lot of users will have it in. If you want you can pin it at 120Hz all the time which will go through the battery even faster or you can be a maniac and pin it to 60Hz for the sake of battery life.
The 120Hz is dialed down to 60Hz if the battery gets to 10% to try and extend the battery life a little bit but with normal usage it’s a 2 day phone unless you are going to be using the camera extensively.
This is the most exciting Tecno camera setup since the Phantom X. We have an 8MP telephoto camera with 5X optical zoom via a periscope lens. A $350 smartphone with a periscope lens! A literal 1st in the midrange category. The Wide angle camera is a 12MP unit and the main one is 64MP.
Now off the bat I like how Tecno arranged the settings of the camera features. Because they are a lot. So essentially the bottom row is your camera modes and these will be automatically arranged based on the ones you use frequently. Pretty convenient. The top row will have the settings available for the selected camera mode which change with changing camera modes.
This is a big screen so for easier 1 handed usage you can swipe the top row down closer to where your thumb can reach without too much hand gymnastics. I personally feel it should go slightly lower, closer to the area with the bottom row of buttons because there is still some hand gymnastics going on. But I love that it’s there.
Then swiping from the bottom up will open the full list of camera modes available which include slowmo, timelapse and super moon amongst others. So fine the camera settings are well organized but how is the actual camera?
Photos look great! They truly are impressive. The dynamic range in broad daylight is strong and keeps everything well exposed. In AI mode the main camera spits out 16MP images which if you do the math is a 4 to 1 pixel binning ratio and so each pixel in the final image is a collection of data from 4 pixels on the 64MP camera. In English this helps a lot in making the images look this good.
The processing however is adding a lot of saturation to the colours. They look very alive. Quite nice and vibrant which some might prefer but I think it should have been toned down a little bit towards a slightly more natural look. But this is just my preference.
If you want to use the full main camera resolution you can switch to UltraHD and take some high res photos but I recommend you only use this mode in good lighting for the best possible result.
Video. Tecno solved the biggest flaw it had on video which was stabilization. They are calling it a gimbal stabilized camera but this is by no means actual gimbal hardware on the lenses but rather some really good Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS) that almost feels like the phone has been placed on an actual gimbal.
None of that mambo jumbo actually matters though because the results are what we are looking for. And it’s very smooth. It’s smooth enough to actually be a good vlogging smartphone and even for the creative ones it will take some very good cinematic style video. It’s very very stable.
The only complaint I had is that the autofocus takes quite a bit longer to lock onto focus in this ultra steady mode and also the footage is a lot softer with ultra steady on than when it is off. It seems that the way it works is when this mode is off, the camera uses up more pixels on the main sensor adding more detail and creating sharper looking footage at the expense of stabilization.
With ultra steady on, the camera crops more into the sensor and uses less of the available pixels. This means the batch of pixels that the footage is being grabbed from has a lot more play area on the camera sensor to compensate for the shakes. The results are then glorious stabilisation at the expense of focus speed, sharpness and detail.
It’s not perfect but almost good enough for me to say it is perfect. In fact if I were to give an award for a feature I would say the Ultra steady gets the award for the most improved feature on a Tecno.
This for me feels like the most important Tecno smartphone. I mean if you look at the Phantom X, it’s a halo device that Tecno used to show how capable they are at making a flagship grade smartphone. A mighty feat considering the competition on that end of the playground.
But with the Camon 18 Premiere it’s just a straight shot at the wild wild west that is the premium midrange market. And it’s bringing some features that are super rare in this segment. A quality 5x optical periscope zoom lens, 120Hz OLED display, premium design, build quality and materials and all this for around US$350 in Zimbabwe.
Tecno has made the best value smartphone for 2021 with the Camon 18 Premier. It’s a lot of good bits crafted into a very good price. It’s the second Tecno phone I have wanted to buy since the 10 core Phantom 6 Plus. If you need a smartphone that delivers all round performance on a sub 500 dollar budget. Buy this one. Buy it now.