Quick notes on the Tecno Phantom 8

Tecno’s latest and greatest, the Phantom 8, has been selling in the country for half a month now. I had the chance to use the device for a week and I made a few observations.

Design

In line with the design trend introduced way back in 2015 with the Phantom 5, Tecno sticks with the tried and tested metal build in the Phantom 8. However, unlike in the last two generations of the device where the device has been entirely metallic, this time around, there is a twist (Diamond Fire Design?). The back is made of some soft material (I am not exactly sure what it really is) that won’t be popular with many who would prefer to use the device without using the extra back cover supplied in the box or the clear case, also included in the box, or any other accessory, for that matter, that stands between one’s eyes and the striking beauty that is the device. This is because the Tecno Phantom 8’s back can easily become the home of everything undesirable if one does not take the pains to constantly clear it of any smudges: dirt, dust, stains and greasy fingers.

While that back manages to make interesting light patterns more so when the device is exposed to the sun or other light sources to create a beautiful illumination effect, I am not really sure that is a worthy trade-off for the messy smudges that remain on the back.

Thankfully, the fingerprint sensor, which was missing on last year’s Phantom 6 and only available on the bigger Phantom 6 Plus, is alive and well on the back of the Phantom 8.

The placement of the buttons on the side of the device is ergonomic and convenient since the power button, for instance, can be reached using one’s thumb, without stretching or making any effort.

While I would’ve preferred that Tecno took cues from the 2017 trend of slimming bezels, the device is still fine as is even though the lack of back-lighting on the capacitive buttons is quite a bummer. I like the fact that, once again, the logo doesn’t make it to the front of the device, something that would be a high likelihood if the device had on-screen navigation keys.

Overall, the device feels so good in the hand. The rounded corners make for easier handling while the soft back ensures there are little chances of an accidental drop as compared to last year’s model.

Display

This is par the course, really.

Cameras

The cameras are good. Both the dual-cameras at the back, and the 20-megapixel shooter on the front. I wish I had more time to play around with them but so far, these are the few results my not-so-good-at-this-thing self managed to get:

There’s more of this on the Android Kenya Instagram page

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Software

My main bone of contention with the Tecno Phantom 8 has to be in the software where not much has changed since my last interaction with Tecno Mobile’s custom software overlay, HiOS. There’s still the lengthy process on first boot thanks to steps like signing in to Tecno Spot, Tecno’s support forums that bring together its most ardent fans and users of its devices, its experienced staff and anyone who needs long distance help or just more information. Honestly, this can be removed from the setup process. I noticed that there is an option for users to create or sign up for a Hi Account, which should result in the same outcome. Everyone is doing this. Samsung has been doing it for the longest time ever, Huawei does it, Oppo does it. So it’s perfectly normal for Tecno to do so. Only that they need not shove it down our throats.

The other bit is that version 3.0.0 of HiOS, which is what runs on the Phantom 8, does not seem to be well optimized. I had to make do with the not-so-elegant Touchpal keyboard which comes pre-installed on the device instead of my favourite, Gboard, simply because I’d get a blank black screen whenever I was supposed to key in text or, in some instances, no virtual keyboard but the desired page is visible. These are things that Tecno can fix with a software update.

Also, is it just me or the Phantom 8 lacks an image gallery application? Sure, the device has Google’s neat Photos app pre-installed but many of us have grown accustomed to the idea of a gallery app from the device maker. Anyway, Android veteran Francisco Franco’s (not to be confused with the Spanish military dictator who went by the same name) Focus Go has been a great companion.

Additionally, I wish Tecno had done something to take advantage of the well-placed fingerprint sensor. Like, for instance, being able to use it to swipe images in photos apps, to bring down or take up the notification dropdown or, to capture selfies.

However, not all is doom and gloom on the device. I like that Tecno has retained features that just work. Like the gestures. Double tap to wake/sleep works all the time, like a charm. Drawing an M on the Phantom 8’s display while the device is “sleeping” results in the Boom Play Music app being launched. The same is the case when C (for camera) is drawn. Split-screen multitasking, as well as a one-handed mode, are also well executed even though one will need to familiarize themselves with how they work.

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Battery

A full day and more of battery life is assured on the Tecno Phantom 8 with slightly moderate usage, if we can call it that. This is because I didn’t stretch the device performance-wise to see how it fares under the duress and demands of a heavy user, something that I am when I am not going through my usual boring routine of emails, emails, more emails, Twitter, Spotify and WhatsApp.

Thanks to Tecno’s own proprietary Light Speed Charge tech, juicing up is a pretty quick affair.

Others

I don’t usually go through the documentation bundled with most devices that I buy or receive from mobile phone companies for the sake of reviewing. However, out of sheer curiosity, I somehow found myself ploughing through the small black booklet that Tecno includes in the Phantom 8’s retail packaging and lo and behold! This is what’s buried in there:

– 24 hours fast repair service for transceiver under warranty against functional defects (whatever that means, lol)

– Offer phone exchange for functional defects [that] occur within 15 days after purchase…

– Offer one-time free screen replacement when it’s broken by falling or crashing within three months after purchase…

I like this bit because it shows some confidence in the product being put out on the part of its maker, something that any prospective customer ought to take keen note of.

One more thing: as I earlier noted, I like the sound output of the Tecno Phantom 8.

The lowdown

Tecno manages to achieve a mix of what worked with yesteryear Phantom series devices and newer features that are all the rage right now without really alienating the traditional Tecno device fan and user. The user interface remains largely unchanged and very familiar while there’s a sprinkle of new hardware features here and there. Like global roaming, for instance, something that not many will take note of. Yet there are some noticeable marked improvements. Like in the camera department, for instance. Save for its aggressive image-processing in some instances, the trio of shooters on the device holds up just fine and manages to wow and surprise at every turn.

Ultimately, the elephant in the room is the question as to whether you should spend your money on the Tecno Phantom 8. And that’s tough to answer, honestly. On the one hand, Tecno is bringing to the table everything that you would want your phone to have and do in this day and age (well, give or take a few things). On the other hand, it’s asking you to entrust it with Kshs 37,000. That’s a big ask.

Emmanuel Chenze

Let's just say I know my stuff. I have 7 years experience handling, tinkering with and then writing extensively about Android stuff. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is not; things can get stale with nothing new to show but I live for each one of those moments. Have something Android-related that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze@androidkenya.com