Tecno Spark 2: Not another Android Go smartphone

Who would’ve thought that I’d end up spending over two weeks using a smartphone that has nothing more than the basics when it comes to both hardware and software and be able to do so without taking to my Twitter to whine for hours on end every day?

Yet that is exactly what happened. In fact, if for anything, when I took to Twitter to make passing references to the Tecno Spark 2 it was for nothing but compliments.

I don’t get to play with a lot of basic smartphones like the Spark 2 is supposed to be (but tries hard not to be) so maybe I got a little carried away… Maybe.

However, you really can’t hide a good thing and the reason I promised myself that I would spend all that time using the Tecno Spark 2 as my principal device was just to see how far my early enthusiasm would go. How many faults hidden behind the colourful user interface and the shiny glass front existed.

Well, that latter venture ended unsuccessfully.

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You know what they say about judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree? The Tecno Spark 2 won’t spark as its series name suggests when compared to the experience that one gets on more capable hardware and well done software. However, when looked at for what it is and who it targets, it matches its peers if not emerging as better than a good number of them.

The only glaring faults, if I may call them that, that I encountered on the Tecno Spark 2 have nothing to do with the device and even the expectations that one has of it upfront but everything to do with its advertised capabilities. You know, what it can and can’t do. So, no surprises. I mean, you can only expect to get a certain level of performance from a device with an entry-level MediaTek processor, the most minimal amount of memory you can find on any smartphone worth talking about and, more importantly, a bargain-priced device.

On the other hand, bar the sluggish performance as a result of limited system resources like memory, the Tecno Spark 2 manages to pull in a couple of surprises.

The display is fantastic as is the overall handling of the device thanks to its design. Things are even much better when you snap on the plastic back cover that I waxed lyrical about when unboxing the device. The fingerprint scanner, located at the back of the device, works as expected. As does its complementary: face unlock. In fact, if anything, how the face unlock feature manages to work almost flawlessly is still a mystery to me, given the limited resources. Yes, it does work even in darkness.

The cameras (both the front-facing one and the back one) are surprisingly good. I’ll let the images I managed to capture using them speak for themselves in the gallery below. It is only enhancements that the device could do without but which Tecno managed to cram into the device anyway, like a portrait mode, that fell short of my expectations as far as the cameras were concerned.

The portrait mode is far too aggressive and this seems to be an issue Tecno has that is not necessarily limited to its bottom of the barrel devices. I encountered the same on the much pricier Camon X Pro when I took it for a spin. Launching the camera app takes a few seconds longer because of the sluggish performance. As does image processing. More so when taking shots at night and when viewing captured shots in the gallery app. They take a moment to resolve. Latency issues.

I have already hinted at the performance issues that bedevil the Tecno Spark 2. It is worth noting that those rear their ugly heads more often than you would want them to.

The Spark 2 is a basic phone and, it’s unlikely you’ll have a better experience on a similarly-specced and priced device like it. To be able to use and enjoy the device as I did, take advantage of the dedicated Android Go apps section on the Google Play Store and install apps that are optimized for the Go platform. Even though some of those, like the YouTube Go app which comes pre-installed, were not for my taste and I ended up going for the larger and more resource-intensive main YouTube app.

Would things have been a little better had Tecno gone with a stock Android layout instead of throwing on board its own HiOS overlay? Maybe. We’ll just never know, sadly. There’s also the bit where I feel that Android Go still needs a lot of work in order to live up to its billing and be something that I can recommend on the regular.

 

While I am of the belief and opinion that some of the HiOS features included in the Spark 2 are overkill, it is not lost on me that some of these features are exactly why one would want to get the Spark 2. The face unlock I have already talked about, for instance, is very well executed. As are whatever camera optimizations Tecno has done. And, more importantly, the battery optimizations.

Tecno is known for releasing into the market some entry-level smartphones with really great battery life. However, so far, we haven’t had Android Go devices that operate at the Spark 2’s level that we can say the same about. The Spark 2 arrives to the scene first and runs away with the crown, if there’s any.

Battery life on the Tecno Spark 2 is amazing. In fact, amazing may be an understatement. Or, how else do you describe easily going for at least 2 days on a single charge while staying online all along, making calls, texting and even tethering your other devices for hours on end?

Pros

  • Surprisingly good camera for the money
  • Good design
  • Excellent battery life
  • Face unlock

Cons

  • Performance is wanting
  • No fast-charging (it’s kind of reaching to want such a feature – and the next one listed as a con on this list – for the money but I can’t help it)
  • No 4G LTE

The lowdown

If you are looking for a smartphone in the Kshs 10,000-12,000 range then the Tecno Spark 2 is a strong contender for whatever is in your wallet or bank account.

The Tecno Spark 2 is not the fastest entry-level smartphone out there so it won’t be winning any races on a hot Saturday afternoon. However, the big question is, at that price (Kshs 11,300) or less, which one is? There are horror stories from similarly-priced devices like those from HMD Global when it comes to speed and, to make things worse, extending to other areas where the Spark 2 shows its, well, spark.

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Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com