Like some of you, I almost thought Elon Musk and Tesla Motors are showing some love to Android fans from this side of the world who will probably never set eyes on the futuristic flying cars in the works during their ever-decreasing lives to live. It got me asking all kinds of questions like…
— Selecao ni ku-Samba (@raskeverenge) May 19, 2018
… and I got some answers along with the Tesla 9.1 Lite handset to go with, too. This was sent to us for review and it’s also readily available for purchase on Kilimall priced at Sh. 16,800.
After using the Tesla 9.1 Lite for about a month, here’s our full review.
In the box
Of the many smartphone packages I’ve come across, I must admit the Tesla 9.1 Lite has quite a cool take on this. The small bag that carries the box containing the phone looks cool. At a time when plastic carrier bags are no more and supermarkets are making sure they hang on to whatever coins left after shopping just so as to get you an alternative carrier bag, this could be put to other uses afterward.
Here’s what’s inside the box:
- Tesla 9.1 Lite smartphone
- USB Type-C cable
- Silicon cover
- SIM card ejector (pin)
- User manual
For a good number of our readers, this is the first time you are probably hearing about a Tesla smartphone. Well, like every other phone that’s trying to win over the Kenyan smartphone market, the Tesla 9.1 Lite has quite a number of cool stuff up its sleeve that makes it a phone I can easily recommend.
The phone feels sleek in my hand, but it’s also quite slippery. The company went for a plastic rear panel for obvious reasons (to keep the price where it is), but you might easily mistake this for some other premium material thanks to the shiny finish that makes it look like glass. The problem with this finish, though, is it’s a fingerprint magnet and even worse is that wiping the prints off only smears them further on the phone. Tesla knew all about this and hence the reason there’s a silicon cover in the box. I’m not usually into covers, but since this one is a review unit, I’ve had the phone in the case almost the entire time.
The Tesla 9.1 Lite has rounded corners that feel pretty nice but not sturdy when in one-handed use. The metal that joins the plastic back and glass front has a nice touch and while I’m not sure what this material is to be exact, it makes the phone’s weight great when holding in my hand. The buttons are on the right-hand side of the phone and I particularly like how clicky the buttons are, but they aren’t the softest my fingers have felt over the recent past.
Another design aspect I like about the Tesla 9.1 Lite is the placement of the 3.5mm audio jack. It rests on the bottom end of the phone, making it easy to slide the phone in and out of the pocket without worries of breaking the headphone jack or something. Also, the placement of the fingerprint scanner on the back means that by the time I set eyes on the screen, it’s already unlocked. However, this placement also means that when the phone is resting on a desk, you have to lift it up first before unlocking it. I guess this is something some of us can live with.
The Tesla 9.1 Lite doesn’t have physical navigation buttons and despite having an 18:9 display screen that’s mostly associated with tiny bezels, it still has significant bezels on all four sides of the screen. What annoys me is the out-of-the-box inability to hide the on-screen navigation buttons and utilize the huge space they occupy for viewing videos and movies, but of course, there are plenty of apps in the Google Play Store that can do exactly that.
- Display screen
Tesla 9.1 Lite is a 2018 smartphone, which is why the phone’s 5.7-inch panel is taller with an aspect ratio of 18:9. The resolution is HD+, but you’ll be surprised at how good the screen is. I particularly like the contrast and color saturation, but when outdoors, it doesn’t live up to being an IPS LCD panel.
LCD panels are known to be bright, but the brightness of this panel only ends indoors. Take the Tesla 9.1 Lite outdoors and the screen suffers from poor brightness levels, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use it outdoors. It works just fine.
- Call quality and reception
Many smartphone buyers are always after phones with good cameras, big batteries, huge screens, and so on, but in the Tesla 9.1 Lite, you have a device that not only ticks most of the boxes but also promises great call quality and network reception. Although my village down in county 038 is not the worst when it comes to network connectivity (I’m always on LTE with Safaricom, but the rest are nowhere near 3G), I always got quality audio when on calls and the network reception was also impressive. But I cannot speak for your village.
- Fast charging technology
It’s obviously not Qualcomm’s Quick Charge and while Tesla doesn’t mention what type of fast charging technology it uses on the Tesla 9.1 Lite, from my stay with it, I only needed 30 minutes to charge the 2800mAh battery from 0% to 40% and 20 minutes later it was at 60%. However, charging from 60% to 100% is a bit slower. Yes, it can get pretty hot when fast charging is on between 0-60%, but it’s normal so don’t fret.
- USB Type-C
In this age, having a USB Type-C port on your smartphone is the real deal – and this is what the Tesla 9.1 Lite gives you. Besides eliminating the need for a third eye so as not to end up with a broken charging port, a USB-C connector is also known to be faster in transferring data between the phone and a PC.
- Headphone audio
I’ll admit the moment I tried on the Tesla 9.1 Lite stock headphones, I loved how audible they were. The sound quality is also there and everything is clear enough, even when in a slightly noisy environment. Also, despite my relatively tiny ear, the earphones were still able to hold on tight even when out there jogging.
The Tesla 9.1 Lite, being a sub-Sh 20,000 smartphone, also has a bunch of average stuff, but these can hardly stand in the way of what is a good phone, especially if you are not the picky guy that I am.
- Processor and software
The Tesla 9.1 Lite has stepped into 2018 with a 2016 processor. The MediaTek MT6750T chipset on board, although not the worst out there, has been around for over two years now. While the phone is still functional, what having such an old chipset sometimes means is that you are not future-proof and thus stand a chance of missing out on some of the latest inventions in the smartphone industry.
The chipset is paired with 3GB of RAM, which makes it fast enough to execute all that you throw at it. I don’t consider myself a heavy smartphone user because I don’t play games and I mostly stream on TV or laptop, but I never turn off Wi-Fi. With that said, the phone still struggles when loading resource-intensive apps like Facebook and YouTube and sometimes posts with hundreds of comments would make the phone hang. On the brighter side, these apps have lighter, resource-sipping versions available for download in the Play Store.
While I can stand the idea of having a slightly older chipset in the sense that it also helps reduce the overall price of the phone, what I can’t stand is a new phone that’s coming out in 2018 yet it’s still powered by Android 7.0 Nougat, an OS that is now two years old. Just so you know, Android Oreo has been around since August 2017 and while the Tesla 9.1 Lite has a non-lite version that came out in September 2017, this doesn’t justify the decision to go with Nougat for the Lite version.
What’s even worse is that there is probably zero chance this device will get any software update, including the monthly security patches. I hope I’m wrong. Out of the box, you get March 2018 security patches, which is likely to remain at that all throughout. Not so long ago, the CA published a set of guidelines that smartphone vendors in Kenya are to follow and among them was that they are obligated to provide regular software updates. It’ll be interesting to see how this rule and others that you can read below will be implemented.
Despite running Nougat out of the box, there aren’t so many tweaks to the software. The experience is almost as clean as Android One, but of course, there are a few extra apps you find out of the box. It was kinda unfortunate that I couldn’t install the Google Phone app from the Play Store, which is my favorite in this aspect. Also, the pre-installed apps cannot be removed.
I’m not a photography expert, but looking at the photos the Tesla 9.1 Lite takes, they are pretty good. The phone has a dual 13MP + 5MP main camera and like any other in this price range, it takes stunning photos when there’s enough lighting, but it suffers when it comes to low-light conditions.
The second 5MP lens on the back of the Tesla 9.1 Lite is meant for adding bokeh effects to photos, but during the times I tried, there were hardly such effects in the resulting photos. Still, the camera system has one little trick that I loved and it’s called PIP mode, where you can use both the front and back cameras at the same time. This is something close to what Nokia does with bothies. You can adjust the location and size of the secondary shot as well as tilt it up to 360 degrees. You can also opt to use the dual-lens setup or go with the main 13MP lens alone and honestly, I feel like the latter produces better photos than the former.
The 8MP selfie camera is also great in well-lit conditions. The LED flash is on both sides and helps improve low-light photography, especially for the selfie camera. But then again, this is what a budget phone gets you, so don’t expect anything out of this world.
- Battery capacity
Given its overall footprint, one would expect a battery capacity of at least 3000mAh on this thing, but there’s a 2800mAh unit on board. Not a terrible choice, though, especially since the device has a battery-sipping HD display screen, hence I always get a full day of battery life on a single charge.
On the brighter side, Tesla made up for this by including support for fast charging technology so that you can get back on the road as fast as possible. As noted earlier, it only takes 30 minutes to charge from 0 to 40%.
Last but not least, we have the dealbreakers. These are the things that can make me not to recommend this phone to anyone I know, but luckily, they aren’t so many.
- Speaker placement
As much as I enjoyed listening to music via the 3.5mm headphone jack using the company’s headphones, what has proven to be the worst design decision by the Tesla team was placing the loudspeaker on the back. This means that when your phone is resting on a table, the sound won’t loud enough. Most phones have the speaker facing the front or bottom-firing, which is what the Tesla 9.1 Lite should have had.
- Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box
I wouldn’t recommend any smartphone that doesn’t come with at least Android 8.0 Oreo this 2018 unless it is guaranteed to receive a software update to Oreo and probably other monthly updates too. As for the Tesla 9.1 Lite, we don’t have any details regarding if and when Oreo will be rolled out. When there are cheaper devices coming out with Oreo out of the box, Tesla really bottled it here.
- It takes 5 mins to drain the battery from 5% to 0%
I really wanted to believe that this is normal because the phone was still adjusting to my routine, however, one month down the line, I hardly get to see my phone’s battery at between 0% to 5%. This is because once the battery hits 5%, it only needs less than 5 minutes and it will be at 0% and then off. Weird stuff huh!
At first, this used to happen after the battery hit 15%, where it would take about 5-10 minutes and the phone was off. After a couple of weeks, things changed and now the ultra-fast battery draining starts at 5%. Hopefully, this is just affecting my review unit and not all other units of the Tesla 9.1 Lite.
When all is said and done, the Tesla 9.1 Lite is a good phone that I can easily recommend to anyone looking for a modern-day budget phone that takes good enough photos. If you can live with the major dealbreaker, Android Nougat, this is a great device. While I might not be the happiest of men when it comes to the phone’s performance, software and battery capacity, if I can live with such compromises, you can too. But of course, it is the good stuff the phone brings to the table that makes it #worthyofitsname, and we do know them.
What concerns me is the pricing of the Tesla 9.1 Lite. Make no mistake, at Sh 16,800, this is a decent price, however, for a smartphone vendor that has never been heard of and only making its debut in a market that is very price sensitive, chopping off a couple of thousands would have made buying it a no-brainer.