Tecno’s latest smartphone is both exciting and refreshing.
Exciting in the sense that, after interacting with it over the last few days, I cannot escape the fact that it’s a really well-built device. The design is inviting.
Refreshing because, well, despite 2018 having been the year of the budget smartphone, there are still not as many interesting Kshs 15,000 smartphones out there.
While the Tecno Camon 11 that I’ve had in for review maintains the Bordeaux red shade that I liked in the Camon X Pro months ago, there’s a difference. The red shade on the Camon 11 is on a very shiny plastic back that, surprisingly, isn’t a fingerprint magnet. As you can already tell, I have, as a result, had very little use for the back cover that coves in the device’s box – and which I really liked when I first saw it.
The buttons on the left, the volume up and down and power on/off buttons, are well-placed, easy to rich and making it possible to handle a 6-inch device with one hand, something that I didn’t anticipate.
The only bone I have to chew with the device’s design is (not the notch) the decision to omit a notification LED and building the function into the camera flash. That means, given its large size, the camera’s flash comes to life every other time the device wants to draw the user’s attention to an unread message, missed call or something like that. The light from the camera flash, as you would know, is not minimal. Place the Camon 11 on a table at night and this makes it stand out – not in a good way.
One of the main differences between the Tecno Camon 11 and its Pro sibling is the cameras on the front and the back. On the back, there’s a 13-megapixel snapper that is accompanied by a 2-megapixel lens. From my little usage, the results are a mixed bag here. Nothing out of the ordinary, just what you’d expect from a device of the Camon 11’s pricing, that camera-centred branding be damned. Sure, there are lots of options when it comes to bokeh effects, a beauty mode and all but…
I am also not sure if going with just the AI camera for the main snapper is a good thing but then again, some of us can hardly tell the difference other than the saturated colours, at least going by our experience elsewhere, so, whatever.
It is the front-facing 16-megapixel camera that really shines and is my favourite. I am not the biggest fan of taking selfies at every turn but if that is your cup of tea then you are in luck. The Camon 11’s selfie shooter holds up fine, for the most part. Things are only murky when you opt to take portrait shots as these are not perfect. To be fair to the device, that is a problem even smartphones that go for as much as over 6 times the Camon 11’s price also have to contend with.
I happen to have sampled the Pro model and I can say it upfront: you are better off with that model when it comes to photos than the standard Camon 11. Sure, they are all cut from the same cloth but one is definitely superior and it’s not the one that is the subject of this review.
The Camon 11’s MediaTek processor manages to handle things just fine and at no point was I bugged by performance issues throughout my use of the device. The Tecno Camon 11 not only feels fast, but it’s also actually fast.
The Camon 11’s software is disappointing. While I was excited when setting it up for the first time that my cries to have the sign in/up prompt to Tecno’s user forums abandoned had been heard, that excitement was shortlived as I got to interact with the device over the following days.
There are unnecessary pop-ups in the notification shade from the device’s phone manager application, dubbed Phone Master, prompting the user to do this or that – pointless tasks given our understanding of Android and how it works. Themes, while a good thing in boosting the customization options available to users, seem to be a bother on the Camon 11 if the number of times one has to put up with the nagging prompt to sample them is anything to go by. Phone Master is also the number one source of the device’s only noticeable battery drain.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: ads. There are ads in the notification dropdown, there are ads in the app drawer. While I understand the motivation, this is, honestly, too much.
As can be expected, Tecno has preloaded a bunch of apps in the Camon 11 like it does with pretty much every other device it is selling. What’s annoying with the Camon 11 is that while Tecno lets users uninstall most of those apps, save for a few like BoomPlay, for some reason or the other, those apps still find their way back to the device when the device restarts. I found that strange since this is a process I have gone through effortlessly before. What’s not happening?
Also, what informed the decision to move from the TouchPal keyboard that Tecno devices have had as default in the past and go with Kika keyboard? The latter app, as some may already know, is at the centre of an ad fraud scheme that has seen it delisted from the Google Play Store by none other than Google, the Android platform’s overseer [read Buzzfeed’s investigation into the matter].
A positive for me when it comes to the software is that Tecno is letting users of the Camon 11, one of its first devices to arrive rocking a notch, to hide the
ugly cutout at the top through the software. Sure, the software override doesn’t guarantee total isolation from the notch – you’ll still see it when doing things like viewing photos you take – it goes a long way in keeping my OCD in check. What would I do without it?
There’s something else that I found in HiOS, the software overlay that is on the Camon 11, and every other Tecno device for that matter: the ability to compress images, more so photos, directly from the share menu and send them out as zip files. That’s neat! I know, it’s the kind of nerdy features that most ordinary users will never have much use for but it’s one of those things that serve as a reminder that all is not lost on such devices from brands like Tecno and at such prices.
There’s also the bit where despite all that is going on, it doesn’t appear to bog down the device’s performance, at least so far. The dilemma here is if this will continue being the case should one commit to getting the Camon 11 for themselves for the next 1 or 2 years.
Battery life on the Camon 11 is good. I cannot complain. I consistently went for over a day on a single charge. There’s the bit where I have been soft on my usage of the Camon 11 thanks to being too busy but I believe that my usage probably mirrors what a lot of the device’s users will use it for, anyway – a few selfies here and there, snaps when out and about, some WhatsApp and others social media activity etc. For that, full-day battery life is very well guaranteed.
The Camon 11 includes lots of gestures that can be turned on and off, at the user’s discretion. While there are all those fancy things you can customize the fingerprint scanner to do, I was more than happy to use the tried and tested double-tap to wake/sleep gesture all the time.
Talking about the fingerprint scanner, it is worth noting that it is not the only biometric security feature built into the device. Like other 2018 smartphones, the Camon 11 does include face unlock. Here’s the thing about that feature on this device: it’s good. Very good. It’s fast and, well, just works. Not what I’d normally expect from a device’s of the Camon 11’s pricing.
- Good battery life.
- Good design – the device is light, doesn’t drown in a sea of smudges on its shiny back and, overall, looks good.
- The display is good. Sure, this is a HD+ display but would you expect anything better at Kshs 15,000?
- Fast face unlock. You’ll have little use for the fingerprint sensor at the back. The face unlock feature works so well, you won’t want to use anything else.
- While the 32GB onboard storage that the Camon 11 ships with should be sufficient for people Tecno is targeting with this device, in an era where the competition has devices that even cost less but with 64GB internal storage, Tecno has its work cut out for it come 2019 if it intends to continue competing in this space.
- The software is a big let down.
- Whose decision was it to make the camera flash double up as the device’s overall notification LED?
The Tecno Camon 11 will forever live in the shadow of its superior sibling, the Camon 11 Pro. The two aren’t that far apart with only the camera and the memory keeping one on top of the other on paper but those two features make all the difference. So, if you are just looking for Tecno’s best, definitely go for the Pro.
However, the standard Camon 11, as reviewed here, is for those who want a very good deal at Kshs 15,000 or below. It manages to combine a premium look and feel, good battery life and the right pricing while also making efforts in the photography department.