Before you read the review, you’ll need to understand a couple of things. First, TECNO has a couple of devices at different price ranges. The Phantom is the flagship series. Camon is the camera-centric series. And SPARK is the budget series. They also have L-series that focuses on battery, and others like F-series, that are never strongly marketed.
The Camon 12 series is the latest iteration in TECNO’s Camon journey. End of last year, I reviewed the Camon 11, which I loved. It looked great, stood out against competition, and had some good cameras for its price point. There was also a Camon 11 Pro, which I didn’t feel was value for money since the only major spec difference was in RAM and Storage, yet it was way expensive.
This year, there’s three devices in the Camon 12 Series:
Thanks to TECNO Kenya, I am reviewing the NORMAL version. My model has 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, and a 4000mAh battery. There’s a 6.5 inch HD display, a Helio P22 processor, a triple rear camera setup, and a 16MP front selfie camera. At just below 16k, this is already a great deal in terms of specs. I mean the Samsung Galaxy A20 is approx 16k too, and you’re getting 3GB RAM, 32GB storage with that one.
Anyway, if its up to me, I’d go with the Camon 12 Pro this year. Why? Because it is basically the Phantom 9 repackaged. It has an under-display fingerprint scanner, it has an AMOLED display, it has 6GB RAM and is both a. way cheaper than the Phantom 9, and b. way cheaper than the Camon 11 Pro it is replacing. Imagine, at just below 20K having those specs.
For the Camon 12 Air, I don’t know if the following statement will be me contradicting myself, but I believe it is also a really really really good deal. Yes. Because, where else will you buy a 13K phone with a punch-hole display? Very few devices locally have punch-hole displays. And they’re all flagship devices with very high prices. I know for a fact, the Camon 12 Air will be the biggest seller in the series. If you’re a phone seller, get this device in your shops, it’ll sell.
If you want to know what you’ll be getting in the Camon 12 box, here’s my unboxing video:
Specs vs Competition:
You know the way a Samsung phone with 2GB RAM used to be a very expensive device some years back? Well thanks to Transsion’s aggressive pricing, with TECNO and Infinix, we’ve seen prices drop over the years, and we’re in an era where you can get really good performing devices for less than 20K.
In the past, you’d look at a Samsung or Huawei phone’s specs, and then look at its price, and opt for a TECNO or Infinix which was way cheaper, and with better specs. But of late, this have changed. You look at budget devices from TECNO, Huawei, and Samsung, and the differences in specs vs price is minimal. Especially in 2019 with Huawei’s Y-series, and Samsung’s new A-series.
This year, the new devices from Huawei and Samsung have become some of the most sought after phones. And this must have really affected TECNO’s sales.
Well, TECNO must be trying to do it different with the new Camon 12 series. They’re going in even more aggressively in terms of prices vs specs. If you check out the specs of their new devices versus competition, you’ll see TECNO have the clear edge.
TECNO has also promised to update their devices to Android 10 by the end of the year. This is something that they’ve failed at for so long, and hopefully, this time round they manage to do things differently.
Okay, so we’ve established that TECNO is working hard to offer the best value for money in terms of specs versus price, and in terms on timely Android updates. But how good are the devices really? And what’s the experience like using these phones?
Bloatware and Ads:
You know what, I understand that TECNO is trying hard to make money here. I get it. It isn’t easy to have very low profit margins for the hardware, and maintain a profitable business.
Apple of example has higher profit margins for their devices. An iPhone Xs costs about KES. 45,000 to produce, and is sold at over KES. 110,000. That’s great profit. On the other hand, a TECNO Phone could cost between KES. 9,000 to KES. 12,000 to produce, only to be sold at about KES. 15,000. That’s not enough profit to sustain the company. They not only need to sell many devices, they also need to find other avenues of making money from the devices. And that’s where bloatware and ads come in.
On very many TECNO devices I’ve complained about this. Things haven’t changed yet with the Camon 12. There’s still a numerous number of apps that come pre-installed with this phone that are annoying, and weird. There’s still ads on the HiOS launcher, and others that send notifications. It is a very bad experience especially if you’re used to phones that have cleaner UIs like Samsung and Huawei.
- Do NOT sign in to the phone on first boot – You don’t trust that these apps are good in terms of privacy, they may be collecting your personal data.
- Delete/Uninstall any apps you don’t know or don’t want – Make sure you remove all of them. Anything unknown, or unwanted, get rid of it.
- Sign in to Google Play and Download a Launcher – For example get Nova Launcher, or CPL launcher.
- Disable all Permissions for HiOS launcher – since you cannot uninstall it, deny it all permissions, and rid it access to anything. This will stop the ads.
- Use your phone as normal now.
- If you notice any ads/notifications, try and find the app and delete/disable it. If you can’t remove it, deny it access to any permissions.
This is funny, but I feel like TECNO’s designer has one template this year. The Camon 12 I have looks like the Camon 12 PRO. The 12 PRO looks almost exactly like the Phantom 9. Have you see the Spark 4 Series? Also very similar design.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes production easier for them. And it also makes it easier to have good looking devices across the board. It also makes their higher end devices better, as the design language is perfected, and better done over time. I just wish things were a little bit differentiated.
I like the feel of the Camon 12. It has a plastic back finish. But you won’t know it, unless well of course you’ve read it here. The frame around it must also be plastic, or some strong alloy. It is a sturdy well built device. It can handle many falls without cracks because plastic has a good way of absorbing the shock/pressure. It will also survive things like strong accidental bending, or strong pressures like sitting on it accidentally etc. I’ll say it again, it is very well built.
I haven’t noticed any scratches on the device over the weeks of use. But you need to prepare yourself because that shiny finish is a disaster in terms of fingerprints. Get ready for endless wiping off to maintain the look. Or just use a case. There’s one good one included free in the box.
All the buttons are on the right side. I mean both right in direction, and right as in correct side. This isn’t something significant for many people. But I have the Galaxy NOTE 10+, and all buttons are on the left side, and it takes some getting used-to to be comfortable.
It is easy to reach both the volume rockers, and the power button. You can do it easily even when using one hand. This is also not something you often think about, but it’ll make your use easier especially if you’re one who uses your device over long periods of time.
They’re also clicky, and well separated, so you don’t have to be constantly looking at them to interact with them.
What I don’t like is that double pressing the power button doesn’t open the camera. It’s a camera phone TECNO. And this is a feature that should be a no-brainer!
We all like a thin, and light phone, I believe. Here’s a thin and light device that:
- Still features a huge 4000mAh battery
- Has this well-curved back that feels great on the hand – you won’t forget you’re holding something you don’t want to break.
I feel like the bezels are acceptable. Both top, side, and bottom bezels. At the price point, they are okay. I initially thought the bottom chin would be quite big, but I don’t mind it on this model. It is an LCD display, and you know it is very hard to have tiny chins on LCD displays. On an AMOLED panel, like with the Camon 12 Pro, I hope the bottom chin is much smaller.
With the top bezel, I feel like the decision to have dual front LED flash(es) is one weird, but also quite cool move.
I don’t know what happened in 2019 with phone displays. I am not saying the display on the Camon 12 is bad. Far from it. It is a great panel. Colour accuracy is really good. It gets bright enough if you want to use it outdoors, and dim enough for dark rooms.
When on full brightness, you’ll notice the battery drain is significantly fast. Which is normal with almost every phone. Also, it isn’t like very very bright outdoors like you’d get with flagships from Samsung etc., but it is good.
What I don’t get is why in 2019 devices are coming with 720p panels. I thought we were making jumps on resolution? What’s happening? Remember, a 720p panel means you can’t watch YouTube videos in Full HD. It means you can’t really enjoy anything Full HD quality.
I know for the budget series, 720p panels are acceptable, but for devices above KES. 16,000, we should only be getting 1080p panels. Remember the Infinix NOTE 4 was 14k and had a Full HD display.
Anyways, the Camon 12’s 720p panel isn’t a deal breaker for me, and I am sure for most given the other specs you’re getting, and given its price. At least it isn’t the new OPPO A9 2020 that’s KES. 30,000 with a 720p panel.
The Brightness Toggle on HiOS is, like with the Volume Toggle, different. Instead of a line, it is now a bar. It is a little more easier to use, and feels more modern.
I think you already know what you’re getting with this phone in terms of performance. Or maybe you think you do. With 4GB RAM, and a 2.0GHz Octa-core processor, you should be comfortable with almost all tasks you give the device. And yes, that’s the case with almost all day to day apps – Social Media, Entertainment, and light gaming.
I am not saying light gaming to disqualify big title games. Of course you can play some big title games on the device. But you’ll need to put settings on low, and you’ll have to sacrifice a lot in terms of frame rates. It’ll be a choppy experience. Which isn’t a good thing.
On light gaming, and on other heavy apps, you’ll sometimes, not always, need to be extra patient with load times, and you’ll need to be ready to re-launch other apps because they’ll have been closed. If you want to play light games, this is a budget device to consider if you’re held back in terms of amount of money you can spend. I am recommending it because the performance isn’t bad, and the battery life is great.
TECNO claims the device is optimised for PUBG. So you can take their word for it, and try playing PUBG on it.
RAM management is not that great. Sometimes everything works very well, and you find your apps, and Chrome tabs still open, but other times everything is force closed, and you have to relaunch them. I think this could be a battery saving feature of HiOS, but I am not so sure.
Comparing its performance to the Infinix S4, or to the Samsung Galaxy A20, I feel like it has the upper hand. I hope RAM management can be fixed. Also, I hope TECNO chooses more powerful processors next time.
If this were an AMOLED panel, I think I’d be getting over 8hrs screen on time. I am not complaining though with the between 5hrs 30mins to 6hrs 30mins battery I am getting. Sometimes I’ve hit 7hrs screen on time.
I think it could even be better with a more efficient processor, and better battery management software. I feel like HiOS is sometimes unnecessarily aggressive with background processes in an effort to save battery, but ends up hurting battery life as these processes keep being restarted.
I don’t like that its 2019, and while a Xiaomi Redmi 8A that’s less than KES. 10,000 comes with a USB type-C port, this one still comes with a micro-USB port.
Also, why is there no fast charging TECNO?
Since this is a camera-focused device, there’s a whole separate camera review. You should check it out when it drops to see what sort of pictures to expect with this device.
There’s a Triple camera setup at the back including a 16MP main lens, an 8MP ultra-wide lens, and an extra 2MP lens. I don’t think the 2MP lens does anything though.
You can shoot utra-wide angle pictures, normal wide angle pictures, zoomed in 2X pics. You can zoom up to 8X when taking pics. There’s also super Macro Mode. It uses the Wide angle lens.
It is in software that TECNO loses points. I love the device overall, especially in terms of specs, and build quality. It feels just as good as any other device from the competition. But then you try using it, and you find that software just makes it a cheap device all of a sudden. TECNO needs to fix this.
Of course with a new launcher, and some tweaks, all the following things can be avoided/fixed. I already explained above how to handle a TECNO phone on first boot. Do that, and you won’t have any issues in the future.
- The UI is confusing – The icons are not easy to understand. It is not user friendly. Why use unconventional icons for things like settings etc.
- Bloatware – Argh! Why have all these unnecessary included apps pre-installed? Why not suggest them on first boot, and let someone opt to have them if they want to?
- Adverts – Arrrghhh!
- Mixing of colors – there should be a consistent color pattern in the UI. Unforturnatley everything is everywhere.
- Learning curve – If you’re moving from a different platform or device, you’ll take a while to learn to get stuff on HiOS.
- Unnecessary feature thrown all around – there’s so many extra stuff that should be optional things hidden somewhere and only available for those who want such features. For example there’s a shelf you swipe from the side to access. No one asked for it. There’s WhatsApp mode, Bike Mode, there’s suggested games, suggested gossip news, suggested search items, and so much more that’s honestly both confusing and unbearable.
What I wish comes with the Camon 13:
- USB Type-C please
- A Full HD display, please.
- New Skin – Do away with HiOS. Samsung killed Touchwiz when they realised it wasn’t working. They then killed Samsung Experience UI when it didn’t work. And now they have ONE UI which is really good. Huawei removed all the unnecessary features it had bundles with Emotion UI, and decided to even call it just EMUI.
- Functional Cameras – The extra 2MP lens is just for show? Could an update make it actually usable? Is it even needed?
- Fast charging.
What I really like?
- Specs versus price – this is good value for money.
- Storage – 64GB internal storage, that’s expandable using a Micro_SD card slot is great. Remember the new Pixel 4 charges you over KES. 90,000 for 64GB non-expandable storage.
- Design and Build Quality
- Faiba4G VoLTE Support. Of Course it’s also Safaricom VoLTE ready. But I love the fact I can use Faiba4G to make calls.
- It has a very cool charging animation that lights up around the screen and the notch. Looks really good.
- Ah, there’s a headphone jack.
Should you buy?
If you want a device at this price range, and you don’t mind lacking USB type-C, and you want more for less, it is a good device to get.