Many years ago, when this blog was still in its infancy, I got an email from someone at Tecno asking me to post a review they had written about a device they were about to bring to the market, he offered to pay for the review and gift me the device. I turned the request down obviously and replied that they should focus more on making good devices that would stand up to scrutiny, instead of paying for reviews which they were writing themselves. I never heard from the person again, and for a while, I think I was “blacklisted” by them. Fast forward to today and I’ve got a Tecno Camon C9 review unit in my hand.
Things have obviously changed seeing as overtime, we have written quite a number of Tecno reviews, but I had to tell the story to illustrate just how far Tecno has come, both as a company and as a brand.
The Camon C9 is Tecno’s newest device, and it does embody the progress mentioned above, in many respects.
It looks and feels good.
I’ll tell you upfront, the Camon C9 is Tecno’s nicest looking piece of hardware ever in my opinion. As far as blacks slabs go, Tecno has managed to make a visually pleasing device especially with the sandstone black variant, which we reviewed. The device reminds me of designs from OnePlus and Oppo and not necessarily an older Tecno, which is a good thing in this instance.
There’s nothing radically different in terms of the design, rather it’s the little things—such as the silver circle accentuating the front camera, subtle home button that doubles as a notification light, the hollow around the camera button, the breaks of plastic on the metal chassis where the antennas are, and the excellent look and texture of the sandstone back plate—among other things that add up to make the device an interesting sight.
The device is quite thick across the middle, but you’ll have to actually look for it to notice. The chamfered edges give you the illusion that it’s thinner than it really is and between the edges, the chassis, it’s weight and the textured back, it’s really nice and comfortable to hold.
The device does look and feel premium, till you try to peel of the back to access the SIM and MicroSD card slots, then you’re reminded that the back is cheap creaky plastic. I hope to God that the texture isn’t sprayed on, because if it is, it’ll look like a royal mess when it ages, but till then, it looks brilliant.
Display and Sound
The Tecno Camon C9 features a 5.5-inch, full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) display, which I frankly don’t have much to complain about. It’s plenty bright and vivid, the viewing angles are decent, colours are warm. My one issue with it is the fact that it’s not as sharp as it should be. Texts seem like they’re being viewed on a camera that’s ever so slightly out of focus. The result is barely noticeable, but if you look for it, you’ll find that text looks a bit washed and not as crisp as you’ll expect from a 1080p display.
While the Tecno Camon range focuses on camera performance, Tecno also has the “Boom J” range that’s dedicated to music lovers. Some elements from the Boom J range make their way to the C9. The most obvious being the Boom Player. Unfortunately, the result isn’t as expected. While the Camon C9’s sound is pretty loud and audible, the sound quality isn’t on par with the Boom J8. On the Tecno Camon C9, the audio is slightly distorted at high volumes and sounds canned.
So, how about the camera?
The Tecno Camon C9 is advertised as a device that’s photography centred, so if you’re looking to buy one, the camera is probably the first thing you’ll want to check out. I’m happy to report that the camera is quite capable of taking some really great shots, that’ll leave you wondering whether it was actually taken by a Tecno device. Tecno uses a neat trick to achieve this feat. The camera by default lets in a lot more light than most other smartphone camera’s do, most likely by forcing the camera to leave the shutter open for much longer, then post produces the result to try to balance whatever defects happened due to the long exposure. It’s a trick that works mostly. In proper lighting conditions, the pictures are bright and mostly sharp, though as a result of the amount of light and post production, the colours may be slightly off, and the photos may appear washed out in some cases, with some details lost, particularly noticeable when you zoom into the photo.
Where the camera excels is in low light, where it is able to recreate a fair amount of details even at night, due to the amount of light it captures with each shot.
The camera response time is also quite good too, photos are taken pretty much the instant you tap on the shutter button, which combined with the inbuilt ability to launch the camera from sleep either through the dedicated camera button, shortcut on the lock screen or via a predetermined gesture; makes the camera a good ally at those points when spontaneity happens and it you want to capture it.
The camera UI itself is clean, basic and straightforward. There are not a lot of options and there’s no manual mode, but everything the average user would need is within reach in two clicks max, most in one click. There’s a face-beautifying mode, HDR, a night mode, panorama, slow motion video and you get the option to choose between the standard 16:9 aspect ratio or a square.
Sample shots (unedited)
The front camera is pretty much identical to the rare main camera, but is somehow more prone to washed photos than the main camera is. It’s also got flash (technically it’s just a light that’s permanently on), to brighten your selfies whenever the need arises. It’s the kind of front camera Snapchat users would love. Besides taking photos, the front camera doubles as an iris scanner that works about half the time, though it is a super-cool party trick to show off.
As a summary with regards to the camera, if you primarily take photos with your smartphone to share on the Internet (which is most people), you’ll be more than happy with this camera. If you’re one of the few that will want to blow up pictures taken from your phone either to print, or for some other reason, you may find that the camera doesn’t quite meet up.
Software and Performance
The Tecno Camon C9 ships with android marshmallow, under the Tecno’s proprietary HiOS skin. HiOS is basically Tecno’s attempt at making a version of android that appeals to their core market. Long time users of Tecno would be at home with it, the icons across the OS have been redesigned to fit those which the users were familiar with before the switch to HiOS. Ultimately as with all skins and flavours of android, liking it is down to personal taste. I personally prefer the look of stock android, so if I had to use the device as my daily driver, I’ll most likely install the Google launcher and set it as my default. That’s the beauty of how customisable android is.
Looks aside, my major grouses with HiOS are two-fold: First, I prefer performance optimisations to be made at OS-level, which are more efficient than Tecno’s approach of adding apps to an already bloated OS to “optimise” it. Also the typos we mentioned in the Boom J8 review still appear every now and then across the OS, an indicator that the OS was translated poorly at some point.
Performance-wise, HiOS handles quite well thanks to a combination of the octa-core processor, 2GB RAM and the OS itself. Transitions between screens and apps are smooth, and while you may notice some dropped frames here and there, particularly when you’re playing games, the device isn’t laggy.
The Tecno Camon C9 relies on a 3000mAh non-removable battery to keep its lights on and everything running. With the charger included in the box, from zero, you’ll get a full charge in about 2 hours. Getting the battery from 100% back to 0 though maybe anything from 8 hours to 2 hours depending on what your usage is like.
The fastest way to run down the battery is to play graphically intense games such as Asphalt 8 or Thor. Those will have your device begging for another charge after just over 2 hours of continuous gaming.
With the screen brightness set at the highest and sleep mode off, you should be able to do 6 hours of a mixture of calls, SMS, internet surfing, music and social media, while paired with a smartwatch usage on one charge. Turn the HiOS battery manager on and you can stretch that to 8 hours.
If you’re a music person, with just music on, you can get around 7 hours of playback on just around 30% of battery, provided that not much else is going on.
There’s a heartbeat sync option that lets you pause apps when the device is asleep and an ultra low battery mode that shuts down everything but calls, SMS, alarms, sound recording calculator and note to further extend the battery life, if you need to really push it.
It can stay idle for days as well. After unboxing it, I left it for a few days and was surprised to meet it still powered after 4 days!
Final Thoughts on the Tecno Camon C9
Tecno has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and in many ways, the Tecno Camon C9 is testament to just how far it has come. While Tecno has released more powerful devices like the Phantom 5, the Tecno Camon C9 has to be my personal favourite Tecno device ever.
But even as I say that, I can see so much room for improvement, HiOS can be a lot better than a skin with preinstalled apps, the typos are unforgivable in this day an age, the display could be a lot crisper, the sound could be better, the battery…I can go on.
At N49,900 (~ $145), there aren’t many new and readily available devices at the same price point that I can recommend, especially with the current exchange rate that will do a better job. However, if you’re not on a budget, you’ll find more polished devices for a little more.
Hopefully, Tecno doesn’t rest its oars but rather adopts the Tecno Camon C9 as a template on which it can build its future devices on.