The Tecno Spark 5 is a new budget smartphone priced at R2 999. Picture: Sam Spiller
The Tecno Spark 5 is a new budget smartphone priced at R2 999. Picture: Sam Spiller

Tecno Spark 5: Budget and battery sparks fly

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Oct 24, 2020

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It’s all well and good being awed by the latest iPhone or how the latest feature of a Samsung Galaxy S20 is something that you can’t live without. But let’s not forget. A Smartphone can be a very expensive commodity in an age where it is an absolute necessity for one’s career and livelihood. Spending upwards of R10 000 or even R5 000 is not an option for a lot of people, and so there needs to be a healthy and competitive selection of budget phones for South Africans and that should be offering the best package possible.

Stepping onto the field to take on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy A10s and Vivo Y11 comes Chinese brand Tecno. The Transsion-backed manufacturer made its official local debut in March this year with the focus on offering budget headsets in the African and South Asian markets. It’s a competitive scene and the new Tecno Spark 5, available in stores later this month, has to prove itself to customers lured in by the R2 999 price tag. Let’s take a look.

Just looking at it, the Spark 5 is presenting a package that boasts all the hallmarks of a flagship smartphone. Front-facing, it’s all black glass while the back of the phone boasts an impressive-looking quad camera system in the top corner adjacent to a fingerprint sensor, standing out amidst a wave of bright colour like Vacation Blue (pictured). It is a big device measuring 164.8mm in length and 76.3mm in width. The weight of around 195 grams is likely attributable to the Spark 5’s battery, but more on that in a bit. In terms of build quality, the overall device feels robust.

Black glass for miles, this display can dwarf even higher-end devices with its 6.6-inch 720x1600 Dot-in display. The display itself keeps its massive shape intact with the 8MP selfie camera in the top left corner, and a 720p HD resolution is standard for this segment. The screen could have a brighter level, though. It’s not like it doesn’t have the battery to compensate for it and there are moments when you’re staring at it from odd angles and all you can see is a reflection of the roof or sky. And if you’re into streaming, you may end up annoyed by the absence of a dual speaker function with the audio only coming out at the bottom of the phone.

I keep mentioning the battery, because that is one of the Spark 5’s biggest drawcards coming in at a whopping 5 000mAh. This thing lasts for days. For those working out in the world who may not be able to recharge your phone every evening, you’re able to go for more than two, likely three days without having to plug in. And this is before you discover and turn the phone on Power Saving mode.

Taking a look at the internals and user experience of the Spark 5, you start to see the budget restraints of the segment. The phone is powered by a Mediatek Helio A22, a 2.0GHz quad-core chipset backed by 2GB RAM and it comes equipped with 32GB memory space. Booting up and flipping through different apps, you feel the limit of that processor where everything takes a moment to respond. Because it’s such a big display but still running at 720p resolution, finer details can be lost in the animation. The HiOS software, powered by Android 10, carries a similar layout and navigation process to other smartphones and you eventually learn all the manoeuvres. This is all fine, but what is not fine is the amount of bloatware that users switch on to when they purchase the phone. A good portion of the pre-installed software is stuff you won’t ever use, and you’ll need to do some spring cleaning to make full use of the memory available. Additional features such as Dark theme, a dedicated Game Mode, Face Unlock, and the full library of Google Mobile Services available make for a practical device for various uses.

Everyone deserves to have good photos, and the Spark 5 is working overtime to give you the best ones possible. It’s an expansive system, composed of four separate lenses backed by an AI assistant to shoot decent shots. A 13MP main camera, a 2MP macro lens, a 2MP depth lens, and then a dedicated lens for that AI to work its magic. Straightforward shots using the main camera are very good. Provided you’re not zooming in even by the limited 2x function, the picture is very well composited with the balance of exposure and colour saturation. It’s a good example of how more megapixels don’t necessarily equal better pictures. Recording video also stands up well to scrutiny, being able to film at different resolutions to allow for file saving, though the image stabilisation when using that function could be improved. The 8MP selfie camera on the front, equipped with its own dual flash, is very good too. Tecno has provided a camera with a lot of neat features such as Beauty mode, Augmented Reality add-ons, and the fact you’re getting good pics out of a 13MP camera shows the AI is doing its job. The only downside is the macro lens and the camera’s ability to shoot at night. The macro mode is pretty redundant and does little to contribute beyond what the main does when focusing on close objects, and darkness is a powerful force that renders images pretty useless.

Verdict

The Tecno Spark 5 tries very hard to punch above its weight for R2 999. It offers every function typical of the average smartphone and it deserves props on the prioritised components. The battery is great, the camera has legs to it, and the display is big and proper. It succeeds in impressing, but the limitations of the processor and minor shortfalls like display may prove frustrating further down the line.

Weekend Argus

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