We have spent the last couple of weeks using Tecno’s latest smartphone, the Camon C9 and to sum up this review in just one sentence, it is one of the best smartphones one can find in the Kenyan market at the moment for its price, Kshs 18,000.
The Tecno Camon C9 picks up from where its predecessors the Camon C5 and Camon C8 left.
Like the last year duo, its main selling point, according to its makers, is the two very prominent camera sensors on the front and the back. But there’s more to the device than the camera. The cameras only tell one side of the story; the rest of the device tells another.
You can check out specifications of the Tecno Camon C9 here.
When Tecno introduced the music-centred Boom J8 a few months ago, it brought with it the sandstone back cover styling that we are seeing on the black Camon C9.
As it was the case then, the Camon C9 also arrives in several colour options (Champagne Gold, Elegant Blue and Sandstone Black) which are characterized by either soft rubbery-sandstone removable back covers or soft slippery out and out plastic back covers. Either way, it’s still plastic but the sandstone-textured black model which is what we had in for review feels especially good in the hand and makes handling such a big and thick device a little easy.
Old vs New – Camon C8’s design vis-à-vis Camon C9’s
The plastic back and the glass front are separated by a thin strip of metal whose sides are interrupted by plastic cutouts meant to accommodate the device’s network radios.
The upper side of the metal frame is occupied by the centrally-placed 3.5mm audio jack, which, if the rumours are true, is bound to become an endangered species when the next batch of smartphone heavy hitters arrives later in the year. At the bottom is the microUSB port for charging the device and data transfer.
Since the device has a removable back cover, the likes of the dual-SIM and microSD card slots are accommodated behind the device upon removing the plastic cover.
To our surprise, there is only one microphone on the device which can be spotted at the bottom right next to the USB 2.0 port. That means that background noise cancellation during calls is not dealt with even though it never at any one time bothered us that much as calls were very clear.
That very loud speaker is found at the lower end of the back with the Camon branding right above it while the upper side accommodates the large 13-megapixel camera sensor and its accompanying dual-LED flash. The Tecno branding takes the centre. The speaker’s location at the back means that despite its loud output, the sound is muffled when the device is placed on a table lying up instead of face down.
While Tecno abandoned the capacitive navigation buttons on the Boom J8 in favour of on-screen controls, they are back on the Camon C9. As is the breathing/pulsating light which blinks repeatedly when there are unread notifications – messages, missed calls, etc.
The low-down of the Camon C9’s design is this: it’s stylish, the metal frame adds a nice touch, it’s good to feel thanks to that sandstone back but still looks large – because it is – and thick even though it doesn’t feel like it.
The Tecno Camon C9 packs a 5.5-inch full HD LCD display that is vibrant and pixel dense. Tuned to blend well with the device’s interface, the display does just enough to withstand bright outdoor scenarios but not enough to make you not notice the shadows thanks to its not-so-good viewing angles.
Just like the Camon C8 from last year, the Camon C9 packs a 13-megapixel shooter at the back. The C9’s sensor, however, has some beefed up optics to match the many months gap between the two devices. Its selfie camera is even better with a similar sensor unlike the C8 which only had a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.
Tecno’s marketing team ambitiously claims that the Camon C9 has the best cameras on a smartphone on the continent. Well, as you already guessed, that’s a bit of a stretch (a long stretch to be honest) as we’ll see in a moment. However, it sure does go the extra mile for a device of its price and status and you’re unlikely to find anything better than it in its category in the Kenyan market.
Like the previous generation of Camon smartphones, the Tecno Camon C9 also has a dedicated camera key which can be used to summon the viewfinder at a moment’s notice when long pressed and to take shots once inside the viewfinder. We found that using the camera button was a bit slower compared to just using the lock screen or home screen shortcut. There’s still another way to do that: using Tecno’s smart bracelet, the T-Band.
The T-Band has a single physical button that is entirely dedicated to firing up the camera and taking snaps. Its practicality when it comes to day-to-day use is questionable but hey, it’s another option, right?
Here are a few samples from the Camon C9’s cameras:
To know all there is to know about the Tecno Camon C9’s cameras, check out our full camera review here.
Whatever processors, GPUs, or memory a device packs, it shouldn’t matter that much as long as it is able to deliver when the users demand of it. The Tecno Camon C9’s internals do exactly that. It’s fast and responsive and save for the occasional stutters thanks to HiOS not being as well-optimized as we would like, you won’t find much to lose your head for.
Even though Tecno’s HiOS interface has received a minor version bump as highlighted in our preview, there isn’t much that has changed. In fact, hardly anything has changed. However, compared with the old Tecno interface on last year’s Camon C8, the Camon C9 is a breath of fresh air even though the C8 has since received an update with HiOS.
With Android 6.0 lurking behind the glossy HiOS coat of paint, the Tecno Camon C9 is one of the few budget devices in the market with the latest Android software.
Everything we liked about HiOS when we first encountered it on the Boom J8 is still there as is everything that didn’t impress us in the first place. Like the lack of notifications on the lock screen or the mismatch in icon appearance on both the home screen and the app drawer.
Eyeprint verification is just a nice name for the standard Android face unlock albeit with a little tweaking
Tecno has cleverly tweaked the standard Android face recognition unlock mechanism to come up with Eyeprint verification. As the name suggests, it narrows down focus from one’s facial outline as is the case with the standard Android implementation to just the eyes. Until we figured out that all that the front camera of the device needed were our two eyes, we had had enough unsuccessful attempts both setting it up and subsequently logging in to the device. It’s a nice touch but a gimmick at best. You’re just fine using the usual PIN, password or pattern. A basic fingerprint sensor would’ve probably made all the difference but we are talking about a Kshs 18,000 smartphone here so we’ll be content with that.
Previously, one of the things we really liked about Tecno’s Android smartphones was that you could whiz past the set up process in no time since it did away with the many prompts to accept this or reject that – as is the case on every other device you lay your hands on. Sadly, on the Camon C9, they are back. There’s a prompt to sign in to your Tecno account and such.
Talking about a Tecno account, Tecno has also added two new apps to the usual coterie of preloaded apps, T-Band and TecnoSpot. The former, as you can easily tell, is for pairing Tecno’s smart bracelet going by the same name while the latter is simply a shortcut to a browser page of Tecno’s forums which also go by the same name. It would’ve been helpful if Tecno took the time to build an app for its forums but a shortcut doesn’t hurt either when introducing it to users who probably had no idea of its existence in the first place. The tie-in with the sign-up process feels like a forced onboarding process to be honest.
The one little thing we really liked about HiOS is that you will be prompted from time to time, say every 3 or 4 days, about apps you have not been using and given an option to freeze them. This is great since most users have no idea keeping apps they never bother to check out like the pre-installed (and outdated) Asphalt Nitro is not that advisable. Where these are irksome, they can all be uninstalled. They are not protected by the system in any way which is really good.
Battery life is the last thing most users of the Tecno Camon C9 will have to worry about. Battery life is good on this device. We averaged over 4 hours of screen on time with long use of mobile data and Bluetooth being on all the time since we had the T-Band always paired. That is impressive more so since you can’t just remove the battery and swap it every time you power it down while on the go as the battery is not removable.
Tecno smartphones over the last one year have integrated gestures. The Camon C9 is no exception and double-tap to wake and other gestures like drawing C or M to launch the camera and music apps respectively is still possible and works just fine.
The device’s network performance is excellent both on 3G and LTE. Calls, as already stated, are clear all round.
While the Camon C9 scores highly for its design, favourable pricing, battery life and, of course, the two cameras, it still has to make do with a tweaked software – HiOS – that definitely needs work.
As pointed out in the conclusion of our preview, the Tecno Camon C9’s pricing puts it in the crosshairs of other family members like the Tecno Boom J8 and the Infinix Zero 3.
Having used all the three devices, picking one is hard but not so hard.
The Camon C9 has better battery life than the Infinix Zero 3 and better cameras, obviously, than the Boom J8 even though the two one-up it in other aspects as well. Throw in Android Marshmallow and that really loud speaker at the back and you have a decent proposition that stands up to the two and any other similarly-priced device from the competition.
That Tecno is offering to replace, for free, any screen shattered up to 3 months after purchase, is a statement of faith in the device and something we don’t get to see being offered to budget smartphone buyers every other day.