Over the years, the folks at Google have been imparting the Android platform with new features while making the OS a leaner platform. It is work in progress, and the improvements that have been made over time are quite plenty, which is why this review will be short – with a key focus on Android Go that is equipped on Tecno Spark 2 that is the star of this piece.
In a nutshell, phones cost a lot of money. If you look into the dynamics of the smartphone business, you will realize that manufacturers keep refining the offerings of their devices, and such improvement comes at an additional cost. However, the popularity of Android is all-encompassing, meaning there are customers at the bottom of the Android food chain who cannot folk thousands of shillings to enjoy a good experience that is reminiscent of mid to high-end handhelds. However, this does not mean that such a demographic is out of luck, hence, Android Go.
Go was conceptualized for growing economies such as India, parts of South America and Africa. The platform, to put it simply, is a dumbed down version of Android that is hardly resource intensive. This allows manufacturers to use cheaper, albeit underwhelming hardware components to create a phone that is both affordable and functional for the said markets.
The Spark 2 is equipped with Go that is based on Android 8.1.0. We have been playing with the device for a couple of days, so this is a summary of our thoughts that should help you make an informed decision before you shell out KES 11,000 for it.
We have already written another piece that covers Spark 2’s specs. You can read it here.
In the box
Papers that to one reads, a charging brick and USB cable, mediocre earphones and yaay, a case.
The Spark 2 is constructed really well for a Go device that is supposed to be cheap. We have the red version, with a modern, elongated and skinny 18:9 screen. It is capped at 720p but does a nice job at making the phone look 2018-ish. Everything is in place as it should be, a generic move that still works for most devices. For instance, controls are on the right and the left side is clean save for a dual-SIM tray that can also take a microSD card should the onboard 16GB of media room prove insufficient.
It is light, a feat that plays nice with ergonomics for a 6-inch phone.
It is constructed using plastic for obvious reasons. The back neither catches fingerprints nor does it slip out of your hands easily. Tecno has also packaged a case for those who need additional protection.
Considering this is a sub 12K phone, there is little to complain about as far as design is concerned. We are just happy that handhelds can cost this less and still manage to demonstrate admirable build.
Yes, it is modern with a tall aspect ratio, but that is no longer a surprise as every OEM on the planet has taken this route. It gets reasonably bright and has enough pixels to make media consumption a good experience. Although it is only 720p, we are not complaining because target users will hardly fault it, else they bump up their budget for a more superior experience.
On the back is a 13 MP shooter, while the front is served by an 8 MP sensor.
For the price, these cameras do a good job, especially in well-lit conditions. The inclusion of an LED flash on the front should help in taking self-portraits in the dark.
Summarily, chances are that these cameras will serve you fine if you take the price of the phone into consideration. Sample pictures are attached far below.
Android Go apps
To complement the services of GO, Google created lite versions of their core apps. These include Maps Go, Google Go, Gmail Go and YouTube Go, to mention a few.
In essence, Go apps (Google, Gmail, Assistant, Maps, YouTube and Files are included by default) do not require a lot of resources to run. They launch at okay speeds and perform most tasks as expected. However, they are stripped of some core features found in fully-fledged apps. YouTube Go, for instance, is too bare-bones for my taste. However, it remains functional and responsive.
Should their offerings restrict your operations, you can download their full equivalents from Google Play.
It is excellent.
For some reasons, the Spark 2 is skinned, which is not a bad thing as the overlay allows Tecno to sneak in some neat software tricks. There is a blue light filter (Eye Care), gesture controls under Micro intelligence settings, theme settings, among other HiOS features. We are glad they are here as Android Go or stock Android is pretty clean for people who like to dig deeper into their devices.
For the price, we were surprised to see the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner. Face Unlock is also present, which is a nice surprise.
This is probably the biggest issue I have with the Spark 2. When I was setting it up, the device took almost 10 minutes to perform a simple factory reset. Setting it up was not as speedy as I expected, with noticeable hiccups during typing and obvious lags. It is not a lag fest, but the slowness will bother some people especially those who are used to faster, more expensive handsets.
These performance issues are attributed to hardware specs. The phone has one gig of RAM – and yes, we are thinking about it too: Tecno could have easily fitted 2GB of RAM in here as we have seen cheaper phones with more temporary memory. It is a deal breaker for me, and even if other features of the phone are passable, less RAM is something I just can’t live with.
Why HiOS on Android Go?
We believe the performance hiccups we experienced were linked to the HiOS on top of Android Go. It is a heavy skin owing to its wide array of features. I suspect the experience could be markedly better if untouched Android were installed on the Spark 2.
It should be noted that this is hardly a jab because HiOS packs useful tricks that some of us use consistently like double tapping the screen to wake or sleep or using three-finger swipes to take a screenshot. However, when the skin overwhelms performance, we are left wondering if foregoing it all together could have been considered in the first place.
The included 3500 mAh battery is large and performs admirably but it takes more than two hours to charge but this is something we have to live with for a foreseeable future as manufacturers keep fast charging to their flagship offerings.
Who should buy this phone?
This is an excellent buy for people who need to have a first-hand experience with Android phones, which is a funny thing to say owing to the penetration of the platform in the local market. It is also an excellent buy as a replacement or secondary phone as it checks most boxes for a budget phone.
If you do not belong to the above categories of people but don’t care about performance, the Spark 2 is an excellent buy.
Also, if you have KES 11,000 lying around because you cannot find a better buy, especially the red one because it is pretty.
Who should not buy the Spark 2?
Do not purchase this device if you are not into the idea of Android Go. Also, do not buy it if you value performance over anything because you be frustrated by its sluggishness in executing tasks.
Tecno has crafted a good, modern, Android Go-powered device that should serve a substantial number of people on a budget. It includes okay cameras, a good screen, as well as a large battery that takes some time to kill. However, the phone has a major setback, and that is performance. From a subjective perspective, I have seen speedier phones and while that may not be the case for everyone, it is worth pointing out that the phone could be snappier. As we mentioned, this lacklustre performance is thanks to entry-level specs, especially on RAM that desperately tops out as soon as you launch a couple of apps.
We suggest you try the device if you are on a budget and have little regard for Go apps and occasional stutters. You will be served just fine as long as you understand that the Spark 2 is not the kind to be pushed to perform hard tasks.