This $280 phone is a lesson in affordability – I hope Apple and Samsung are paying attention

Tecno Camon 19 Pro
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

You’ll probably never use a Tecno phone. Until this week, I’d never heard of the Chinese brand or its Camon line of handsets. Now, it’s unlikely I’ll forget them.

The company recently held a swanky New York City launch for its new Tecno Camon Series 19 Pro Android 12 phones even though the products won’t be for sale in the US (or the UK, for that matter). I honestly wondered what they were doing there and, more importantly, why I was there.

Tecno insisted on describing the handsets as being “designed for fashionistas.” I could not tell you what that means, but I admit to being intrigued by the design, specs, and, especially, the price.

Key specs include:

  • 6.8-inch FHD+ virtually edge-to-edge 120 Hz display
  • Drill-hole front-facing 32MP camera
  • 64 MP and 50 MP cameras on the back
  • 2X optical zoom
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 5,000 mAh battery
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Face unlocking
  • Some nifty AI-infused photo tricks
  • a 3.5mm headphone jack (!)
  • A power brick, cable, and earbuds (!!)

It’s also a surprisingly attractive phone. There’s a fingerprint-rejecting diamond-coated back that looks and feels lovely. The dual circle camera array (which houses three cameras – there is a 2MP bokeh-assisting lens), is large but elegant, its premium looks assisted by its crystal glass covering. The chassis is only slightly thicker than an iPhone 13 Pro Max, but the phone feels considerably lighter.

The Camon 19 Pro comes will all this (and more) for $280. That’s a phone you could pay off in the space of five or six months (if you pay around $50 a month). The Camon Series 19 Pro 5G starts at just $320. That’s, on both phones, with 128 GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

To put that in perspective, the cheapest iPhone you can buy is the $429 Apple iPhone SE, which has just 64 GB of storage.

Tecno Camon 19 Pro

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

There's a catch

There are, of course, huge caveats, the biggest one being global availability. These Tecno phones are available in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Southern Asia, but not, as I noted earlier, in the US or Europe. Pricing might also vary and the $280 and $320 Tecno offered is still just an “estimate” for my market.

There are numerous limits often associated with budget phones like no under-the-screen fingerprint reader. Instead, the power/wake button doubles as an effective fingerprint reader. The screen is still LCD and not OLED. There’s no reported IP rating (maybe keep it away from deep puddles). It doesn’t offer wireless charging.

Then there’s the mobile CPU, a MediaTek Helio G96, which is probably equivalent to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G. Its benchmark numbers aren’t even in the same neighborhood as, say, an Apple A15 Bionic or a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.

So, when I unexpectedly walked out of the event with a review unit in hand and decided to spend a day or so with it, I tried to level-set my expectations.

For the most part, though, this budget device exceeded them.

Tecno Camon 19 Pro

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Not bad at all

As I mentioned it’s an attractive big-screen phone with a vibrant display that, naturally, looks excellent indoors. Outside is a different matter. It struggled in bright light, but I could still see well enough to use its camera and rather rich settings to take a variety of shots. Everything from standard to 2x telephoto, and from Portrait to slow motion looked quite good. Even low-light and night shots were decent (nothing would qualify as remarkable). There’s no wide-angle lens, let alone ultra-wide but the included lenses captured sharp, colorful, and accurate images.

Tecno Camon 19 Pro

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Portrait mode from the rear camera is good (the front camera had more artifacts), though you can’t adjust the level of bokeh before or after the shot (how many people do this on their iPhone 13 or Samsung Galaxy, anyway?). There is an editing tool that lets you add and adjust a bokeh effect on any image, but it’s not directly tied to Portrait Mode photography, which is kind of silly.

The AI-powered camera and its efforts to identify objects in a scene were entertaining. At one point, I pointed the phone at my hand, and it came up with “Pet.”

There are so many image manipulation options that you may never find or use them all. The set for body manipulation is, at best, problematic. It offers to slim the waistline, head, shoulder, slim and lengthen legs, “plump butt,” along with other cosmetic alterations. Perhaps this is what Techno meant by a phone for “fashionistas.”

It was, to be fair, hard to find those features and the phone certainly doesn’t push them. Still, it’s weird that they’re there.

Punching above its weight

For a sub-$300 phone, the Tecno Camon 19 Pro is quite the performer. It played taxing games like Asphalt 9: Legends without missing a beat. I think it might've been dropping a frame or two, and the audio could be richer, but it was still an enjoyable experience.

It’s an effective productivity platform for browsing and file management, and I do love the easy-to-find alphabetically ordered app list.

That 5,000 mAh battery is, by the way, an all-day champ.

Basically, this is an above-average phone at a ridiculously good price.

Will it ever arrive in the US and UK? I don’t know and Tecno offered no guidance. I’m not sure it matters. What the Tecno Camon 19 Pro demonstrates for me is that all phone manufacturers can do better on the affordability front. We’re paying as much as $999 for powerful big-screen phones that probably do far more than we’ll ever need them to (at least for most of us).

The Camon 19 Pro sets a nice example for the possibilities of budget. I think it’s time Apple, Samsung, and others answer in kind.

CLARIFICATION 6-19-2022: An earlier version of this post indicated that iOS does not have an alphabetical app list. It does, under the app library.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.