Tecno's Spark 5 is its budget-priced offering, falling between its entry-level sub-R1000 Pop phones and it's more sophisticated mid-range Camon and Phantom handsets.
The four rear camera sensors include a 13MP regular shooter, a 2MP macro lens, a depth of field camera. The final sensor, Tecno says, is used to capture image data for the artificial intelligence software, which optimises your camera settings for the scene you're shooting. It recognises ten basic scenarios, from people portraits to pets, food and night shots, and pops up a button suggesting you let it set up the cameras accordingly. Then there's an 8MP front facing selfie cam with dual flash, which is a nice touch for slightly more even lighting. It also has a range of software effects, like wide-angle portrait and variable bokeh.
Here is the Tecno Spark 5 configuration sent to Tech Radar for review:
CPU Mediatek MT6761 Helio A22 2.0 GHz
GPU PowerVR GE8320
Screen 6.6" HD screen (720x 1600px)
Front Camera 8MP
Rear Camera 13MP + 2MP Macro + 2MP TOF + QVGA AI
Price R3000 (includes HiPods H2 true wireless buds)
However, if you look a little more deeply into the camera setup you will recognise that there are only two cameras amongst the four sensors, neither of which is a wide-angle lens. So, you're really just getting a standard 13MP shooter and a 2MP macro. Our photos, both with and without the AI optimisations, were decidedly average, with either over- or undersaturated results when the AI is applied. Many were just too soft. Of the 30 test photos taken only about a half met our expectations for a good budget shooter.
Tecno places a lot of emphasis on its "beauty" software effects, mostly skin smoothing and fixing blemishes, and it's even available in real time on live video chats. This will doubtless matter to some users, even if we fail to see the appeal.
Otherwise, the hardware is the stock standard fare you would expect on a phone in this low price bracket (below R5000, £245): a Mediatek octacore CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The 6.6-inch screen is marginally bigger than average, and gets bright enough, but it uses the standard 720 x 1600 pixels characteristic of all its competitors.
The Spark 5 has a 5000mAh battery, which is somewhat bigger than others in its class, and because it ships with Android 10 you immediately get access to the many battery usage optimisations built in, including dark mode, for example.
So, while it's not a bad phone and certainly looks very attractive in its bold, metallic two-tone paint job, it lacks any truly class-leading features to help it stand out in a crowded field.
The dealbreaker for us was in the plethora of junk apps and services bundled on the phone. Until we took the time to meticulously uninstall and clean out the unwanted apps and services I was having to continuously squash pop boxes and dismiss requests for access from all kinds of bloatware. On a phone with a mere 32GB of storage and just 2GB of RAM, that feels like a slap in the face for the consumer. We do wish Tecno would learn to get out of the way of the user and their phone experience.
Release date and price
Tecno has done well in several African countries, gaining serious market share in a notoriously fickle and value-driven marketplace. The company faces a lot more competition in South Africa, where they are up against all the top global brands, which are more established and have fiercely loyal followers. Tecno has chosen to compete on price but is mostly unable to beat the features offered by the likes of Samsung, Huawei, LG and Nokia at the equivalent price.
Some products which compare favourably with the Spark 5 include:
- Samsung A11 (with wide angle rear camera), R3300
- LG K41 (quad cameras, including wide angle), R3200
- Huawei Y6P (with wide angle camera, 3GB RAM, 64GB storage), R3200
- Nokia 6.1 (with Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 CPU, 3GB RAM), R3000
- Oppo A15 (with 3GB RAM), R3300
It's an all-plastic affair, with a high gloss two-tone metallic paint finish on the back. It has a fingerprint sensor in the middle of the upper half of the back cover.
The 6.6-inch display is sharp and bright enough without any noticeable discolourations, but it tops out at a standard 720 HD resolution. This is perfectly adequate for all uses on a budget phone, and most users won't feel in any way underserved.
- 2 cameras and 2 photo sensors
- 13MP and 2MP macro
- 8MP selfie cam
As previously noted, the four-camera array on the back is really two full cameras and two additional photo sensors. This includes a depth sensor (also called a time of flight, or TOF sensor) which helps with variable focus photos, like achieving bokeh effect with softly blurred backgrounds, and a dedicated AI sensor. It is unclear what value is added by the AI sensor since most phones capture AI data using their main cameras.
Tecno's photo imaging software is clearly evolving but still appears to be a fairly blunt instrument, especially when it comes to the "beauty" filters which flatten out skin wrinkles and can even accentuate, or broaden, people's smiles. In general, we found that the AI augmentation of our default camera settings oversaturated the colours on our phones. Occasionally we found it also desaturated our photos. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and saturated colours might be desirable to some users.
Other than the colour balance issues we found many of our pictures were not crisp, despite having been carefully focused when snapping the photo. The overall impression is not that the photos are out of focus, but rather that they are simply "soft", either because of limitations in the sensor, the lenses or the image processing software. Strangely not every photo was affected, but just enough of them to present as an issue.
Specs and performance
- Standard Mediatek octacore
- 2GB RAM, 32GB storage
- Sluggish with bloatware
The Spark 5 uses the same CPU and GPU combination found in several other budget phones. The Mediatek MT6761 Helio A22 is an octacore CPU paired with the PowerVR GE8320 GPU. This combination is found on Huawei's Y5 and Y6 budget phones and also on the Nokia 2.3, probably our favourite phone "cheapie". However, the performance is somehow far more sluggish than on any of these competitors. We found ourselves waiting constantly for screens to draw inside HiOS (Tecno's operating system skin) and for apps to launch. Flipping between apps was also far from buttery smooth.
We imagine this might be related to the unwanted software and services which appear to be running, largely without permission, in the background, but after spending some time "cleaning out" the phone, the results were only slightly better.
Of course, users of such a low-priced phone might not be nearly as demanding as our real-world tests, but we definitely got much better performance from other budget phones, some of which cost less than the Spark 5.
Should you buy it?
Buy it if...
You want to impress your mates with your quad camera array
If your friends are the kind of crowd who are impressed to see four lenses on the back of your phone when most of them can only show one or two, then this is the most affordable quad sensor handset out there. It's also a good looking phone generally, with some striking colour schemes.
You have to shop below R3000
Quite simply, this is the best hardware combination you will find if R3000 is the hard cap on your budget. For just a very little bit more, though, we think you can get a lot more phone.
Don’t buy it if...
You are looking for a strong camera phone.
The cameras on the Spark 5 were underwhelming and produced inconsistent and lacklustre photos. Both LG and Samsung offer a model with a wide-angle lens for roughly the same price as the Spark 5, which may prove more useful than a macro camera, depending on your lifestyle.
First reviewed: 20 November 2020