TECNO has long had a reputation for being a budget player in emerging markets, offering a variety of low-cost and mid-range phones with localized customizations. The Chinese brand has made an effort to break into the premium segment in the last few years, owing to devices like the Phantom range. Now, we’ve got what is undoubtedly the apex of its flagship efforts in the TECNO Phantom V Fold. But does TECNO have what it takes to deliver a high-end foldable phone? It’s time to find out with our Phantom V Fold hands-on.
High-end but familiar
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Phantom V Fold is a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 at first glance. In fact, one of my interviewees at MWC 2023 thought it was that exact phone.
That’s due to the similar screen dimensions and cold, polished metal frame. Flip the phone over and the V Fold makes its TECNO trappings known, featuring a circular camera housing dominated by a 50MP main camera and a rear cover that kind of feels like fancy art paper. We’ve also got a pretty thin design on tap here, at least compared to Samsung’s stable of foldable phones. That’s at least partially down to the firm’s “aerospace-grade” hinge, which also helps to deliver a virtually zero-gap folding mechanism.
We asked TECNO whether the phone is water-resistant, but it has so far skirted around the question, leading us to believe that it has no official rating. That’s not a surprise in light of these thin, new hinges — also seen on the likes of the HONOR Magic Vs — not allowing for water-resistance, but it’s notable nonetheless.
All about the screens
Of course, it wouldn’t be a foldable phone without a folding display. The TECNO Phantom V Fold packs an impressive 7.85-inch main screen (2,296 x 2,000, LTPO, 120Hz). TECNO’s folding screen has a crease about as wide as my finger, but it’s far shallower than the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s canal. That foldable display also brings ultra-thin glass (UTG) to the table for added toughness.
Nevertheless, the screen has all the usual folding display downsides. For one, it’s quite reflective compared to conventional displays. TECNO also has a list of warnings in the packaging. This includes warnings not to unfold the device in temperatures of minus 15°C, not to press the middle area of the screen when folding it, and not using your fingernails against the panel.
The TECNO Phantom V Fold serves up a slick folding screen with a shallow crease and ultra-thin glass.
Perhaps the biggest immediate drawback to the TECNO Phantom V Fold is that the new hinge isn’t of the free-stop variety. Instead, this is a spring-loaded hinge that refuses to stay permanently fixed in any position other than fully closed or fully open. That’s a real shame for those wanting to use their phone as a kickstand for watching video or as a tripod for the camera. What’s even more baffling is that various apps like the camera app, YouTube, and more all attempt to switch to a Flex Mode-style UI when you try to partially fold the handset.
Close the Phantom V Fold and you’ve got a 6.42-inch 2,550 x 1,080 OLED panel here, complete with Gorilla Glass Victus. This is an LTPO panel just like the main screen, capable of dropping down to 10Hz. I also quite liked the subtle curve on the right-hand side of this screen, which is particularly pleasant when using the back gesture.
The TECNO Phantom V Fold follows the OPPO Find N2 Flip as a foldable phone shipping with a MediaTek chipset, namely 2022’s Dimensity 9000 Plus processor. Yet this is still a powerful piece of silicon, particularly when paired with 12GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB storage. Performance was solid in my experience; swiping between home screens, switching between smartphone and folding displays, and launching apps was generally smooth.
However, the phone’s software drags down the otherwise great hardware. TECNO and sister company Infinix have usually been at the back of the pack when it comes to third-party Android skins, and while things are much-improved here compared to previous devices I’ve tested, there’s still a long way to go to reach the best Android skins.
TECNO’s software continues to be the company’s Achilles’ heel, primarily due to bloatware.
The Phantom V Fold ships with HiOS based on Android 13, and you can expect quite a few foldable enhancements here. This includes a handy shortcut for running two apps side-by-side, app pair functionality for launching two specific apps side-by-side, windowed support, and more. TECNO’s skin is fully-featured in other areas too, offering PC integration, dual apps functionality, RAM extension support, and the ability to draw letters on the locked screen to quickly launch apps.
There are a few grumbles to be had with the software, though. For one, you can’t add Google Discover to the left-most home screen (although you can remove the Shelf-like screen that’s on offer out-of-the-box). The foldable’s taskbar isn’t persistent like the Galaxy Z Fold line either, only showing up on home screens.
Aside from first-party apps (e.g. gallery, Ella voice assistant, Hi Translate), the phone also ships with third-party bloatware. I’ve never heard of some of these apps — what the heck is CarlCare? Who’s Carl? Even some of the first-party apps seem a little sketchy, such as the TECNO Spot app. This seems to be an official forum app, but it’s not uncommon to have some mildly NSFW pictures showing up when you first launch it. Finally, it’s also worth noting that system performance isn’t always a smooth experience. I occasionally saw delays when opening the notification shade, and there’s also a noticeable lag when switching between cameras. Speaking of photography…
Sadly, the TECNO Phantom V Fold really stumbles when it comes to the camera experience. The hardware specs seem pretty solid, featuring a 50MP main camera, 50MP 2x telephoto camera, and 13MP ultrawide lens. On paper, that should match the best camera phones. Nevertheless, some of the images we took in our early testing look like they’ve come from a lower mid-range or low-end smartphone.
Pictures from the main camera seem to have a solid level of detail but occasionally feature an overly contrasted look with too much sharpening. It also doesn’t help that TECNO insists on beautifying subjects by default (thankfully, you can disable this option). Meanwhile, the 2x telephoto camera delivers more detail but seems to struggle in even ideal conditions thanks to blown highlights and a more saturated color profile. The ultrawide camera predictably brings some soft corners and less overall detail than the 1x shooter, but at least it has autofocus to take macro shots.
We’ve also got a 32MP selfie camera in a punch-hole cutout on the external display and a 16MP shooter in a punch-hole on the internal folding screen. Our initial testing shows that the folding screen’s camera spits out results that look similar to first-gen under-display cameras. That is, expect a washed-out face in scenes with even a little backlighting. At least you can take good-quality selfies with the main camera too, much like Samsung’s foldables.
TECNO Phantom V Fold hands-on impressions: Is it more than a specter?
TECNO’s first foldable phone captures the attention from a pure hardware perspective. Between the folding screen with a minimal crease and ultra-thing glass, a bright and sharp external display, and a healthy level of horsepower, there’s a lot to like here.
Unfortunately, the software experience and camera quality have us spooked. With unusual bloatware and picture quality more in line with budget phones, TECNO’s foldable lacks the polish of Samsung, OPPO, and HONOR’s recent offerings.
Then again, the phone’s attractive early bird pricing of just Rs 79,999 / $979 (12GB/256GB) goes some way to off-setting some of these complaints. Even at the regular Rs 89,999 / $1,099 price tag, you’re looking at the cheapest Fold-style foldable on the market. The TECNO Phantom V Fold will arrive in India first, with more countries to be announced at a later stage.