Tecno Camon i Air is well priced for the offline market
The modern design with thin bezels surrounding the display makes it feel premium
The overall experience is relatively smooth and seems justified for entry-level segment
India recently dethroned the United States of America as the second largest smartphone market, although for a brief period. It is only a matter of time before India becomes the undisputed second largest market in terms of smartphone shipments and also the only one with relative potential for growth. Smartphone penetration has plateaued in China and the US, but in India adoption has just started catch steam. There are several hundred millions of feature phone users in the country, who are yet to mature to smartphones.
According to IDC, smartphone shipments in India reached 124 million units in 2017. A year-on-year growth of 14 percent makes India the fastest growing market globally. Samsung and Xiaomi led with a market share of 24.7 percent and 20.9 percent respectively. Vivo, Lenovo and Oppo followed with a market share of 9.4 percent, 7.8 percent and 7.5 percent respectively. The top five smartphone brands controlled 70 percent of the market leaving rest of the 30 percent market share up for grabs. It is the space where the likes of Huawei’s Honor, Nokia-brand licensee HMD Global, OnePlus, HTC, LG and others are vying to stay competitive. There is one more company with its eyes set on the rest of the market share – China’s Transsion Holdings.
Transsion Holdings has a three pronged approach towards the Indian smartphone market. With its sub-brand Infinix, the company is hoping to attract millennial online consumers. With sub-brand iTel, it is going after feature phone and budget smartphone users. With sub-brand Tecno, the company is going after offline smartphone buyers. On paper alone, the strategy makes sense but Indian consumers and their buying patterns are as vivid as the landscape. With that in mind, Tecno has launched a budget smartphone that would appeal to the typical offline smartphone buyer. The new Tecno Camon i Air builds on what we saw with the Infinix Hot S3. So, can this phone do wonders for a company trying to find its footing in India? We find out in this review.
Design and Display
I had a chance to review the Infinix Hot S3 made by Transsion Holdings – the parent company of Tecno – in February and one look at Tecno Camon i Air makes me wonder if these two devices share the same assembly line. Both the phones look similar and the changes are so subtle that you would be hard-pressed to find them. The most prominent similarity between the two models is in the way the back camera is placed.
The Tecno Camon i Air features an unibody aluminum metal casing, which seems to be lighter than other metal smartphones. The device features U-shaped antenna lines at the back similar to iPhone 7 variants and our gold review unit looks neat and minimalist. It features the volume rocker and power button on the right hand side while the SIM tray is placed on the left hand side. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top while the bottom is home to a microUSB port and downward firing speaker.
When you hold the Camon i Air, the back surface seems to exhibit a textured feeling that makes it feel really comfortable to hold. It is as comfortable as the metal back on Google Pixel 2. At the front, the Camon i Air features a 5.65-inch HD+ display with a resolution of 1440 x 720 pixels and since the bezels are trimmed considerably, the smartphone feels good for one-handed operation. The display itself seems to be legitimately good especially when viewed from the lens of its Rs 8,000 price tag.
It is not a color accurate panel and even viewing angles fall short of being perfect but it is bright enough to be viewable under direct sunlight and brightness can be easily increased for an easy-on-the-eyes experience when viewed directly under the sun. The display also supports a new night-vision mode where the display temperature moves to a cooler setting and exhibits a yellowish hue. Alongside the display, there is an 8-megapixel front camera along with dedicated LED flash and microphones.
The Camon i Air does not have an industrial design that will win awards and accolades around the world. It rather has a design that is common in this price range but only refined to offer a better fit and one-handed experience.
The Tecno Camon i Air’s surprise feature is the camera; it is particularly capable for the price. The 13-megapixel main camera on the Camon i Air does not have the bells and whistles of any of the premium devices in the market but it surprises when you click the final image.
During my time with the device, the Camon i Air’s camera performed consistently well. There is a shutter lag but it is noticeable only when you keep your eyes pinned on the photo roll. The best part is that shutter lag does not seem to affect the image captured by the main sensor. In broad daylight, which is the most ideal condition for smartphone photography, the Camon i Air captured images with good detail and color reproduction often seemed to be on point. It fails to get dynamic range right because of its tendency to use relatively faster shutter speeds and low-power processor but most pictures captured with Tecno Camon i Air are worthy of sharing on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms.
Even smartphones costing five times as much as the Camon i Air tend to have poor cameras. I want to give it the benefit of doubt for offering a do-able camera experience that seems understated in the company’s own marketing materials. If you want your budget smartphone to capture bright details of your family trip or that tall skyscraper or the blossoming flower in your neighbor’s garden in daylight then the Camon i Air won’t disappoint.
However, as visible from the picture above, the software struggles to tweak the settings to faster shutter speed and lower ISO number for a challenging scene like this sunrise. The exposure seems to have been locked in such a way that scattered lights are prominent than the Sun itself. Yes, you can’t ask a lot from a smartphone that costs just Rs 8,000 but there is definitely room for improvement.
As far as pictures with the front camera are concerned, I would say it is not as remarkable as those “Selfie Expert” smartphones in the market but it does take pictures with natural tones and the beauty algorithm does not tend to aggressively sharpen the result. There is an option to choose between screen flash and LED flash with the latter tending to get more aggressive to fill your face with light. I would definitely not recommend using front flash on smartphones but it is a nice feature to have especially when you have to click selfies in extreme low light. (Tip: Try to hold the phone farther from yourself while triggering the flash, this will lead to better saturation and compensation than when you hold it closer to your face.)
Performance and Battery Life
In my experience, most entry-level and budget smartphones tend to compromise in performance to reach that price point. It is a known fact that budget smartphone users highly complain about slow boot times and laggy software experience. This, however, is not the case with Tecno Camon i Air.
Equipped with the quad-core MediaTek MT6737 CPU coupled with 2GB RAM and 16GB internal storage, the smartphone works seamlessly across multiple apps and services. It could even keep itself ticking with over 20 Chrome tabs running in the background but it failed to retain some of the web pages in its cached memory.
In terms of performance, the Camon i Air can easily do multitasking but just don’t expect it to handle few dozen apps with a heavy app like Need For Speed at the same time. This is where Camon i Air starts to sweat. It is easy to say that those buying smartphones in this price range would primarily be using it for browsing the web and communicating with their friends on different social media platforms. These are probably the easiest of tasks to handle for the MediaTek chipset under the hood. I’m rather skeptical about the chipset and especially unsure of how it would age overtime and whether Tecno would be able to keep it running with proper software updates.
With nominal use of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Messenger and Slack, the Camon i Air dropped to 20 percent battery at the end of the day. The low power processor and taller but less pixel dense display means that Camon i Air will last for a full day of extensive use for most users. However, if you stretch the device with graphic intensive games then expect it to give nothing more than three or three and a half hours of screen on time.
Out of the box, the Camon i Air runs Android 7.0 Nougat with company’s own HiOS version 3.2.0. I’m among those people who argues against custom UIs even if they offer some benefits. The HiOS does offer some advantages over stock Android, chief among them is the customization option. With Hi Theme app, the Tecno Camon i Air users can customize their smartphone will endless number of themes and wallpapers. It is very much like you can have a new theme every week and make your smartphone look different from other devices in the process. It also comes with a tool called Phone Master which allows the users to clear junk files and clear RAM being occupied by non-functional applications. These utilities can be achieved by third-party apps as well but it is nice to have it as part of standard operating system.
WATCH: Infinix Hot S3 First Impressions
One of the cool features of the whole UI element is the docked apps at the bottom which can be swiped across to get to wallpapers and widgets. It has smart algorithm that automatically arranges apps according to category and yes, there is an app tray that can be pulled up similar to the Pixel launcher. The only downside here is the relatively older security patch from November, which means the Camon i Air is less secure against the newly found media framework risks.
At a retail price of Rs 7,999, the Camon i Air does perform well for its price. It is a smartphone aimed at offline buyers who want modern design and decent features without putting a huge dent on their wallets. The Camon i Air fulfills all of those criteria well and it does not really have a big competition in that segment.
The immediate competitor to the Camon i Air is Xiaomi’s Redmi 5, which has similar specifications but a higher brand recognition. However, the Xiaomi smartphones are not yet widely available in the offline retail space and Tecno can sell more of this smartphone if it manages to expand the device to more offline stores and gives some attractive discounts or cashback offers bundled with the device.