Android Central Verdict
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition is one of the best budget camera phones of 2022, with a 50MP main camera that takes stunning photos day or night, as well as a selfie snapper that punches above its weight in software and performance. Furthermore, the eye-catching design is an added bonus.
Stellar selfie camera
Ring screen fill-in light
2K selfie video recording
Responsive face unlock
Video lacks stabilization
Onboard sound could be improved
No fast charging
Screen is only 60Hz
Unreliable performance with graphics-intensive games
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While a slew of Chinese budget phone makers, such as Xiaomi and Realme, have captured everyone's attention this year with their affordable models, another Chinese brand, Tecno, has quietly been on a tear.
Tecno is known for the flashy rear panel designs of its smartphones, such as the Camon 19 Pro Mondrian Edition with a unique back panel that changes color when exposed to light. Other product lines from the company, such as the Spark family, are designed in the same vein. The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition, for example, adds a nice flair to the regular model that launched in July, courtesy of a collaboration between Tecno and Designworks, the design innovation team of the BMW Group.
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition is a budget phone with an accessible price, a stylish design, and an amazing 32MP selfie camera, which is the phone's main selling point. But how good is it? We'll find out in this review.
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition: Price and availability
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sport Edition is available in select markets, including Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. It costs $170, though prices may vary depending on location.
It ships in a crystalline blue and white color scheme. It is a limited-edition model born out of a partnership between Tecno and BMW Group's Designworks. On the other hand, the regular model comes in Quantum Black, Burano Blue, Holy White, and Hacker Storm.
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition: What I like
Like many of the best budget Android phones money can buy, the Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition's design broadly resembles Apple's iPhone. It is easy to see the iPhone's influence in the phone’s flat rim, sharp corners, and glossy rear panel with a glass effect (though it's plastic).
That said, the design team deserves a pat on the back for pulling off a unique design. Tecno and Designworks created a trendy fashion statement by combining blue sky and white cloud hues with an intricate tessellation of triangles. I particularly like the distinct crystal diamond-cut element that gives this low-cost phone a rather premium appearance.
Tecno likes to tout the phone’s 32MP selfie snapper, which features Samsung’s powerful ISOCELL 2.0 sensor. I've had a pleasing experience with the Sports Edition's front camera in the past few weeks of using the device. The majority of its selfie shooter's strength comes from software, with the headline feature being Super Night Mode 3.0. This is aided by a Ring Screen Fill-in Light or a front-facing flash to provide adequate lighting even in complete darkness.
The ring light was a huge help in making my selfies bright even when all the lights are out. This feature adds brightness around the edge of the camera interface to flash enough light onto your face. The result is a smooth selfie with even lighting.
The Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition's front camera also boasts an AI Portrait enhancer, which produces sharper images in low light conditions. At first, I dismissed it as a marketing ploy, but I soon discovered that it delivers on its promises. My night selfies have improved in clarity. Although far from perfect, the AI Portrait enhancer gets the job done.
I also like the phone's video recording capability. Unlike many budget phones (and even some flagship models) with front cameras that are limited to 1080p video recording, Tecno's contender supports video recording at up to 2K resolution. The only drawback is that it lacks electronic image stabilization, which is understandable given the phone's price.
Tecno also solves a perennial problem with beauty filters on many selfie cameras. In contrast to the hit-or-miss behavior of these filters, the Sports Edition's AI-powered gender recognition feature applies filters based on whether the subject has beards or eyebrows.
The Spark 9 Pro lacks an ultra-wide or telephoto camera on the back. Instead, you get a 50MP wide-angle camera with an f/1.6 aperture and a 2MP depth sensor. The rear camera isn't a photographic champion, but it's a phone that costs a lot less than other models in this ballpark.
The photos I took with the Spark 9 Pro were detailed and natural, given good enough lighting. However, it struggles with the unpredictable tricks of HDR, as demonstrated by overexposed backgrounds. However, the Super Night mode produced shots with little to no noise — more than adequate for a budget phone.
The phone's screen is a pleasant surprise for its price tag. It’s quite big at 6.6 inches, though it’s only an IPS LCD screen rather than a more vivid AMOLED display. But not all LCD screens are the same, and this one has better quality than many IPS LCDs. Its 1080 x 2408 (Full HD+) resolution is a boon for my content consumption.
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition camera samples
On top of the impressive selfie camera, the phone's unique and stylish design deserves special mention. I love the Tecno Spark 9 Pro's two-tone finish, marked by crystalline blue triangles and a majority of snowy white areas for a lively theme. Tecno says the design was inspired by an “icy crystal talisman," and the two circular camera islands on the back are also a nod to BMW's iconic logo.
The device also has a nice grip and feels compact to hold, making it easier to operate with one hand without worry. This is made more convenient by the placement of the power button on the right side, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor. While this sensor took a beat to unlock the phone, I didn’t encounter any trouble with reliability.
Another remarkable feature of the Spark 9 Pro is its supporting cast, like many other phones these days. You can enable the phone's MemFusion system to expand your RAM by up to 3GB.
I also found a few other rare features of this device (which ironically were a thing a few years ago): a headphone jack and a message alert light that doubles as a front-facing flash. The latter is something you don't often find in many of the best camera phones today.
For the price, don't expect an official IP waterproof rating. Regardless, the phone should be able to withstand minor splashes, as Tecno has included a red rubber ring in the SIM card tray to prevent water and dust ingress.
The Spark 9 Pro also has decent stamina. With normal use, I usually get more than a day's battery life. The device comes with a 5,000mAh battery, which makes it one of the longest-lasting cheap phones I've tested, thanks to the combination of an LCD 60Hz screen and the lack of 5G connectivity.
The device easily waltzed through one day of use, with social media scrolling, photography, and light games. Under these circumstances, the phone can generally make it well into the next day.
The charging speed is only 18W, which isn’t fast by today's standards. It usually takes over an hour to fully juice up the phone. If you're in the habit of charging your handset overnight, this phone is for you.
|Category||Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition|
|Operating System||HiOS 8.6 based on Android 12|
|Display||6.6-inch IPS LCD screen, 1080 x 2408 resolution|
|Chipset||MediaTek Helio G85 (12nm)|
|RAM||4GB (plus up to 3GB with MemFusion system)|
|Storage||128GB (expandable with a microSD card slot)|
|Battery & Charging||5,000mAh, 18W charging|
|Rear Camera 1||50MP, f/1.6, PDAF|
|Rear Camera 2||2MP (depth sensor), f/2.4|
|Selfie Camera||32MP, up to 2K video recording|
|Connectivity||USB Type-C 2.0, FM radio,|
|Dimensions||164.2 x 75.6 x 8.4 mm|
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition: What I don't like
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition is quite a large slab of glass. Combined with its sharp corners, it’s not the most comfortable phone to hold over a long period.
It also comes with HiOS 8.6 based on Android 12 out of the box. Unfortunately, Tecno only promises one year of major software updates and two years of monthly security fixes for the Spark 9 Pro.
Tecno's Android skin is a fairly bog-standard custom UI that sits on top of Android 12. While its notifications and custom apps aren’t too obtrusive, it’s not as clean as the near-stock Android experience of Motorola's Moto G22.
The phone runs on a MediaTek Helio G85 chipset, which is far from the most impressive processor, given that it is built on a dated 12nm process. So, it comes as no surprise to me that the chipset is limited to 30 frames per second when playing demanding graphics games.
To be clear, it's not bad for a phone at this price. However, if you enjoy playing games like PUBG and other graphics-intensive titles, you should set the Spark 9 Pro to low or medium settings to avoid overheating.
Another aspect of the device that let me down was the portrait mode. It has poor color recognition and does not blur the background well. It also has a tendency to blow out the highlights. Furthermore, there is no OIS or even EIS stabilization, forcing you to hold your hand steady to avoid blurry shots.
The onboard sound isn't something to write home about, either. There’s just a single speaker mounted beside the USB-C port. If you want a decent-sounding stereo speaker, you’ll need to spend more money on pricier models.
Under direct sunlight, the display is hard to see. I recorded a maximum brightness of 400 nits with auto-brightness turned off. Another drawback with its screen is the utterly basic refresh rate of 60Hz rather than 90Hz. However, these fluid refresh rates don't really mean much for budget phones with limited performance.
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition: Competition
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition faces stiff competition in the crowded budget segment. A few options that come to mind are the Xiaomi Redmi 10 and the Moto G22. However, in terms of performance, the Spark 9 Pro performs better than the Moto G22 with its MediaTek Helio G37.
If you're willing to spend the extra cash, you can never go wrong with the POCO M5s, with better features like an AMOLED display and improved performance. It's not a huge step up, but it's a significant premium at this price point.
Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition: Should you buy it?
You should buy it if...
- You want an astounding selfie camera phone.
- You want a decent performance without spending more than $200.
- You like a front camera with 2K video recording.
You should not buy it if...
- You like playing graphics-intensive games.
- You want a fast-charging device.
- You hate bloatware.
The Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition is an extremely cheap phone, and it hits the mark on the camera front, no small thanks to its impressive 50MP main camera and 32MP front snapper. If you have higher standards for photos and selfies, then this one is right up your alley.
The Sports Edition's 2K video recording puts the phone way ahead of other models in its price range, too. This is one of the factors that make this device worth considering if you want style and performance without hurting your wallet.
Plus, a large 5,000mAh battery rounds out a well-balanced budget package, though a little more money can definitely go a long way. If you can’t stretch that a bit further, this is one of the best phones you can buy for under $200.
Jay Bonggolto always keeps a nose for news. He has been writing about consumer tech and apps for as long as he can remember, and he has used a variety of Android phones since falling in love with Jelly Bean. Send him a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn.
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