Tecno Spark 9 Pro Sports Edition review: Bling and performance on a budget

Its stylish design complements the camera capabilities, but some bloatware detracts from the overall experience.

Tecno Spark 9 Pro rear panel
(Image: © Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

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.

Pros

  • +

    Stellar selfie camera

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    Ring screen fill-in light

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    2K selfie video recording

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    5,000mAh battery

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    Stylish design

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    Responsive face unlock

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    Affordable

Cons

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    Bloatware

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    Video lacks stabilization

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    Onboard sound could be improved

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    No fast charging

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    Screen is only 60Hz

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    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

Tecno Spark 9 Pro dual rear camera lenses

(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

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

Tecno Spark 9 Pro screen

(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

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.

Tecno Spark 9 Pro front camera with on-screen ring light

(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

The front camera interface features a ring light effect to make sure your selfie is well-lit even in complete darkness.

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.

(Image credit: Future)

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.