Leading the charge towards the democratization of foldable smartphones is a rather unexpected brand – Tecno. So far, we’ve only associated the brand with budget and mid-range phones. Unveiled at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year and launched in India recently, the Tecno Phantom V Fold goes up against the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 book-style foldable at an aggressive price point (Rs. 88,888) that you’d typically associate with flip-type foldables.
Is there a catch? While there are no deal breakers, the truth, as always, needs a little more nuance.
Lifting the phone out of its rather uniquely unfolding box, two things strike you almost immediately. First, just how well made the device is – as it should be priced at just a shade shy of ₹90,000.
The rear panel is made of a recycled plastic material, and the craft paper-textured material on the rear feels premium and extremely grippy. Plus, it’s the only surface you will not smudge with your fingerprints, given the rest of the phone – all 3/4ths of it – is all glass. The circular camera island, almost Death Star-esque in its design, may not be to everyone’s taste, but it keeps the phone steady on a flat surface.
Elsewhere, you have an aluminum frame that wraps around the whole design, and Gorilla Glass Victus on the outer display for protection. Unlike the tall and narrow outer display on the Z Fold 4, the 21:9 aspect ratio of the Tecno’s 6.42-inch outer screen is less cramped (horizontally) and more usable for typing or browsing. But the wider dimensions make it a task to grip the phone well.
The other thing you simply cannot shake off is the phone’s weight – at 299g without the included kickstand case, it’s the heaviest phone one has handled in a long while. Bear in mind, the design does have two less visible drawbacks – there’s no support for wireless charging, and no official IP rating for water ingress protection.
Unfolding the device, the V Fold unfolds to a capacious 7.85-inch display which, like the outer screen, offers a fluid 120Hz refresh rate and uses LTPO tech to adjust the refresh rate between 10Hz and 120 Hz to conserve battery life. Both screens offer 1100 nits of claimed peak brightness, which is respectable, and the 2K+ resolution on the inner display gives you crisp visuals, good contrast and vibrant colors.
Courtesy a drop shaped hinge not unlike what we’ve seen previously on the Oppo Find N2 Flip, the crease where the display folds is minimal as compared to the rather obvious groove on the Z Fold 4, which is rather impressive for a first-gen product. It’s also worth noting that there’s almost no gap when it's folded, which keeps dirt and pocket lint out of the phone. It comes at a cost – the hinge doesn’t hold the display in any position other than fully open or fully closed, so there’s none of those flex-mode tricks like tripod-mode or handycam-style/waist level shooting modes that other foldables offer as a convenience. Tecno bundles in a kickstand case that allows half-open operation with the back propped up. It works, but it’s a hack at best.
Fortunately, the HiOS user interface atop Android 13 has thoughtful tablet-friendly considerations made at various places, like app pairs (apps that can be set to launch together, split screen), some fairly extensive split-screen multi-window options (only vertical though, for some reason) and smart relay which allows handing off apps from the inner screen to the outer screen when you’re closing the device. One missed media and camera apps understanding a semi-folded state, but since the phone doesn’t support a semi-folded state anyway, it’s not really a ding on the device. One didn’t really appreciate the number of pre-installed first- and third-party apps on a phone at this price point, but several among them can be uninstalled.
Likely a move to hit that sweet price point, Tecno took the path less trodden and kitted the Phantom V Fold with last year’s flagship Mediatek Dimensity 9000+ chipset, which is a smart move since the chip has all the grunt you’d need for smooth performance (similar in performance to the 8 Plus Gen 1 that powers the Samsung Z Fold 4). It’s accompanied by 12GB of LPDDR5X memory and 256GB of UFS3.1 storage, which lets you push games like Genshin Impact to its highest settings on the inner display at 60fps without the phone getting too warm or throttling performance.
The larger screen real estate is a joy on these games, and all the apps we used (and most games) scaled well to the inner display. Battery performance was good as well, with the 5000mAh battery lasting past a day of extensive inner display use, and the 45W fast charging topping off the battery in just under an hour.
Finally, the cameras – a 50MP main, a 50MP 2x telephoto and a 13MP wide, with 16/32MP internal and external selfie cameras – sound good on paper, but they are a little mediocre in everyday use. The primary has good detail levels and good colors, but it suffers from some shutter lag and inconsistent handling of dim lighting. The telephoto doesn’t maintain color science parity with the main shooter, and falters in low light as well, and the ultrawide has a lot of ground to cover in terms of noise handling and details. Selfies are about average as well, which means it’s safe to say that you won’t be picking up the Phantom V Fold for its cameras.
One has to commend Tecno for turning out a large, high-end foldable for what could be called a bargain. While it compares with the Samsung somewhat favorably in some departments, it loses out on hygiene elements for a foldable that costs you nearly ₹90,000 – wireless charging, water resistance, a working flex mode and better cameras. You could consider the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 or the Oppo Find N2 Flip if you want all of these, if you’re not hung up on the larger screen on a foldable.
The real question is – do you really want a large-screen foldable so badly that you’ll willingly overlook a flagship Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S23 series device for the same money?
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.