Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G review: The most affordable clamshell foldable you cannot buy in Singapore
Introduction, Design, Handling, Secondary Display, Software
Note: This review was first published on 28 September 2023.
Clamshell phone under a thousand bucks
Chinese smartphone company Tecno chose Singapore as the global launch venue for the Phantom V Flip, its first-ever clamshell foldable in its lineup. It launched at US$598 (approx. S$816), an unthinkable price point, especially when clamshell foldables are new to Tecno and other phone brands and chock full of new tech to make its form factor practical.
Here’s a quick introduction about the brand before we take apart the phone. Tecno Mobile is Chinese smartphone brand based in Shenzhen with manufacturing facilities in India, having been around since 2006 and pumping out over a hundred models in select markets. Its modern phones primarily utilise MediaTek processors across its entry-level and mid-range selection. Tecno also makes other IoT stuff, like IP cameras. You might have seen some sold here (albeit unofficially through third-party retailers). Tecno Mobile should not be confused with Tecno Singapore, an unaffiliated home appliance brand.
The TL;DR verdict:
Being an affordable clamshell smartphone with a foldable display does have its drawbacks, but the Phantom V Flip 5G is still an ideal entry point for this form factor for not too much money.
The Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G focuses primarily on the lifestyle it seeks to promote by combining its photography chops with its form factor. It relies on its unique lychee-pattern classic leather appearance and "near-creaseless" panel (Tecno's claims) to stand out. To draw you in, it has a 64MP main camera with a 13MP ultra-wide secondary shooter, topped off with a 32MP front camera notched in its main display.
The Android 13, 4,000mAh, 45W wired charging phone is otherwise typical of a mid-range device (with a MediaTek Dimensity 8050 5G chipset), paired with a flagship-tier 6.9-inch AMOLED main display, and a circular secondary display Tecno calls “The Planet” Personalized Versatile Cover Screen.
The Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G is US$598, making it one of the most affordable clamshell phones ever. Launched in SG, but not sold here♬ EARN YA - Xavier White
Here’s the odd part. Tecno has never officially retailed in Singapore, and that's also true for the Phantom V Flip 5G. According to the brand, they would likely bring it to Indonesia and Malaysia — just not here.
But, how could we say no to exploring a ~S$800 clamshell phone with a foldable display? Tecno must have given up a few bells and whistles to make it possible at this price, right? Let’s check it out.
|Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G|
Looks can be deceiving
By this point, the Phantom V Flip 5G’s form factor should be no stranger to folks keeping tabs on the foldable display market. Clamshell types house a main display folded inside the phone while putting up a secondary display on the front plate near its main cameras. The Phantom V Flip 5G tries to bump its appeal up with a lychee-pattern leather finish, which feels similar to the faux-leather blend found on the seats of "affordable" family cars.
Phantom V Flip’s design supersedes rival clamshells in one manner — the camera housing. Oppo and Samsung variants both have jutting camera rings holding their lenses. Tecno’s cameras are flushed against the display’s round glass while keeping Phantom V Flip just as slim (6.95mm unfolded, 14.95mm folded) as its rivals. We can only imagine the engineering proficiencies needed for Tecno to pack it all flat.
Tecno claimed it has a near-creaseless Main Display within. It’s a 6.9-inch, 10 to 120Hz flexible AMOLED panel topped with Ultra Thin Glass, further bolstered by its proprietary drop-shaped hinge. Tecno also said the crease is less than 0.11mm even after 200,000 folds, with an endurance of 6.8 years of folding if you do it 100 times a day. In daily use, the crease is visible when you're focused on video or photo content, so we'd say its attempts at reducing crease visibility aren't quite there yet.
That said, it has a high-end panel, with 100% DCI-P3 gamut, 1,000-nits peak brightness, 1,440Hz high-frequency PWM dimming, a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, and Full HD resolution of 2,640 x 1,080 pixels. It's almost flagship-grade, if not for the lack of HDR support.
Beyond the display and camera housing, the Phantom V Flip tries to be unique with its design and handling competencies but falls into classic design traps. For example, we like its leather material and how it stays free from fingerprints, but it’s very prone to attracting dust.
When fully opened, the two halves aren’t precisely levelled at 180°, which takes the premium shine away from the phone. We’re also not a fan of side-mounted fingerprint sensors, and that drawback becomes apparent later on during day-to-day use.
There’s also no mention of water or dust resistance, while its main rivals have some form of protection against the elements (Galaxy Z Flip5 comes with IPX8 – no dust protection, but high water resistance). It’d be nice for Tecno to include IP-rated protection since it adds to its clamshell phone's perceived robustness and durability.
While Tecno has gotten most of the Phantom V Flip’s handling down, there’s still plenty of room for build quality and material improvements if it wants to dethrone true premium clamshells. IP-rated water resistance and better attention to detail would be a nice starting point, but let's move along considering the price point of this clamshell.
Circular cover screen
Tecno calls its secondary display the Versatile Personalised Cover Screen. It’s a 1.32-inch, round AMOLED panel with a 60Hz refresh rate and 120Hz touch sampling rate, packing 466 x 446 pixels resolution (and a sharp pixel density of 451 PPI).
Versatile Personalised Cover Screen resembles a high-end smartwatch display you’d typically get from a Galaxy Watch6 series. Nine widgets are supported on it, with five enabled by default (weather forecast, calendar, camera, health tracker, and alarm).
The widgets aren’t anything to write home about if you’ve seen similar ones from smartwatches or other flip phones. They provide basic information because of the display’s limits. For example, it fits no more than one notification or calendar appointment, with an extra line or two after. Perhaps the most useful widget is the camera, which summons Swipe Shot (using the cover screen as a viewfinder for its main camera selfies).
Despite the name, a drawback of Versatile Personalised Cover Screen is the dearth of personalisation. While you can choose from a dozen template clock faces and any Tmoji cartoon avatar of yourself, you can’t customise it by setting a wallpaper or designing a clock face with your choice of colours, fonts, or layouts. We did try to use the custom wallpaper setting, but the Settings app would hang and crash after selecting a wallpaper for Cover Screen.
After trying the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5’s secondary display (which takes up almost the entire front plate of the clamshell), I find it difficult to appreciate Phantom V Flip’s take on it. After all, why would I give up on Google Maps navigation or a bigger viewfinder for previewing photos and videos? Tecno’s cover screen is significantly smaller and doesn’t have third-party app support at the time of writing this review.
That said, Tecno did a decent job making a practical secondary display that looks pleasing, with core functionalities intact. It’s just that Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip5’s Flex Window set a really high bar to meet. Had Tecno's phone came out last year, we would have had a very different opinion of it.
HiOS, Android 13
The phone runs on a reskinned version of Android 13 called HiOS, replete with Google Mobile Services and the Google Play Store.
It’s our first time experiencing Tecno's operating system, but it feels familiar because their reskin takes UI cues from Xiaomi’s MIUI and Oppo’s ColorOS. It favours a juvenile colour palette, has notifications laid out logically and cleanly with no kerning or font errors, and has a dense dashboard menu holding all your toggles for Wi-Fi, brightness, torchlight, Bluetooth and more.
Phantom V Flip’s user interface exceeded our expectations and is surprisingly light on bloatware. It doesn’t pack much nonsense beyond HiOS proprietary apps, and it did not take us more than five minutes to remove them.
Features that are specific to its form factor are also intuitively located. For example, its dual-sided viewfinder for photos and videos (Cover Screen Preview) is an icon in the top left corner of your Camera app’s main screen.
The only flaw in our day-to-day use is the auto-adjusting screen brightness. It’s extremely aggressive, dimming and lighting up multiple times in a matter of seconds until it’s satisfied with its brightness level. This seems like an easy fix with a firmware update, so we won’t penalise the Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G for this flaw.
The phone offers fast and accurate facial recognition and fingerprint unlocking, but its in-button, side-mounted fingerprint sensor leaves much to be desired. While it's faultless, the button placement feels an inch off from where you'd usually rest your thumb when holding a phone.