Tecno's Spark 5 isn't the brightest spark you'll ever encounter but it's also not the dimmest. The camera claims are kinda gimmicky but will give you good shots with a little patience. It's a fair amount of smartphone for just R3,000, as well. If you're in the market for budget with a few fancy 'features', a bit of Tecno isn't a bad idea.
Who would have seen the Tecno Spark 5 coming? Us, for one. Part of working at Stuff means keeping an eye on devices that aren’t necessarily available in South Africa. We’ve been aware of Tecno as a brand for several years now and while the Chinese smartphone maker has its fingers in the African market, it just hasn’t managed to get to the South African market. Until now, that is, with the Tecno Spark 5. Which, on first glance, is one heck of a deal.
And that’s because the Tecno Spark 5 will set you back just R3,000. That’s the same as the Oppo A15, which launches in South Africa later this week. The big difference here? That’d be the camera tech, as well as a slightly better battery for the Spark 5. It’s still a budget smartphone in an ever-increasing ocean of them — how does the Spark 5 stand out?
Look, don’t feel
As a certain Swedish pop duo might have said, the Tecno Spark 5 has ‘the look’. On lifting it out of the box and before putting on the thick plastic clear cover (which has Manchester City branding, for some reason), it looks awfully like Huawei and Honor’s offerings round about the P20 and P30 era. But the key word here is ‘looks’.
In reality, that textured, gradient back panels are all plastic without any fancy additions. The result is a phone that looks premium but doesn’t feel like it. That texture is only visually represented. Otherwise, the phone’s neatly put together. The front-facing camera occupies the upper left of the phone — which is odd to see in itself — but the rear quad-camera sits in its own reassuring rectangle.
A fingerprint sensor that is mostly accurate occupies the rear, volume and power controls on the upper right edge and a micro-USB and 3.5mm headphone port sit along the bottom edge. The 6.6in screen takes up a fair amount of space on the front. Samsung’s had a definite influence here, especially when it comes to the display.
Do the Sparks fly?
The technical details are a similar experience — they’re decent enough but a little shy of premium. Which is actually fine, because — again — this is just a R3,000 smartphone. If it actually was premium, everyone else in the market would be extremely annoyed with Tecno.
But… nah. The 6.6in display features a 720 x 1,600 resolution, there’s 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space in our review unit and the processor is made by MediaTek. It’s one of their Helio offerings, the A22 octa-core which is enough for basic tasks and the odd bit of gaming. Don’t go into this handset expecting to run Fortnite (it won’t) but it’ll get the odd offering from Gameloft up and running. Literally, as there’s a running title pre-installed. Along with a few other things, but we’ll get to that.
In terms of performance… you’re going to want to keep your open apps and tabs low. Not too low but if you find the handset lagging it’s time to cut back. Multitasking isn’t a major feature here. Stick to doing one thing at a time and you’ll be fine. But at least the battery is decent — there’s not much that needs powering so the 5,000mAh cell should see you through all but the most doomscrolly of days.
A Spark of genius?
But it’s really the camera and software performance that’ll make or break this smartphone and that’s… a little iffy for both. Tecno punts the fact that there are five cameras here and they’re correct — there are five sensors, four on the rear and one up front. But are they any good?
The rear sensors are a little hit-and-miss. The configuration is made up of a 13MP main sensor, two 2MP efforts (one for depth and the other for macro) and then a QVGA AI sensor that… we’re not really sure what that does. It certainly doesn’t result in any consistent shots, though. Bokeh shots don’t blur the way they should all the time and the beauty mode is also inconsistent, not to mention the tendency to wash out in bright light. You can get some detailed images, if you’re willing to fiddle a little, but there’s none of the quickfire assurance you get from more expensive quad-sensor arrays. Still, it’s serviceable and it’ll reward your patience, should you happen to possess any.
We’re less thrilled with the HiOS Android 10 installation, which does the one thing we simply hate. That is, it features bloatware, apps and services that attempt to handle things that vanilla Android does just fine already. We know why it’s there — Tecno wants user data, for whatever — but we still don’t like it. Tecno’s own software will insist on launching, to try and do things ‘better’, when you’re performing familiar tasks. It’s easy enough to shunt these efforts aside but it does get annoying after a while.
But, if you’re in the market for a local experience, there were several South African apps pre-installed. Showmax and SuperSport, as well as Vodacom’s local offerings including Video Play, were on-device at launch. They could also be classed as bloatware but since a) you can delete them entirely and b) they might actually prove useful to local buyers, we’re less annoyed. They’re only collecting the usual amount of user data, so it’s probably not so bad.
Tecno Spark 5 Verdict
For what you’re paying for the Tecno Spark 5, you’re getting an awful lot of smartphone. With an awful lot of bloatware, it’s true, but that’s a problem you can take care of with judicious use of the ‘delete’ option. Not that you should have to. But there’s also a generous battery capacity to look forward to, a surprisingly decent quad-camera at the rear and a definitely-serviceable front-facer for all your social medias. It’s also attractive enough, in a ‘don’t look at it too closely’ kinda way.
The RAM allocation seems a little small but we’re long used to 8GB or more in our smartphones at this point. 2GB is probably enough, but you’re definitely going to want to close apps when you’re done with them. The MediaTek processor is decent speedy and there’s just enough storage. Maybe. We’d prefer 64GB over the basic 32GB but the phone’s also just R3k. Just slap a microSD in there and call it a day. For three grand, you could do a whole lot worse than a little Tecno.