Battery king with software sacrifices

Tecno is a popular brand in Africa and South Asian markets. In its path to expand globally, the UAE is a sweet spot. We have seen Tecno’s devices in the past and its most recent Tecno Pova also slots into the budget category of smartphones. It is not the flashiest nor the most premium, however it comes with a few surprise packages. But should you consider it at its Dh769 price tag in 2021?

Design and build quality

There is nothing particularly stand-out about the Tecno Pova’s design. It is above average in size and will pose issues in daily usage for people with smaller hands. The rear panel has a sparkling pattern with stripes to it but its in-hand feel is poor because there is no texture to it. Given the glossy nature, it attracts too many fingerprints and becomes especially slimy when used in warm weather conditions. The chassis also has an odd creaking issue towards the bottom left frame when gripped firmly, which is slightly concerning from a durability perspective. Given this, using the case provided out of the box is certainly not a bad idea.

The back of the Tecno Pova has a sparkling pattern

The larger footprint of the device also means a heavier and thicker phone, at 215 g and 9.4 mm. This combination is not too uncomfortable in daily use however when reaching for the smartphone’s rear fingerprint scanner, it becomes a problem. The scanner is placed too high, requiring a lot of movement to reach with your index finger. It is fairly responsive though but can take a few tries to unlock the device when your finger does not completely cover the scanner.

We feel the fingerprint sensor is placed a bit too high up

We will address the camera unit on the rear in a later section but otherwise, you find a good selection of ports and control buttons. The volume and power buttons are found on the right edge of the device, and we think all the buttons being separate is a good design trait. The buttons feel solid with the power button resting naturally below the thumb for ease of access. On the bottom of the smartphone, you find the 3.5 mm headphone jack, the primary microphone and a micro-USB input. Despite a charger and cable provided out of the box, it would have been better to see the inclusion of a Type-C USB port instead.

The ability to house two nano-SIM cards and microSD expansion is convenient

The top edge of the Tecno Pova is has the earpiece and an LED light whereas the left edge houses the SIM tray and a dedicated Google Assistant button with a red accent. Aside from that small splash of colour enhancing the look of the smartphone, we never used the dedicated button during our review period. The SIM tray on the smartphone is capable of housing two 4G nano-SIM cards and a microSD card simultaneously which is great. There is also a subtle rubber covering around the card slot for some unofficial water resistance. It is able to survive splashes of fine water droplets however we would not recommend dipping the smartphone in a pool.

Display and multimedia

A big part of our smartphone experience stems from multimedia. For this, the Tecno Pova is equipped with a 6.8-inch IPS LCD panel. Its 720 x 1,640 resolution is poor on paper however you do not see any pixels unless you are peeing. The 82.9 per-cent screen-to-body ratio is good for immersion, with a thicker bottom bezel than the top. Of course, the top is where you find a punch-hole selfie camera off to the left.

Watching content on the display is not the most enjoyable

Overall touch responsiveness and viewing angles from the display are good. There is no visual problem when navigating aside from the lack of perhaps a higher refresh rate. But the display’s downfall comes with both multimedia consumption and brightness levels. Watching content on the IPS display does not give off the most saturated colours nor does it provide good levels of contrast. Add to that the lack of 1080p support, given the display’s 720p resolution and you find yourself with a less than enjoyable experience.

Under direct light, you will have to crank up the screen’s brightness

This is not a deal breaker although for a smartphone in 2021, it is slightly disappointing. Using the phone indoors and outdoors, you will need to maintain a high brightness. Through our usage, we had to set the smartphone’s brightness levels to 70 per-cent indoors. When outdoors though, the 480 nit peak brightness of the Tecno Pova fell short with us resorting to shaded areas to see the display clearly.

The lack of a dedicated speaker grill results in poor audio

Coupling with multimedia is audio. For most people, audio will not be a problem on the smartphone thanks to the 3.5 mm jack. You can also quite easily use a wireless pair of Bluetooth headphones here. But if you find yourself using the smartphone’s speaker, the experience is underwhelming. The ear piece found on the top edge of the phone doubles as its primary speaker. This lacks any depth and produces muffled sound, which is not too ideal. On the topic of connectivity, the smartphone sports solid WiFi coverage and hotspot support however the lack of NFC for payment and data sharing is a big drawback considering the times we live in.

Performance and gaming

The display specifications and the internals of the Tecno Pova give it good all-rounded performance. Inside, you find the 12 nm Mediatek Helio G80 octa-core processor clocked at 2.0GHz. This is decent to have at the price range, scoring 196,084 on AnTuTu. On Geekbench 5, it scores a 378 single-core alongside a 1364 multi-core score.

Despite the low benchmark scores on paper, the smartphone has remained fairly responsive throughout daily use. Jitters or pauses that you may typically associate with smartphones at this price were few, with the overall experience being fairly enjoyable despite the lack of a high refresh rate panel. With 6GB of RAM and 128GB of on-board storage, we did not feel too restricted here. The only instances where we the saw phone struggle was when using the camera inside social media applications. For instance, uploading an Instagram story or more so when using the camera within WhatsApp. Sometimes, this led to issues with the preview of the photo however a restart of the application seemed to fix this.

The application drawing is riddled with a row of instant applications at all times

For gaming performance, the large screen is a big advantage. But testing Call of Duty: Mobile, the experience remained smooth. At all times, we saw the smartphone maintain a frame rate between 55-60 FPS albeit at a capped low resolution even via Game Space optimisation. If you are someone who perhaps values smooth performance over visuals, there is not much to complain about. Moreover, it was nice to see the smartphone maintain its temperatures well even under heavy loads.

User experience and software

As great as the Tecno Pova is when it comes to performance, there is a big adjustment required in order to adapt to it. HiOS 7.0 on top of Android 10 is on of the heaviest skins we have seen on a smartphone in recent times. Every aspect of it is fairly intrusive right from when you setup the device. You find a folder full of games and applications pre-installed that we never found use for.

You find a surplus of unnecessary bloatware on the Tecno Pova

While this kind of bloatware is pardonable, we also faced regular advertisements from the operating system and the smartphone auto-installing applications we never clicked. The latter was as a result of accidentally opening a pre-installed app store application such as AHA Games. The settings menu on the smartphone is also riddled with various enhancements that we could not understand. For instance, Social Turbo and Smart assistant are added software settings that we never found use for in daily operation.

Of course, with a few days’ worth of usage, you can get used to this experience. However, we think there is no value in this aside from perhaps screen recording and photo editing tools. And quite frankly, there is no reason to pack so many features into the operating system. Not only does this confuse the user but it also renders half of those features practically being untouched during usage.

Many of the pre-installed applications push notifications as advertisements

We would love to see Tecno adopt a user experience closer to stock Android. This would not only mean less bloatware but also better performance. There is also a strong correlation between a clean user experience and faster updates. Despite us being in February 2021 at the time of this review, the Tecno Pova still has December 2020’s security patch running on Android 10. In more ideal circumstances, it should be rocking the latest February 2021 security patch and Android 11.

Camera performance

The underwhelming software experience of the Tecno Pova unfortunately carries over to its camera as well. Our expectations were not sky high for the imaging system found here. However, it would have been nice to see a better camera user interface. There are a ton of settings in-built that are hard to understand. Moreover, AI CAM is the default option for the camera on the Tecno Pova with no way to turn this off.

While this is a quad-camera on paper, only one lens is truly useful

As far as the camera hardware is concerned, we find four camera lenses here. There is a primary 13MP camera alongside a 2MP macro sensor, a 2MP depth sensor and an AI sensor. In all honesty, pictures in varying lighting conditions are poor. The smartphone’s camera captures the general essence of a scene but not much more. One thing going in favour of the Tecno Pova though is its fairly snappy shutter speed.

While there is no ultra-wide angle lens here, you do find a macro camera which comes in handy for certain use cases. But as soon as ambient light is reduced, the macro camera performance degrades. The same can be said about the smartphone’s primary camera, with mixed results when using it during the night, especially with no dedicated night mode. You are able to capture 1440p or 1080p video at 30 FPS with the camera but without any stabilisation, results are almost unusable.

The front 8MP camera tends to soften details in selfies

Towards the front of the smartphone, you find an 8MP selfie sensor. This allows you to capture some decent pictures during the day. However, much like the primary sensor, colours from the selfie camera tend to be brightened up, skin detail is lost and dynamic range is poor. Trying the portrait mode for selfies here, edge detection is passable however flaws are quite easy to point out. On the overall, it is safe to say that using the camera on the Tecno Pova is an underwhelming experience.

Battery life

Painting a contrasting experience, the battery life on the Tecno Pova is ridiculous, in a good way. The 9.4 mm chassis of the device accommodates a huge 6,000mAh battery. With this, you are covered for two days of moderate to heavy usage without having to worry about recharging the smartphone. This is absolutely phenomenal for a smartphone, setting the benchmark of how battery life should be on a typical modern day smartphone.

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